The United States Department of Energy's Appliances and Commercial Equipment Standards Program develops the federal minimum standards for residential and commercial appliance efficiency. All appliances sold in the U.S. must meet these minimum standards. The Energy Star program has higher standards for certified products. Exact specifications vary by product. For example, Energy Star rated full size refrigerators must be at least 20 percent more energy efficient than the federal minimum standard. Full size freezers must be at least 10 percent more efficient than the minimum standard.
Consumers should consider two prices when deciding between an Energy Star product and a non-Energy Star model, as noted by the Texas A&M University Extension. The first price is the upfront cost. Energy Star appliances tend to have a higher initial price tag than standard models. The second price is the operating cost. Although an Energy Star product may cost more upon purchase, certified products often cost less in the long-term, due to decreased utility costs.
The Energy Guide Label
Familiarize yourself with the Energy Guide label before you shop for new appliances. This bright yellow label tells consumers exactly how much energy the product uses when it is properly installed and operated. The label usually also offers a product comparison and estimates of annual operating costs. Some appliances, such as kitchen ranges, ovens, clothes dryers, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, are not required to carry an Energy Guide label. Keep in mind that the estimates on the Energy Guide are only approximate and may vary based on where you live and how you use the appliance.
Regardless of the type of model you choose, always read product labels carefully and allow plenty of time to shop around for the best product. If you choose an Energy Star product, ask the dealer about any rebates or tax credits that may be available for the appliance. Hire a professional to install complex appliances like heaters or air conditioning units, since improper installation often increases energy usage. Once you have purchased and installed your appliance, use energy-saving practices to minimize utility bill costs.