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What does an Energy Star rating really mean?

Helping the environment one appliance at a time

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It’s impossible to go shopping for household appliances, lighting, or windows and insulation products without noticing that many of them are marked with an Energy Star label. And, while the name itself connotes some kind of energy efficiency, it’s not always obvious what “Energy Star” means.

For concerned consumers, it’s important to ask the question, “What is Energy Star?” before buying. Energy Star is a rating system backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that provides consumers with unbiased information about the energy efficiency of products they’re purchasing. Since the Energy Star program was introduced in 1992, it has helped to reduce nationwide energy costs by $450 billion and has resulted in 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

The program is centered on products that provide “energy efficiency,” which may sound fairly generic, but it actually has a very specific meaning. According to the EPA, it means that anything with an Energy Star label “uses less energy to get the same job done” compared to their traditional counterparts.

By investing in energy-efficient products, individuals and businesses not only reduce their energy consumption, but they save on electric bills and may even be eligible for tax credits as a result.

How does a product earn an Energy Star?

Person in the store shopping for a new appliance.
Credit: Getty Images / 97

Energy Star items span from light bulbs to home appliances to residential windows and skylights.

According to Energy Star, Americans purchased more than 300 million Energy Star certified products and more than 300 million Energy Star certified light bulbs in 2019. While you might notice the blue star symbol on your packaging, you may not know why certain products have earned it.

To earn the Energy Star, a product has to meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the EPA or the U.S. Department of Energy. There’s no single metric for energy efficiency, it depends on the kind of product you’re comparing.

For instance, light bulbs such as CFLs and LEDs that earn an Energy Star are shown to consume two-thirds less energy than a standard incandescent bulb. Similarly, Energy Star qualified refrigerators are at least 15% more efficient than their traditional counterparts.

The EPA has set forth the following criteria for any items eligible for an Energy Star rating:

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Certified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by consumers, in addition to increased energy efficiency.
  • If the certified product costs more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers will recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings, within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Labeling would effectively differentiate products and be visible for purchasers.

This efficiency of a product is determined by a series of tests which are all third-party certified to ensure objectivity. And, since products and technology evolve, so does the testing and the criteria, which means that each year, the Energy Star specs may change to reflect new features and added efficiencies for certain products.

If you’re curious to see how certain appliances or products rate against each other, there’s a dedicated section of the Energy Star site which compares every single product that Energy Star tests so you can be sure you’re purchasing the best product for your needs.

How can I tell if a product has an Energy Star rating?

A bright yellow rectangular Energy Guide logo sits next to a bright blue Energy Star logo, on a blue background
Credit: Energy Guide / Energy Star

Energy Star's blue star shouldn’t be confused with the common yellow EnergyGuide label. They mean different things.

While you’re shopping, you can find Energy Star approved products by looking for a blue star with the word “energy” next to it. You can also use Energy Star’s Product Finder where you can compare every different Energy Star rated model of everything from refrigerators to light bulbs to insulation.

There is also an annual Energy Star Most Efficient program, which highlights the best of the best appliances and products that feature the very latest in energy-saving innovation. Some that we’ve tested and love include Beko DUT25401X dishwasher, which we rated our Best Value model, and the LG WM9000HVA washing machine, which is our top-rated washer for large families.

It’s important to note that while the Energy Star label seems ubiquitous, not every appliance has one, and the blue star shouldn’t be confused with the common yellow EnergyGuide label, which is provided courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission. The EnergyGuide label exists solely to tell you how much energy a product uses and how it compares to similar products, whereas Energy Star helps to identify the most energy efficient products.

Can I save money by using Energy Star products?

Couple sitting at kitchen table reviewing bills.
Credit: Getty Images / PeopleImages

Invest in cost efficient products that are eco-conscious as well.

You can! In addition to seeing savings on your electric bill, consumers who install Energy Star-rated products like insulation, hot water heaters, roofing, and windows may be eligible for tax credits.

You can also sign up for MyEnergyStar, which provides a checklist of items and actions you can take at home to update and replace less efficient products with newer, energy-saving versions. It will also track your progress and the reduction in your costs and carbon footprint.

Energy Star also extends beyond products; commercial buildings and new home construction are eligible to be Energy Star certified, which means that they must be built or retrofitted with specific equipment that ensures they meet or exceed set efficiency levels.

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