There's nothing very exciting about appliances and it's easy to forget about them, but they can take a big chunk out of consumers' utility bills, running up electricity and water charges every month and, sometimes, emitting greenhouses gases that contribute to global warming.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing updated efficiency standards that it says could save consumers up to $3.5 billion per year. Homeowners would save an average of $295 over the 14-year life of a new clothes washer and $130 over the life of a new refrigerator, DOE estimates.
It's expected to cost manufacturers about $2 billion to meet the new standards, an investment that's likely to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says the new standards won't accomplish much. “More stringent federal efficiency standards are likely to increase costs for manufacturers and consumers without providing meaningful energy savings,” the group says on its website. “Most appliances covered by the program now operate at or near peak efficiency.”
But the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says the new standards will be helpful to consumers, especially renters and those with low incomes.
"Welcome news for consumers"
“The long-awaited update to refrigerator and clothes washer standards is welcome news for consumers and, in particular, financially struggling households who, on average, have disproportionately higher energy burdens,” said Richard Eckman, an energy advocate at CFA.
“Our surveys over the past decade show that consumers overwhelmingly want more energy efficient appliances and strongly support stronger federal standards. Having stronger standards in place will ensure that those products meet a higher threshold of efficiency, thereby saving financially strapped Americans money on their utility bills," Eckman said.
The new standards could also be good news for renters, who rarely get to choose their own refrigerator and clothes washer, and are stuck paying a greater percentage of their income on utility bills than homeowners.
Previous DOE rulemakings have increased the energy efficiency of refrigerators and clothes washers. Today, the typical new refrigerator uses 75% less energy than its 1973 counterpart — while offering roughly 20% more storage capacity and more useful features.
In that 40-year span, DOE raised the efficiency standard for refrigerators three times. Similarly, today’s clothes washers use 70% less energy than in 1990 and offer 50% more tub capacity. The new proposed rules will continue this trajectory of innovation and savings.