What Are Energy Star Ratings, Anyway?

Walk into any electronics store or appliance shop and you’ll see a parade of Energy star rated items on display, but what does that blue star logo really mean?  Most of us probably don’t know exactly, other than that it’s something about energy efficiency.  Which is OK – the whole point is to provide a quick and easily recognizable reference for energy efficient products.  But here’s the rundown on what an Energy Star rating really represents.

The Environmental Protection Agency began the program in the 1990s with two basic objectives:  to reduce pollution from wasted electricity consumption, and to help consumers save money on utility bills.  The program has since grown beyond appliances and electronics like TVs and computers, and now includes ratings for whole systems such as houses.

To qualify for a rating, a product must meet certain criteria.  An item must demonstrate a significant and measurable reduction in energy use compared to the standard in its category, and it must do so while delivering comparable performance.  Furthermore, if the energy-efficient product costs more than its competitors, the higher price must be offset by the energy savings over time.

The specific levels of energy efficiency vary by product category.  For example, a television that is 40% more efficient than average may qualify for the Energy Star rating, but an LED light bulb needs to be 75% more efficient than an incandescent competitor.  And as products evolve and improve over time, The EPA revises its standards to even stricter levels (generally once half of the items on the market in a particular category qualify for the rating).

Yet another bonus:  besides saving money on your electrical bill each month, many Energy Star rated items qualify for state or federal tax credits, and they may also qualify for rebate programs from local utility companies.

Learn more about how a product earns a rating at the official Energy Star website.