Energy Efficient Appliances Save Consumers Cash

Posted by Deborah E. Miller on February 22, 2017
Energy Efficient Appliances Save Consumers Cash

In the home performance industry, we are doing the Lord’s work by ensuring that the homes Americans live in are healthy and energy efficient.

With the election of a new president and Congress, we’ve all been hearing a lot about how industry is overburdened with government regulations and how government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. What has been lost in this debate is that there are many government programs, including those that promote energy efficient products that increase our nation’s security, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, promote a clean and sustainable environment, and save consumers thousands of dollars.

An interesting poll was recently released that showed that even among “Trump voters,” there is significant support for policies to protect the environment including 76% who believe that the government “should require manufacturers to continue to make appliances more energy efficient.”

As someone who has been on both sides of the equation, working for the federal government to set mandatory minimum efficiency appliance standards as well as representing air conditioning manufacturers in the private sector (and being a home owner myself), I know that this program has an important role to play – especially in home performance.

How many times have you been in a home doing an audit, and seen an old 8 or 10 SEER air conditioning unit, an ancient furnace, incandescent light bulbs all over the house, and an old refrigerator sitting in the garage to hold the beer? Along with your usual evaluation and recommendations for home sealing, insulation, programmable thermostats, this is also a valuable time to have a discussion with the homeowner about how efficient appliances can save them hundreds of dollars each year.


Starting with the initial legislation, following the energy crisis of the early 1970s, the statute that mandated national minimum energy efficiency levels for residential appliances (National Appliance and Energy Conservation Act of 1975 - NAECA), created uniform efficiency standards for certain household appliances. Three additional laws have been passed by Congress since, ultimately giving the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) the authority to set standards for over 60 residential and commercial products.

The need for national standards became evident when California and a few other states began to require higher efficiency products to be sold in their states, making it too expensive for manufacturers and distributors to offer a wide array of equipment. Coming together around legislation (NAECA) that would pre-empt state standards, energy efficiency groups, manufacturers, consumer groups, states and others, agreed that one national standard would benefit all. 

Over the years, the U.S. Department of Energy has reviewed and issued standards that are “technologically feasible and economically justified” for 18 of the 23 residential products – central air conditioners and heat pumps, furnaces, water heaters, white goods (refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers, washer/dryers), and lighting, among other products. The law requires that the state of these products be reviewed and evaluated every three to five years, to examine whether higher efficiencies should be required.

Yes, there have been hiccups along the way, including contentious regulatory and court proceedings that have led to greater consultation with all parties and more in-depth analysis. The outcome has been a win-win for consumers and the environment.

Beginning in the late 1990s with informal negotiations on residential refrigerators and electronic ballast standards, and continuing under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Appliance Standards and Rulemaking Federal Advisory Committee on which I serve, many residential appliance consensus standards have been hammered out between manufacturers, energy efficiency groups, states and others that will avoid the need to build hundreds of power plants, significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Appliance Standards Save Consumers Cash

How has this government program benefited consumers? According to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, 44 new or updated standards published since 2009, are projected to save consumers more than $550 billion by 2030, and savings since 1987 are projected to be over $2 trillion. In the case of residential energy, product standards represent over 90% of home energy use and, on average, homeowners will save close to $400 a year in energy and water bills.

Current Standards

The following is a list of the status of national efficiency standards for a few major home appliances. More information can be found on the Appliance Standards Awareness Project website listed below.

Cooling Equipment

Cooling Equipment is defined as residential central air conditioners and heat pumps. In 2000, the standard for central air conditioners was set at 13 SEER raising it from 10 SEER, and became effective in 2006.  In 2011, a consensus rulemaking among stakeholders was finalized for the first time, acknowledging the importance of climatic regional differences and setting regional standards for three regions: the North, South and Southwest. The current standards set the new minimum efficiency standards to a cooling efficiency of 14 SEER for split central air conditioners in the South and Southwest, however, maintaining a 13 SEER for northern states. In the case of the Southwest, the standards specify an Energy Efficiency Ration (EER) where there are consistently high and humid temperatures. Heat pump standards for all three regions are 14 SEER. The DOE recently announced a possible update of the consensus standard in the form of a “direct final rule.” This would be a final step in the regulatory review process however it remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will allow this standard to be issued. 


We have come a long way from the time when refrigerators were a simply designed product with one space for refrigerated items and an “ice box” or freezer for frozen goods.  Now there are an endless variety of refrigerator designs and features. Since the initial refrigerator standards were set in the 1970s, the energy use of a typical refrigerator has gone from1,800 kWh/yr. to less than 500 kWh/yr. today.


Dishwashers have gone through several “cycles” of increasing energy and water efficiency standards. The first minimum efficiency standard, effective in 1990, required a feature that would allow consumers to save energy by selecting to have the dishwasher dry dishes without heat. Three increasing energy efficiency standards later, including two consensus agreements between stakeholders, dishwashers now must use less than 307 kWh/yr. and 5.0 gal/cycle.

Clothes Washers

There have been several changes in minimum efficiency standards since the first washer standard was set in 2001. As a result of latest standards and metrics/descriptors that the DOE uses, pushing higher efficiencies for energy and water use, new design changes were needed. This caused more and more manufacturers to offer only horizontal access, front or top loading machines. By January 2018, when the latest standard is in effect, the energy standard will be 33% more energy efficient, and water efficiency will be 19% more efficient than current standards.

Clothes Dryers

There is a close connection between washer efficiency and dryer efficiency which significantly rests upon the amount of moisture that remains in the clothes after the washer cycle is over. Initial clothes dryer standards were set by Congress in 1987 which outlawed constantly burning pilot lights in gas dryers.  Since then, there have been two updates with the most recent taking effect in January 2015. Previously, the efficiency of clothes dryers was measured by energy factor (EF) in lbs/kWh. Since January 2015, dryer efficiency has been measured by a new metric, combined energy factor (CEF), which incorporates standby energy consumption.

Water Heaters

The most recent water heater standard became effective in 2015. The standard uses Energy Factor (EF) as its metric of efficiency which is based upon the type of water heater and its rated storage volume.


The current furnace efficiency standard is at 80% AFUE, effective in 2015. While stakeholders negotiated a new consensus agreement that set higher regional standards for furnaces, a court challenge by one group has prevented the department from issuing a higher standard for non-weatherized furnaces.


Don’t forget to talk to your customers about ENERGY STAR products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program is one is of the most successful federal government voluntary programs significantly helping to transform the marketplace for household appliances and other residential and commercial products. The ENERGY STAR brand is recognized by over 70% of consumers, and products that have the ENERGY STAR label are the most efficient that manufacturers offer, well above the minimum efficiency standards. More information on ENERGY STAR appliances can be found at You can help your customer find product rebates available by zip code by going to


Here is a list of websites you can check out for additional background on the latest energy efficiency levels on residential equipment and products. Consumers have various resources to see which models are most efficient and cost effective as well.

Background for professionals:

Especially for consumers:


Deborah E. Miller is the Director of Business Development & Strategic Projects for the Home Performance Coalition. This blog is reprinted with permission.

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