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Appliance Standards on High

By: Cary Weiner, 9/5/2017

September and October are known to be months in which new models for a variety of different appliances are issued, making for potentially great deals on models from the previous year. Thinking a blog post about appliance efficiency would therefore be timely, I was going to write about how purchasing Energy Star appliances can save you a bunch of money over the long-term. But I’m happy to report that upon looking at the difference between Energy Star appliances and their non-ES brethren, I didn’t find much difference to report on. Instead, what I found is that appliance standards have been driving efficiency gains to the point where the question of “how old is your current appliance” is way more important than “which of these is more efficient”.

Here is an illustration of the point for refrigerators, long the target of utility switch-out programs (data courtesy of Energy Star’s ‘Flip Your Fridge’ Calculator):










As you can see, choosing the most efficient Energy Star fridge in class would save only 90 kWh per year versus the least efficient allowable fridge under federal standards. By contrast, the least efficient fridge in 2017 would save 160 kWh per year compared to an average mid 2000s model and uses less than 25% of the energy consumed by a typical 1980s model! For reference, 90 kWh per year translates into about $9 in savings, whereas the financial savings from switching out a 1980s fridge to even the least efficient 2017 model are estimated at $140 per year.

And the story is the same for many other appliances as well: new clothes washers use 70% less energy, new dishwashers use more than 40% less energy, and new air conditioners use about 50% less energy than 1990 models. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t shop around and that you should just throw energy costs out the window when comparing appliances. But it is to say that appliance standards are making a real and significant impact on household energy use, and credit is due to both regulators and manufacturers for this achievement.