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Energy Star and Beyond: Shop Wisely for Appliances and Electronics

2/19/2010 4:31:00 PM

Tags: Dan Chiras, Energy Star ratings, energy-efficient appliances, energy-efficient electronics

When shopping for a new appliance or electronic devices, it’s a great idea to select models that bear the Energy Star label. The Energy Star label assures you that the product you are looking at is one of the most energy-efficient in its category. To date, there are about 50 product categories that can carry Energy Star labels. They range from laptops to computer screens to flat screen TVs and stereo receivers to washers and refrigerators and even cordless phones. You name it, if it uses electricity, it’s very likely a candidate for Energy Star rating.

The Energy Star program is run by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy and is probably one of America’s most significant energy-efficiency accomplishments of the past two decades. The Energy Star program approves use of their Energy Star label on all products that meet or exceed federal energy efficiency standards.

Energy Star Promotional LogoAlthough the Energy Star label is a great comparison shopping tool, there’s quite a lot of variation, even when comparing Energy Star rated appliances.At the bottom of the page is a table from my book, Power from the Wind, that shows how much variation you will find, if you shop carefully.

I’ve listed three product categories in the first column: refrigerators, dish washers and clothes washers. The second column shows the energy savings a product in each of these categories must achieve to be qualified for Energy Star rating. A refrigerator, for instance, qualifies for Energy Star rating if it is at least 20 percent better than the federally mandated efficiency standard.  Clothes washers and dishwaters must be 41 percent and 37 percent more efficient, respectively.

The third column shows the savings attained by the best products in the Energy Star list. As you can see, if you shop carefully, you will find refrigerators that are an amazing 53 percent more efficient than the federal efficiency mandate. Dishwashers and clothes washers can be as much as 147 percent and 121 percent more efficient, respectively.

To locate the superefficient Energy Star appliances and electronic devices log on to the Energy Star website. There you will click on the general product category (e.g., appliances) in which you are interested (upper left). From there, you click on the specific product category (e.g., dishwasher). Once you click on a specific product category, you will find a wealth of information about that product.

On the right hand side of the page, under the “Resources,” is a link to a table that lists the appliances or electronics by manufacturer and a host of other criteria, primary among them, energy efficiency. Study your options carefully. Once you locate the model that meets your needs, jot down the model number, then call around to local appliance or electronics stores to see if they carry it, or can order it for you.

It’s that simple.


Appliance Type   Energy Star Criteria   Best on the List 
 Refrigerators  20%  53%
 Dishwashers  41%  147%
 Clothes Washers  37%   121% 





(Figures show percent better than federal mandated policy.) 

Logo courtesy Energy Star. 

Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on .

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Gary Reysa
3/5/2010 9:06:07 AM
Hi Dan, Good advice on Energy Star. Another Energy Star quirk: In shopping for a TV recently, I was puzzled by the fact that you could find huge 60 inch TVs with the same Energy Star sticker as appeared on little 15 inch TVs -- surely there is a big difference in power consumption between the two. It turns out Energy Star divides TV's into size classes and, and then awards the Energy Star sticker based on performance within a size class. I can see the logic of this, but it was not at all helpful to me in understanding how much a given TV would add to my electricity and carbon bill. I found CNET reviews to be much more helpful than Energy Star for TVs. I wish that we could just get to the point where everything that uses electricity has a label on the outside of the package that gives you average power use when on, average power use when off, and average electrical energy use and CO2 emissions per year. This would allow people to make decisions that consider energy use and carbon emissions a lot more easily. Thanks for all of your good articles and books! Gary

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