Frequently Asked Questions About Appliance Standards

How do standards benefit consumers and businesses?

Standards provide tangible benefits to consumers, businesses, and the nation as a whole. By 2030,  accounting for products sold between 1987 and 2035 and for estimated product price increases, total net present value savings from national standards is $2.4 trillion for US consumers and businesses.

In addition to these crucial economic benefits, standards also help greatly reduce climate-warming emissions and other pollutants that harm human health. At a time when climate action is more imperative than ever before, appliance standards are a key piece of the puzzle within the overall suite of important energy efficiency measures we must take to reach our climate goals in the U.S.

What if there were no appliance standards?

  • Some appliances would use 2-3 times more energy than they do today
  • You’d be paying about $500 more a year to power the appliances and lights in your home
  • There would be added strain on the power grid, both in the heat of summer and cold of winter
  • There would be significantly more greenhouse gases and other pollution in the air; some individual standards cut millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 30 years of sales and all updated standards cumulatively reduce GHG emissions by more than a billion metric tons

Absent standards, some innovation and efficiency gains would have occurred on their own but the pace of those gains would have been slower, and the improvement would have been available in fewer products sold. Appliance standards served as a catalyst for many of the energy efficiency gains we’ve seen over the last 40 years and spread those gains to the products that are in every U.S. household.

So, why haven’t I heard of appliance standards before?

Unlike the blue ENERGY STAR® label or the yellow EnergyGuide tag (which shows a product’s energy use compared to similar products), efficiency standards are usually invisible to consumers. Once a standard goes into effect, all products manufactured or imported for sale in the United States must meet the efficiency requirements. Over the last 40 years, Congress has passed several appliance standards laws, directly setting standards for some products and requiring the Department of Energy (DOE) to set and update standards for others. DOE and Congress together have set minimum efficiency standards for more than 60 residential, commercial, and lighting products.

What’s the difference between appliance standards and ENERGY STAR?

ENERGY STAR is a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy- and water-efficient products. It is jointly run by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE). The appliance standards program, housed in DOE, sets mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards on products manufactured and imported for sale into the US. The two programs complement one another: ENERGY STAR paves the way for standards by demonstrating that high efficiency products are indeed feasible to manufacture and sell. The market information feeds into standards decisions, often resulting in a standard being set at or near the ENERGY STAR levels. Both ENERGY STAR and standards are periodically updated, moving efficiency levels up in a step-like progression.

How are standards enforced on the federal level?

Though Congress originally granted DOE the authority to enforce standards in 1975, efficiency standards were not actively enforced for many years. Since 2011, DOE has required manufacturers to submit compliance statements and certification reports to the department. DOE issues notices of non-compliance and/or penalties for improper certification or noncompliance with an applicable standard. 

For more information, go to the DOE Standards Certification and Enforcement page or the Office of the General Counsel website.