The Environmental Protection Agency established the Energy Star certification program in 1992. The EPA would invest time and money to research energy efficiency so consumers wouldn’t have to.
At the time, people were just beginning to buy computers for home use. Those computers and their peripherals used a lot of energy. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 had set minimum energy-efficiency standards for major appliances, but, of course, personal computers did not yet exist.
Therefore, the EPA started Energy Star to certify computers. Other product categories soon followed. In 1996, the EPA started to work with the Department of Energy to add new categories.
The EPA wanted to encourage innovations in technology to conserve energy. It didn’t want to dictate how to do it.
So Energy Star is a voluntary program. Manufacturers submit their products to earn a certification that tells consumers which computer, refrigerator, or other appliance uses less energy than others.
All products in categories covered by Energy Star must have a tag that shows how much energy it will use and the approximate annual cost to run it. If it meets the criteria, the tag will display an Energy Star label.
Here are the broad categories in the program:
- Computers, peripherals, and other office equipment
- Appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators, room air conditioners, and now even driers
- Home electronics other than computers, such as televisions and home entertainment systems
- Heating and cooling, including central air conditioning and programmable thermostats
- Lighting fixtures and bulbs
- Home envelope, including windows, the roof, and insulation
- Commercial equipment such as vending machines, drinking fountains, and exit signs
You may have noticed that Energy Star-certified products cost more than others. That’s because the manufacturer has had to spend extra money to design and manufacture what will meet the standards. But you’ll quickly recoup the difference in lower energy bills.
Energy Star for homes
A new house can also earn Energy Star certification. Energy Star homes must be at least 15% more energy efficient than the International Residential Code. They must have tight construction and ducts, effective insulation, and energy-saving windows. The builder must also install Energy Star appliances.
In addition, a home can apply for an Energy Star Indoor Air Package label. That means that, beyond qualifying as an Energy Star home, it must meet dozens of other standards that improve air quality.
Once it earns its certificate, a home doesn’t retain it forever. It must reapply every year and submit the results of an inspection by a registered architect.
Nowadays, many other green certifications exist. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), for example. More and more consumers care about energy conservation, both for saving money and cutting their carbon footprint. Energy Star, however, remains one of the top certification programs.
Many companies claim to care for the environment. Some of them only amount to greenwashing—making unsubstantiated green claims. All these green certifications give consumers confidence. They can trust that an authorized body has authenticated the claims and provided measurable proof. Let Energy Star certification guide your choice of which products to buy.
Here’s why Energy Star certification still matters / Emily Folk, Blue & Green Tomorrow. February 6, 2020
How Energy Star works / Tiffany Connors, How Stuff Works. December 12, 2007