Should You Ignore Energy Star Ratings?

The government-run Energy Star program is coming under attack after a Government Accountability Office investigation found the program wasn’t exactly being vigorous with its verification standards.

In short, the GAO managed to get several fake products certified under the Energy Star program (including a space heater with a feather duster taped to it) and register several fake companies as Energy Star partners — one was called “Tropical Thunder Appliance.” (It’s nice to know our Government investigators have a sense of humor.)

In response to the investigation Energy Star said it would institute a “more rigorous screening process” that actually, you know, test the products.

So, should we start eschewing Energy Star appliances and just buy whatever suits our fancy?

In my opinion, no. While the GAO probe is alarming, an Energy Star rating is better than no rating at all. The rating does include standards and guidelines for energy efficiency and — perhaps I’m being naive here — my guess is most manufacturers actually adhere to the guidelines.

The bottom line is: while an Energy Star rating can no longer guarantee energy efficiency (and that is a shame), not having the rating does guarantee an inefficient product.

To me, the more important thing to know about the Energy Star label is that it means different things for different types of the same appliance:

If you’re buying a fridge based solely on energy use, the non-Energy Star rated basic appliance is by far the better choice. (Of course, the best choice is an Energy Star-rated basic model, which is what this blogger has — he said smugly.)

This same phenomenon holds true across all appliance and electronics. An Energy Star-rated plasma screen TV is actually less efficient than an unrated LCD TV, and an Energy Star rated desktop computer is less efficient than an unrated laptop, etc.

If the government really wanted to fix the Energy Star label, it would apply a single standard across an entire appliance sector and use a bronze, silver, gold, platinum, titanium, kryptonite-type rating system to identify the most efficient types of appliances. So, the side-by-side fridge could still be Energy Star rated, but at a “bronze” level and a more efficient standard fridge could qualify for the higher “gold” standard.

But hey, that’s just one man’s opinion. I couldn’t be as smart as the federal government, right?

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  1. It looks like the Hill is reporting that EPA and DOE have made some changes in response to the fraud exposed by the GAO report. I think they imply they may be doing a more long-term solution.

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