Once upon a time, EnergyStar-branded appliances belonged to a rather exclusive club. While not impossible to find, appliances deemed as energy-efficient by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency weren’t exactly in the majority. They were special; something to aspire toNow, as the State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Progam (aka Cash for Appliances) kicks into high gear and interest in EnergyStar reaches an all-time high, it’s difficult to find some appliances that aren't EnergyStar certified. In 2008 for example, 79 percent of all TV sets were EnergyStar qualified while 67 percent of dishwashers made the grade. 

While the tremendous growth and popularity of EnergyStar is certainly not a negative thing — the more the better, I say — it’s hard not to question if the standards for energy-efficient appliances have suffered in the process. As MNN reported back in November, an internal audit found that some less-than-worthy appliances had slipped through the cracks and had received EnergyStar certification due to improper tracking. Read the audit: “EPA cannot be certain ENERGY STAR products are the more energy-efficient and cost-effective choice for consumers.”

The DOE and EPA were quick to perform damage control, defend the program, and tweak some standards, specifically for dishwashers. However, the Washington Post continues to wonder if middle-of-the-road products are still being deemed as energy-efficient. Are EnergyStar branded appliances spanning a total of 60 product categories, as the Washington Post so aptly puts it, subject to unchecked “grade inflation?” Is the ubiquity of the EnergyStar label rendering it irrelevant?

The article brings up some interesting points from both sides of the issue. EnergyStar believes that working with manufacturers to adjust energy-efficiency standards is a tricky process — if they become too high too quickly, EnergyStar-branded appliances could become difficult to purchase.

Others lament that as stores are flooded with more and more EnergyStar appliances, the line between lower-performing, conventional appliances and the truly energy-efficient ones is blurred; the once-exceptional becomes the conventional. Says Celia Lehrman of Consumer Reports: “It makes the EnergyStar worth a little less to the consumer if it's something everybody's got.”

What do you think MNN readers? Has the surge of EnergyStar-branded appliances thrown you off and forced you to become a more critical shopper? Or do you like having a wider selection of brands and models of EnergyStar products to choose from? Do you think perhaps a more exacting rating system within the existing certification system should be instituted? 

Via [The Washington Post]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Is EnergyStar at the risk of becoming EnergyIrrelevant?
On the tail of an audit that questioned the reliability of the EnergyStar label, the <i>Washington Post</i> wonders: Are less-than-efficient appliances still ma