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What Does an Energy Star Rating Actually Mean?

Words by Scott Huntington
Energy & Environment
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You see the labels on every new appliance that you purchase — an Energy Star rating. The label outlines the product’s energy star rating and gives you information about how much money you could potentially save. What do these labels really mean, though? What is an Energy Star rating, and what should you be on the lookout for when purchasing new appliances?

What Is Energy Star?


First, let’s take a closer look at the Energy Star program. It is a voluntary program the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started to help both individuals and businesses save money by using less energy throughout their homes. They first developed the program in 1992, and it has grown and changed ever since.

An actual Energy Star rating can appear on anything from televisions to windows — as long as it meets or exceeds the minimum federal efficiency standard. That standard varies depending on the specifics of the device. Refrigerators need to be at least 15 percent more efficient than the minimum federal standard. Televisions need to consume three watts or less when switched off, while non-energy star TVs consume nearly twice that.

Even upgrading your light bulbs to CFL or LED bulbs can help make your home a little bit more energy star-friendly — these light bulbs use two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs.

Breaking Down the Energy Star Label


You might see that bright yellow energy guide label on your new fridge or washing machine, but what does the label actually tell you?

The top right section of the label will tell you the make, model and manufacturer. On the left, you’ll see the type of appliances you’re buying and the features the particular model offers.

Next, you’ll see the estimated yearly operating cost — essentially, how much money you'll be adding to your energy bill each year. The range of cost shows the average annual operating cost for other similar appliance models with the same features.

Finally, the label will tell you an average of how much electricity your new appliance will use throughout the year. Remember, this is an estimate, and your exact usage rates will depend on your local utility costs.

Now, look at the bottom right corner of the label. If you see the Energy Star logo there, that means your new appliance is more efficient than other models and thus, better for the environment.

Energy Efficiency and the Environment


How does opting for Energy Star equipment help the environment?

First, it helps reduce power plant emissions. Most power plants rely on burning fossil fuels, with crude oil, coal or natural gas being some of the most common fuel sources. While this is relatively inexpensive, it generates massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and others that contribute to global warming.

By reducing your energy usage, you — in a small way — reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses your local power plant generates. This also helps to conserve our otherwise limited natural resources.

Fossil fuels are the remnants of ancient organic lifeforms that have been compressed into crude oil and other materials over the course of many millennia — and it is a finite resource. If we continue using fossil fuels at our current rate, they could run out as soon as 2050. Energy-efficient appliances allow you to use fewer fossil fuels and help to conserve our current supply.

If you’re thinking about upgrading your appliances, make sure you’re looking for that Energy Star logo at the bottom of the Energy Guide label. Not only will you get the most bang for your buck, but you’ll also be doing your part in helping to reverse climate change and create fewer emissions that can damage our planet.

Scott Huntington is a writer who has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, Time, INC, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @SMHuntington.

Image credit: Pixabay

Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vermont.

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