5 Fascinating Things You May Not Know About Efficiency Standards for Appliances and Equipment

Credit: Appliance Standards Awareness Project

Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

If you take a look around your home, local business, or the factory down the street, you’ll find appliances and equipment that are using energy smarter, thanks to federal energy efficiency standards. Here are five fascinating things you might not know about America’s energy conservation standards for appliances and equipment. 

1)    How many of my home appliances are covered by minimum efficiency standards?

Most of them! In all, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Appliance and Equipment Standards program covers more than 50 types of products, representing about 90% of home energy use, 60% of commercial building use, and approximately 29% of industrial energy use. Products include everything from common household appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners to commercial and industrial equipment, like electric motors found in almost every device or piece of equipment that uses electricity to make something move to do work.

These standards have helped drive remarkable energy and utility bill savings for consumers. Compared to 1992, a typical household today with five common products that merely meet the current efficiency standards will save $300 annually on their utility bills thanks to standards!

2)    How can I tell if my appliance is energy efficient?

The brilliance of efficiency standards for appliances and equipment is that they ensure that over 50 types of U.S. products meet a minimum level of energy performance and save you money on your energy bills. If you want to get even greater savings, there are a variety of ways to identify more-efficient products. The yellow EnergyGuide labels found on many home appliances give information on how similar products compare in terms of how much they cost to operate, the minimum efficiency level, and/or the annual energy use. In addition to the yellow EnergyGuide labels, consumers can look for the blue ENERGY STAR™ label when it comes time to buy new appliances. Generally speaking, ENERGY STAR represents the top 25 percent of the market in terms of energy efficiency. Some utilities even offer special energy efficiency rebates on ENERGY STAR appliances.  ENERGY STAR recently launched a new category: “ENERGY STAR Most Efficient” which recognizes the very best performers on the market by identifying the most efficient product for each product category, generally those that represent less than 5 percent of the market. EnergyGuide labels, ENERGY STAR, and minimum efficiency standards work together to help inform consumers and move the market to greater levels of energy efficiency.


3)    Do appliance and equipment efficiency standards make products more expensive?

Energy efficiency means using less energy while getting the same or better energy service—whether that’s cold beers from your fridge or hot showers from your water heater. And making manufacturing changes to achieve these savings often leads to innovation that results in lower consumer costs than expected. A recent study of nine appliance rulemakings found that while the U.S. Department of Energy anticipated increases in the price of the products, the manufacturer’s selling price actually decreased by $12 on average. Take refrigerators as an example: Before the first standard was established, refrigerators were using more energy year after year. Since their efficiency standards were first set, refrigerators have gotten bigger, quieter, and added features, all while keeping lettuce fresh and our energy bills down. A new refrigerator meeting the 2014 efficiency standard uses only about a quarter of the energy of its 1973 counterpart, offers 20 percent more storage, and costs half as much.


Credit: Appliance Standards Awareness Project

4)     Do standards keep pace with technological advances?

In many cases, standards actually spur technological advances. Generally speaking, federal law requires the U.S. Department of Energy to review standards every six years. As products evolve and improve, history has shown that there continue to be opportunities for new and improved minimum efficiency standards. DOE sets technology-neutral, minimum energy-saving levels, leaving manufacturers free to innovate and find new ways to achieve even greater savings. The guiding principle for DOE standards is that the maximum energy savings levels are “technologically feasible and economically justified.”  To determine whether a standard meets these criteria, DOE does extensive research, analyzes the market for each appliance, and determines the impacts on consumers, manufacturers and the U.S. economy. DOE calculates benefits from both the consumer perspective (e.g. how much more will this cost me and what will I save on my energy bill?) and the economy as a whole.

DOE also looks for opportunities for energy savings from new product categories. Most recently DOE set the first-ever efficiency standards for furnace fans, which circulate hot air from your furnace to the rest of the home. Furnace fans had never been regulated and were responsible for consuming more energy per year than a new refrigerator and dishwasher combined.

5)    How does making my refrigerator more efficient help the environment?

If our fridges are more efficient, then we need less energy from our carbon-emitting power plants. U.S. buildings and the products in them account for nearly 40% of the nation’s man-made carbon dioxide emissions, 18% of the nitrogen oxide emissions, and 55% of the sulfur dioxide emissions. These emissions—primarily from electricity generation—in turn contribute to smog, acid rain, haze, and climate change. Improving the efficiency of the appliances and equipment in our nation’s buildings can play a significant role in reducing pollution. As a result of the standards in place today, we will reduce carbon dioxide pollution by 470 million metric tons annually by 2035—that’s equivalent to avoiding the need to build 118 coal-fired power plants. The Obama administration recognizes this by continuing to emphasize the importance of minimum efficiency standards and set a goal of 3 billion metric tons of carbon emission reductions from them by 2030.

Efficiency standards also help our entire electricity system run more efficiently, which benefits the environment, too. During a hot summer afternoon, air conditioners are running at full blast, while computers, lights, and other appliances demand energy simultaneously and strain the system. Appliance standards, in particular for cooling equipment, help reduce the amount of electricity required to run them and meet overall demand – lessening the risk of system overloads. Thanks to more efficient appliances, peak electricity needs will decrease by a whopping 240 gigawatts in 2035, more than twice the capacity of all the nuclear power plants in the United States, reducing the risk of rolling brownouts or blackouts and allowing homes and businesses to be more productive.

Want to know more? Check out NRDC’s new appliance and equipment standards fact sheet.

Tomorrow: Shedding Efficient Light on DOE Appliance Standards Program