You’ve likely seen the ubiquitous EnergyGuide labels in stores when you’re shopping for new appliances. And you might have even tried to use those yellow labels to select a washing machine or refrigerator that uses less electricity and saves you some money.
“Tried” is the key word, because over the years many consumers could not successfully decipher the data on the labels. In an effort to improve the label, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on August 7 announced that a new EnergyGuide label will appear on products like dehumidifiers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, room air conditioners, and washing machines. The label (shown), the result of a two-year rulemaking process, is expected to debut in about six months.
"We wanted to get rid of some of the clutter that was on the label to make it easier to use," said Hampton Newsome, a staff attorney with the FTC. The revamped label will show the estimated annual cost to run the appliance and the estimated annual energy consumption.
But the simplified label doesn’t overcome one inherent limitation, according to Bernie Deitrick, a program leader in the Consumer Reports Technical department who participated in a 2006 FTC workshop that covered the EnergyGuide label.
"The FTC did not address what Consumers Union considers a major weakness of both the EnergyGuide label and the Energy Star program: fair comparisons across styles of refrigerators--top-freezer, bottom-freezer, side-by-side--sizes, and the relative sizes of the freezer and fresh-food compartments,” says Deitrick. “The rating for energy efficiency that Consumer Reports gives to every tested refrigerator provides just this type of fair comparison, allowing consumers to make a more informed decision concerning the energy efficiency of their refrigerator." (You can read the Consumers Union position on the EnergyGuide label in these April 2007 comments to the FTC: CUComments.pdf.)
Even with those concerns, “Ultimately, we support the change to the new, improved label,” says Mark Connelly, senior director of appliance testing for Consumer Reports. “We think it is a bit simpler and will be easier for consumers to understand and use.”—Steven H. Saltzman
Essential information: Look for our special report, Save Hundreds on Energy Costs, in the October 2007 issue. The report includes coverage of windows, space heaters, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and much more. And visit GreenerChoices.org for the latest news on environmental issues and expert advice on ways to save energy and money every day.