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What's behind that Energy Star label

Energy Star logo

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: With Summer officially on its way... could be time to pick up a new air conditioner. Want one that uses less energy? Just look for the Energy Star label, right? For the past 16 years, the government's certified the most efficient products under the Energy Star program. But could it be a scam? From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, here's Caitlan Carroll.


Caitlan Carroll: OK, no, it's not a scam. It is, however, a program with problems.

Steven Saltzman is a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. He says the results are questionable because the Energy Star program relies on data provided by manufacturers.

Steven Saltzman: We're not saying that they lie, but the testing procedures that they're following allow them to report data that's just simply not accurate.

Consumer Reports checked a few Energy Star-rated refrigerators and found the claims fell short. The manufacturers had taken measurements with ice makers turned off. That's not typical use. Also unusual: testing a dishwasher with a clean load. But some were tested that way.

Maria Vargas: There's nothing that indicates to us that there's a problem or that we're getting incorrect information from manufacturers.

Maria Vargas is from the EPA. She says her agency and the Department of Energy test best-sellers to make sure the self-certifications are accurate. They also raise standards every year, so Energy Star appliances exceed average efficiency rates. Vargas says those appliances can drop household utility bills by a third.

Meryl Akmakzian: He says the Bosch doesn't have water softening . . .

At Absolute Appliances in Hollywood, Calif., Meryl Akmakzian cares about those savings.

Akmakzian: We don't anything extra that takes extra space or, you know, extra energy. We just want it to be compact and usable.

Edward Telis: There should, all of them should have an energy guide.

The manager of the store, Edward Telis, is helping Akmakzian find a new dishwasher. Telis says a lot of utilities and states also offer rebates for Energy Star appliances.

Telis: There are some customers, that's their first thing is energy. Energy efficiency or it could be, you know, that it's green. That's really the new hit big word.

Saltzman from Consumer Reports says as all appliances become more efficient, Energy Star standards should be raised higher and faster.

Saltzman: You've got to raise the bar. You've got to make it that much harder for companies to get there. So that, you know, people are buying what is genuinely the most efficient.

President Obama's called on the Energy Department to do just that. And a bill supporting the same aim is moving through the Senate.

In Los Angeles, I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

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I have a question. I notice that appliances with an Energy Star Rating also usually include a figure listed as the cost per year to use it. And I can't seem to find an answer regarding how these costs are calculated. Are these appliances rated for each U.S. geographic location? Are they saying this is how much it costs to run the appliance 24/7 anywhere in the U.S. for the entire year? The figures for an air-conditioner (or just about any appliance) have to be totally different for say, Arizona and Maine. The sales personnel couldn't answer my query. The annual cost always amazes me because I know I'd pay a lot more just to use it for our normally hot, humid summer. So, how can this figure be relevant when no one knows on what conditions this figure is based(how cool is the setting, what is the mean outside temperature, the number of hours per day and the number of months it is in use, etc.)?

No doubt self-regulation benefits the appliance industry as it did the financial industry. But then regulatory capture should not surprise in a corporate cum market democracy.

Last year I bought a top of the line Whilpool Duet clothes washer (front loading). It uses less water than the 20 year old top loading Kenmore that I previously had and is far quieter (it's major asset). But it seems to require as much detergent. It is made with numerous eminently breakable plastic parts and its cycle times are longer so unless the motor is significantly more efficient it would seem to use more electricity not less.

Here's the EU energy label
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_energy_label

When we decided to replace our old refrigerator, we looked to the Energy Star label and also the stickers on the appliance that was an energy guide. You could form comparisons from these and rank choices.
Further, there are just physical things that make an energy thrifty refrigerator: thicker doors, stronger magnets holding them closed, and others.
We found a $20-$30 instant reduction in our electric bill each month.
We need to instill in the manufacturer's that these are the kind of products that we want them to make and we will buy. The Energy Star program may not perform to the highest standard conceivable, but is just a "tool" to help remind us that conserving energy is a good thing.

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