In an effort to give consumers a quick and easy way to compare the energy efficiency of household appliances, the Australian government introduced the Energy Star rating system. While the Energy Star label is now familiar to all Australians, a better understanding of how the system works can help you make even more informed decisions about the appliances you buy.
What Energy Stars Tell You about Appliances
According to the Australian government's Equipment Energy Efficiency
(E3) website, the Energy Star label is "a tool to help consumers compare appliances with similar characteristics on the basis of energy consumption." What this means is that the label reflects an "apples with apples" comparison that takes into account only the estimated consumption of energy measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh) of similar appliances. The Energy Star label does not
- The overall quality of an appliance.
- An appliance's monetary value in comparison to another's.
- How long an appliance will last.
- A product's exact consumption of energy. Other factors, such as climate and personal usage, will have a bearing on your appliance's efficiency.
All appliance manufacturers, both foreign and domestic, must achieve a minimum standard of energy efficiency before their products are allowed on the Australian market. The Energy Star label must be prominently displayed on every appliance both for consumers' sakes and to encourage manufacturers to continue to improve their products' energy efficiency.
What Is the Difference Between Stars?
An appliance with a 4 Star rating is more energy efficient than an appliance with a 3 or 3.5 Star rating, but just how much more efficient is it? Does a difference of just one star make enough of a difference to tip the scales in its favour? Surprisingly, a difference of just a single star can make a big difference. For example, each star on refrigerator labels represent a 23 percent difference in its efficiency: a fridge with an Energy Star rating of 4 consumes an estimated 23 percent less energy than a similar fridge with a 3 Star rating.
The testing procedures for different types of appliances vary depending on a number of factors and the procedures used to determine a particular appliance's energy efficiency are continually refined in order to make the Energy Star system even more reliable. For example, in 2007, Energy Star began including stand-by usage in its calculations. While a seemingly minor point, stand-by usage can account for up to 12 percent of an appliance's total consumption of energy.
Gas versus Electricity
Water heaters are the greatest consumers of electricity in the average Australian home. A gas water heater will outperform even the most energy efficient electric heater and is a more cost-effective solution as well, yet over half of Australian homes still use conventional electric water heaters. Because electric water heaters are a major source of greenhouse emissions (often emitting as much per year as the average car), the Australian government has introduced tough new regulations to curb their usage. From 2012, with a few exceptions, wherever piped natural gas supplies are available, all new detached homes, townhouses and terraces must install gas, solar or electric heat pump water heaters.
While this regulation doesn't apply to existing homes, it does reflect the importance of energy conservation and the need to choose all your appliances carefully. The three ways you can do this include:
- Purchasing electric appliances with higher Energy Star Ratings.
- Switching to natural gas if possible. LPG is another alternative, but is more expensive than either natural gas or electricity.
- Looking into solar energy - both passive and active.
The appliances you choose and the way you use them will also make a big difference in your energy consumption. If you buy a larger fridge or washing machine than you need, for example, your appliance will consume more energy than a smaller sized appliance with the same Energy Star rating would.
When purchasing a dishwasher or washing machine, also pay close attention to the Water Rating label. Similar to the Energy Star label, it will tell you how efficiently your appliance uses water. Not only will a washing machine or dishwasher that uses less water save water, when it is using hot water, it will save energy and every kilowatt hour of energy saved amounts to money saved as well.
While we can't all do everything to limit our energy consumption, we can all do our part. The Energy Star Rating system is a "win-win" solution for everyone. By choosing appliances with more stars, you are choosing appliances that have all the performance you need, but perform more economically and energy efficiently than ever before.