Energy Star, the consumer product labeling program started in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency, has done much to raise awareness of energy efficiency in the U.S. But with some products, a kind of Lake Wobegon effect has set in over the years as the vast majority of models in a category have come to qualify for the above average distinction. Enter the Energy Star program's Most Efficient label, which launched in pilot phase last year and is expanding to eight product categories in 2012.
The label is reserved for products that demonstrate truly exceptional, inspirational, or leading edge efficiency, according to the EPA. Eligible product categories now include air-source heat pumps, boilers, central air conditioners, clothes washers, furnaces, geothermal heat pumps, refrigerator-freezers, and televisions. If you're in the market for one of these wares, the best way to find Most Efficient standouts is by visiting the Energy Star website. Keep in mind that performance is not part of the criteria, so you should check Consumer Reports' buying advice and Ratings when applicable, especially for refrigerators, televisions, and washers.
You might also start to see the Most Efficient label displayed more prominently at retailers and on manufacturer's websites. However, it will not be factory-applied to products or product packaging in the manner saved for the traditional Energy Star label, which EPA officials want to keep as the most recognized face of the program.