Energy Star: Overview, Certification, and Sustainability

Energy Star is one of the most effective government programs combating climate change.
Person replacing a conventional light bulb with an energy efficient one.
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Energy Star is the U.S. government’s leading energy efficiency program, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. An Energy Star certification label allows consumers to save money and reduce their carbon footprint when making consumer purchases for their homes.

Established in 1992 under the Clean Air Act, the program evaluates and rates various consumer products, from refrigerators to wine coolers. It also works with home builders, industrial energy consumers, utilities, and commercial businesses to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings.

Efficiency Matters Most

The cheapest form of energy is energy that you don’t use—and this is where efficiency comes in. You have far more control over how much electricity you use than you do over how that electricity is produced. Especially if your electricity comes from carbon-emitting sources like coal and natural gas, living in an energy-efficient home is by far the single most effective way to lower your carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency has calculated that energy efficiency alone can reduce of the emissions reductions necessary to align with the Paris Climate Accords.

How Energy Star Fights Climate Change

In the United States, home heating and cooling (17%) and home appliances and electronics (15%) produce 32% of residential carbon emissions. That’s more than the transportation sector in the U.S., which emits 28% of America’s carbon emissions.

Since it was founded in 1992, Energy Star labels have helped consumers save (kWh) of electricity. That’s 22% more electricity than U.S. power plants produced in 2021.

U.S. energy has gotten much cleaner since 1992. Even by today’s cleaner standards, those energy savings avoided 2.2 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions, roughly a third of the today. In 2020 alone, Energy Star programs saved American consumers in electricity costs and prevented some 202 billion metric tons of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere.

Energy Star has been a model for other nations’ adoption of minimum energy performance standards (MEPS); Energy Star standards have been copied and implemented in Japan, Switzerland, and Canada, among other nations. As standards of living improve in emerging economies like China and India, demand for home appliances is surging, nearly doubling electricity consumption between 2000 and 2020, according to the . Implementing MEPS worldwide is a key global strategy for combating climate change.

How Certification Works

Energy Star’s evaluation process is a basic one. Analysts test the amount of energy a product uses and award an Energy Star certification based on how much less energy the product uses compared to a standard model product in that category. The percentage of efficiency achieved in order to receive certification depends on the product category.
Efficiency Improvements Required for Energy Star Certification
LED lighting 75% more efficient and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
Home construction At least 10% more energy efficient than buildings built to code.
Refrigerators At least 9% more efficient than minimum product standards.
Clothes dryers At least 20% more efficient than standard product models.

The Energy Star program has done more than create minimum standards. It has increased consumers’ focus on the energy efficiency of the products they buy, resulting in competition among manufacturers to create products that far exceed minimum efficiency standards. As a result, Energy Star-certified homes are on average 20% more efficient than those built to code—twice the minimum to achieve certification—while certified commercial buildings use 35% less energy than typical buildings. Energy Star-certified computers are more efficient than standard models, televisions are on average more efficient, while printers and scanners are up to more efficient.

Energy Star’s role in educating consumers about energy efficiency may be its most important contribution to combating climate change. For many types of products, it offers not only product ratings but advice on saving energy and money while the products are in use. For example, it notes that using a computer’s screen saver does not save energy, since the screen saver will still draw power for the monitor and even prevent the CPU from shutting down. It also explains that heat pumps💖 work most efficiently when they are set to a comfortable setting and left alone, rather than constantly raising and lowering the thermostat.

Smartphone with smart home control functions in hands
Some thermostats can be controlled using smart home control functions. Westend61 / Getty Images

Energy Star Home Upgrade

The is a six-step guide to electrifying a home with clean, renewable energy. Those six steps include clean heating and cooling, a super-efficient water heater, a smart thermostat, a well-insulated and sealed attic, high-performing windows, and an electric vehicle charging station.

On the Energy Star , consumers can search for products from 75 different product categories, including appliances, heating and cooling systems, water heaters, lighting, building products, office equipment, electronics, electric vehicle chargers, and others. The program evaluates and certifies a wide range of products—including pool pumps, ceiling fans, air purifiers, Christmas lights, griddles, vending machines, and ice makers—not just major appliances. (Of course, buying an Energy Star refrigerator will have a greater environmental benefit than buying a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner.)

Energy Star works not only on the energy consumer’s end but on the producer’s as well. The program works with utilities nationwide to improve the efficiency of their electricity generation, reducing costs and emissions for 95% of American households. An energy-efficient clothes dryer ꧒improves one person’s carbon footprint. An energy-efficient power plant reduces everyone's carbon footprint in that utility district.

Still, efficiency does not eliminate carbon emissions💧 entirely. Energy-efficient home appliances are only as clean as the electricity that runs them.

Return on Investment

Energy efficiency initially costs more money but saves money in the long run. As with many newly electrified products (such as EVs), upfront costs are higher, but they are more than offset by the ongoing savings on your electricity bill. Energy Star estimates, for example, that an energy-efficient electric heat pump water heater will on average cost roughly $700 more than a standard water heater, but save a consumer up to $3,500 over the life of the equipment.

To help offset those initial costs, Energy Star makes it easier to find tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements, including those under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. These credits apply to new homes and commercial buildings and existing ones. can help reduce the cost of heat pumps, water heaters, central air conditioning systems, insulation, roofing, windows, and doors.

The website also includes a to help you find state and local rebates and special offers on various products. The Rebate Finder provides assistance programs for low-income households to make energy efficiency improvements, such as the project.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What’s the difference between an EnergyGuide label and an Energy Star label?
    An EnergyGuide lists the annual energy consumption of an appliance and describes whether that energy use is above or below the average use for that product. The EnergyStar logo identifies highly efficient products and is often incorporated into the EnergyGuide label for products that qualify.
  • Does Energy Star include the energy used to manufacture, package, and dispose of products?

    No. Energy Star only assesses the energy used by a product while in use. The EPA is working on a life-cycle analysis of the energy use of products from raw materials to the final disposal. Embodied carbon needs to be measured as well.

  • Does Energy Star provide financial support for energy efficiency projects?
    No. Energy Star does not directly provide financial support, but it partners with state energy offices, utility companies, and product manufacturers that offer financial help. Its is a good place to start in searching for financial assistance.
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