New Proposed Standards for Dishwashers Would Cut Wasted Water and Energy

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The Department of Energy (DOE) proposed strong updated standards for dishwashers this week that would lead to big reductions in energy and water use if finalized. The proposed standards would save more than 1 quadrillion Btus of energy and 240 billion gallons of water over thirty years of sales, while saving consumers a net of almost $2 billion. That’s equivalent to the annual energy use of almost six million American households and the amount of water consumed in almost two years by the residents of Los Angeles

The water savings will be particularly welcome here in the Golden State, where despite this week’s “hellastorm,” the ongoing drought is a major concern. The proposed standards would also cut carbon pollution emissions by 14.6 million metric tons by 2030, bringing DOE one step closer to reaching the administration’s goal of achieving 3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution emissions from standards by 2030.

Under the proposed rule, standard-sized dishwashers would use up to 234 kilowatt-hours per year and 3.1 gallons of water per cycle—24 percent less energy and 38 percent less water than a minimally compliant model today.

These savings build on a long history of improved energy and water efficiency for dishwashers. The first federal standards for dishwashers set in 1987 took effect in 1990 and were preceded by earlier standards at the state-level. These first federal standards required units have a no-heat dry option. DOE then set the first energy performance standards in 1991, which took effect in 1994. Since then, there have been two rounds of negotiated standards between energy efficiency advocates and industry, the most recent of which went into effect last year. These were part of a large negotiated agreement that covered multiple product categories including refrigerators, room air conditioners, clothes washers and dryers, and dishwashers, that was finalized in 2010. Today’s proposed standard marks the fifth time national standards for dishwashers have been improved and would take effect 3 years after publication of the final rule. 

As efficiency has improved over time, the price of dishwashers has actually declined. A 2013 report by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project found that as dishwasher energy consumption decreased by 50 percent from 1987 to 2010, price decreased by 30 percent. That report found similar trends for other residential appliances.

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Source data: Appliance Standards Awareness Project

At the same time, product performance has also been maintained. Consumer Reports data confirms that there are many models that are both energy efficient and perform well:  in the latest rankings 75 models score as “excellent” for both energy and washing performance. Furthermore, the EPA ENERGY STAR program recently finalized a cleaning performance test to help ensure that dishwasher performance is maintained as energy and water efficiency levels improve. ENERGY STAR Most Efficient, which represents about the top 5 percent most efficient products on the market, will require dishwashers to meet minimum cleaning performance requirements starting in 2015. This will ensure good cleaning performance in the most energy efficient models in advance of the new standards that will likely go into effect in 2019. Furthermore, DOE also conducted testing in its development of the proposed rule to confirm that cleaning performance would be maintained.

NRDC applauds DOE for taking another step forward this week to improve energy and water efficiency in dishwashers. The proposed rule will save money for consumers nationwide, cut harmful carbon pollution emissions, and reduce the pressure our water and wastewater infrastructure for years to come. This is welcome news particularly in areas like Texas and all seven states of the Colorado River Basin, including California, where the current drought continues to put a strain on water suppliers and where future droughts are not a matter of if, but when.