Home appliances get tough new efficiency standards

Industry and environmentalist groups agreed Tuesday on tougher efficiency standards for home appliances that, over the next 30 years, could save enough energy to power 40 percent of American homes for a year.

By , Staff Writer

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    A state-of-the-art wind turbine at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL) National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) spins on a sunny day near Boulder, Colorado July 21. Industry and environmentalist groups agreed Tuesday on tougher efficiency standards for home appliances that promises to significantly reduce Americans' home energy consumption for decades to come.
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While the US Senate energy bill appears all but dead, a coalition of environmentalist and industry groups forged ahead with an agreement Tuesday that promises to significantly reduce Americans' home energy consumption for decades to come.

The plan, if approved and implemented by the US Department of Energy, would hike the efficiency of the nation's biggest home energy hogs: refrigerators, freezers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, room air conditioners, dishwashers.

Over the next 30 years, the increase could save enough energy to power 40 percent of American homes for a year. It would also cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 550 million tons – about the same as taking 100 million cars off the road for a year.

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The plan, which was agreed on by leading appliance manufactures, consumer groups, and environmental organizations, also sets tougher water efficiency standards for clothes washers and dishwashers. That change could save roughly 5 trillion gallons of water over the next three decades – the amount of that Los Angeles homeowners would use over 25 years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), and the Consumer Federation of America and other groups.

“This joint proposal will make the next generation of major home appliances the thriftiest ever when it comes to energy and water use,” Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), said in a statement. “The resulting energy and water savings will cut bills for consumers by billions of dollars and reduce global warming emissions for decades to come.”

For comparison, appliances that would just barely meet the new standards would save a typical homeowner about 6 percent on their electric bill, ACEEE reported. That might sound small, yet it amounts to about $30 billion in savings through 2030, the group said. Slightly higher costs for those more efficient appliances would be paid back in the life of the appliances often in "just a few years," it said.

Top-loading clothes washers would see a 26 percent cut in energy use and 16 percent water savings beginning in 2015. Refrigerators and freezers, among the biggest home energy guzzler's, would see energy use fall nearly 30 percent by January 2014. Front-loading clothes washers would see 43 percent energy savings and 52 percent cut in water use by 2015.

Clothes dryers, typically the home's biggest power hog, would see a 5 percent efficiency boost by 2015.

But there's something else: Have you ever noticed how some dryers continue operating long after the clothes are dry? Efficiency experts have. All that extra drying – a total waste of energy that is due entirely to moisture sensors that don't work properly – will be remedied by an agreement to revise the testing procedures for new dryers to ensure they dry only to the point that the moisture is gone.

What does industry get out of stepping up? Beside a level playing field for manufacturers set by the standards, an extension of federal tax credits are expected subsidize the cost of super-efficient next-generation refrigerators, dishwashers, freezers, and clothes washers. Those incentives, groups are quick to note, now help keep about 40,000 manufacturing jobs in the US.

Joseph McGuire, AHAM president, lauded the deal as “an innovative approach to delivering substantial energy and water savings to the consumer,” noting as well that the manufacturers "are pleased to join together with the leading energy and water efficiency groups to celebrate this remarkable agreement."

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