SHOPPING FOR ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Buying energy-efficient home appliances can go a long way toward reducing your household’s electricity costs and contribution to global warming. However, when faced with manufacturers’ claims about energy use and the jargon used on product labels, it can be hard to determine which model will best meet your needs. Here is what to watch—or watch out—for:
Energy Star. This designation and its now-familiar logo are awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the most energy-efficient products in more than 50 categories, including electronics, appliances, lighting, and office equipment. Product categories are judged by different efficiency standards; the Energy Star website (see the related links) lists those requirements and all of the models that earned Energy Star status.
Energy Guide. This large, yellow-and-black label is required by the Federal Trade Commission on major appliances such as furnaces, refrigerators, water heaters, and dishwashers whose operating costs vary widely between brand and model. It is not required on appliances with little model-to-model variation in operating costs, such as clothes dryers, or small appliances such as coffee makers. The Energy Guide informs consumers of the total energy an appliance can be expected to consume each year, how its energy use compares with similar models (for example, refrigerators with capacities of 18.5 to 20.4 cubic feet), and its estimated annual operating cost. The label also indicates whether the product is Energy Star-rated.
BTU (British thermal unit). An air conditioner’s capacity is described in terms of the amount of heat it can remove per hour, expressed as BTUs. In other words, the higher the BTUs, the more heat the unit can remove. BTUs are not a measure of energy efficiency, however; an air conditioner that has a capacity larger than the room in which it is placed, for example, will not be effective in removing humidity, leaving the room feeling damp and clammy. For this reason it is important to choose a unit with a capacity appropriate to your living space (see the related links for a sizing guide).
EER (energy efficiency ratio). An air conditioner’s EER equals the number of BTUs it removes from the surrounding air each hour divided by the number of watts it uses. The higher the EER, the more efficient the unit. Central air conditioners are rated by seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), which measures efficiency over a longer time frame.
“Energy Saver,” “Energy Miser,” etc. Let the buyer beware—some appliances have names or come with special settings that suggest they will reduce energy use. While this may be true, there are no regulations governing such claims. Look for the Energy Star logo instead, and use the Energy Guide label to choose the model with the lowest operating cost.
Written by: Union of Concerned Scientists . The Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit partnership of scientists and citizens combining rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development, and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical environmental solutions.
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