Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Energy Star and Energy Guide Labels – Helping the Consumer Save Money

Plan on purchasing a new appliance or TV? Maybe you need to replace old windows or a furnace before the coming winter? Now is the time to consider Energy Star qualified products to save energy, money, and add comfort to your home.

Today’s column will look at the Energy Star program and the yellow EnergyGuide label that can be found on appliances. They are not one and the same, and they serve different purposes. Nevertheless, they both are important tools in making decisions on energy efficiency.

Energy Star
The Energy Star program was created in 1992 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an attempt to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by power plants. Initiated as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy efficient products, Energy Star’s first effort began with computer products. In 1996, EPA partnered with the US Department of Energy (DOE) for particular product categories.

Currently, more than 40,000 products sport the blue Energy Star logo and are available in a wide range of items including major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and more. Also, Energy Star standards are available for residential heating and cooling systems, new homes, and commercial and industrial buildings.

Specifications set by the EPA and the DOE differ with each product. To receive the blue Energy Star logo, a product‘s energy efficiency is compared to standard models currently on the market. Keep in mind, when current products are compared to older products, like the ones that have been setting in your home for the last ten years, the savings can be much, much more:

Appliances - Average refrigerators need 15% savings over the minimum standard. Dishwashers need at least 41% savings.

Home Electronics - Energy Star televisions use 30% less energy than average. In November 2008, television specifications were improved to limit standby power use. In addition, a wider range of Energy Star televisions are now available. Other Energy Star home electronics include cordless phones, battery chargers, DVD players and VCR/DVD/TV combos, and external power adapters, most of which use 90% less energy than previous models.

Lighting - Energy Star fluorescent lighting uses 75% less energy and lasts up to ten times longer than normal incandescent lights.

Heating and Cooling Systems - Energy Star heat pumps, boilers, air conditioning systems, and furnaces are available. In addition, cooling and heating bills can be significantly lowered with ENERGY STAR air sealing and duct sealing. Air sealing reduces the outdoor air that penetrates a building, and duct sealing prevents attic or basement air from entering ducts and lessening the heating/cooling system’s efficiency.

Home Office - A new Energy Star specification for desktop computers went into effect in 2007. The requirements are more stringent than the previous specifications. Existing equipment designs can no longer use the logo unless re-qualified. The power requirements are for 80% or greater AC power supply efficiency.

Water Heaters - The bad news on present water heating is that it is the only major residential energy end use that does not have an Energy Star label. The good news is a program will debut in January 2009.
Overseen by the DOE, the water heater program will have even stronger standards phased in September 2010. Buying an Energy Star-labeled water heater in Phase 1 will save the average consumer between $26 and $277 a year, depending on the type of water heater.
There is a catch, the new standards will apply not to electric resistance water heaters, but only to solar water heaters, advanced drop-in integrated heat pump water heaters, and three gas-fired designs: high-performance storage tank, condensing, and whole-home tankless water heaters.
DOE determined that while there may be slight initial savings to be attained, there are few, if any, improvements possible for long-term qualification of electric resistance water heaters in the program. That’s an “OUCH,” for all of us who use electric elements to heat our water.

EnergyGuide Label
As mentioned earlier, most appliances as well as heating and cooling systems have the yellow EnergyGuide label. Created and monitored by the Federal Trade Commission, the label often shows if an appliance is Energy Star qualified, but having a yellow EnergyGuide Label does not necessarily mean the product is an Energy Star one.

Manufacturers must use standard test procedures to prove the energy use and efficiency of their products. Test results are printed on the EnergyGuide label. The label estimates how much energy the appliance uses, compares energy use of similar products, and lists approximate annual operating costs. Your exact costs will depend on local utility rates and the type and source of your energy.

A new streamlined label was created in 2007, and the following anatomy is based on the new version.

The Anatomy of an EnergyGuide Label

At the top of the EnergyGuide label, you'll find the manufacturer name, model number, type of appliance, and capacity.
Also shown are key features of the appliance that are shared with similar models that make up the cost range in the middle section.

In the middle, a cost range helps you compare the energy use of the appliance with different models with similar features.
An estimate of operating costs shows what you might pay to run the appliance for a year. This estimate is based on the appliance’s electric use and a recent national average of energy prices. The cost appears on labels for all models and brands, so you can compare energy use just like you would price or other features.

The bottom of the label, shows how much electricity is used yearly based on typical use. Multiply this number by your local rate on your utility bill to get a better idea of actual operating cost.
An Energy Star logo may also be on the label showing the appliance uses less energy than the standard models.

Some appliances, such as clothes dryers, kitchen ranges and microwave ovens are exempt from EnergyGuide labeling since there is little difference in energy use between models.

Some Words of Caution on the EnergyGuide Label
Make sure your comparing appliances of the same size. For example, you should compare the energy use in kilowatt-hours of all 18.4 cubic feet refrigerators. Just don’t rely on where a model fits on the comparison scale.

Furthermore, the ranges shown on the labels are not updated frequently, and manufacturers are constantly introducing more efficient models. As a result, it could be possible to find a model that is more efficient than the most efficient end of the range. In that case, the label may note that the efficiency of this particular model was not available at the time the range was published.
Information on EnergyGuide labels varies from appliance to appliance. For example, the estimated cost may be based on the average price of natural gas instead of electricity. For room air conditioners, central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces and boilers, the range is not energy consumption, but rather, the energy efficiency ratings (EER, SEER, HSPF & SEER, and AFUE , respectively).

Knowing the energy saving guidelines of Energy Star and understanding the purpose of the EnergyGuide label can help you make the ideal decision when shopping for an appliance or other energy products. In today’s energy-crunched world, knowledge and a little homework can amount to future, long-term, big savings on your energy bill.