You went into the store to finally purchase your new air conditioner for your home and you find yourself lost—lost in so many brands waving at you, sporting their “horsepower” and how much energy you can save if you choose such a model.
But then, you spot a tiny blue sticker with a star that says, “ENERGY STAR”. What is ENERGY STAR, and how can it affect your choice of an HVAC system? Are Energy Star air conditioners worth it?
Are Energy Star Air Conditioners Worth It?
Yes. Picking an ENERGY STAR certified appliance like a central or window air conditioner is a solid start for gaining substantial savings and better performance. But it does not take away the importance of 1) properly sizing the unit; 2) hiring a top-notch contractor; 3) properly and routinely maintaining the unit.
What Is The Energy Star Program?
The blue ENERGY STAR sticker is a well-known symbol that determines which household, industrial, or commercial products are certified to be energy-efficient. The rating system is aided and abetted by the United States government through its executive agencies, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the independent sector Environmental Protective Agency (EPA).
The main purpose of the ENERGY STAR program is to protect the environment and its resources by making the information on cost-saving products, air quality improving, and safe for the climate available to the public.
In 2018, ENERGY STAR focused its drives to increase awareness of consumers on the energy efficiency of widely-used appliances such as air conditioners and smart thermostats, alongside refrigerators, laundry machines, pool pumps, water heaters, and light bulbs.
For a product to be ENERGY STAR certified, it needs to satisfy stringent energy efficiency requirements laid out by the DOE and EPA and be tested in a government-approved laboratory. It should prove its efficiency by decreasing the electricity bill of its users when compared to using non-certified products. An ENERGY STAR-qualified product should also contribute to the preservation of the environment by having minimal harmful byproducts and emissions.
The ENERGY STAR label is an essential tool in picking your new air conditioning unit or to replace your old one, as they are proven to be 10% to 20% more energy efficient than regular products. It is crucial to know the difference between products that are only marked “Energy Efficient” versus “ENERGY STAR Certified”. For the user to experience the full benefits of a certified product, proper sizing, quality installation, and adequate airflow should still be adhered to.
The US government has always been concerned with the preservation of the environment. On December 2, 1970, former President Richard Nixon officially established the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA and with the principal responsibility “ to protect human health by safeguarding the air we breathe, the water we drink and land on which we live.”
Among its many profitable environment-saving programs such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and phasing out of toxic substances from the market, EPA combined forces with the US Department of Energy and initiated the ENERGY STAR program.
Why should consumers, both private and industrial sectors, be concerned about the ENERGY STAR program and its ratings on products? And how does the ENERGY STAR rating affect your choice of air conditioning system for your home?
What Is The Energy Star Rating?
The drive behind the ENERGY STAR program is to provide “simple, credible, and unbiased information that consumers and businesses rely on to make well-informed decisions” on which products are found to be energy-efficient and safe for the environment.
If a product submitted for certification can pass various energy efficiency and performance tests and meet the high standards of the DOE and the EPA, they are bestowed the right to a blue “ENERGY STAR” sticker, visible on their product.
Consequently, American consumers would identify which goods available in the market are proven and tested to give them significant savings on electricity. Additionally, the buyers would have the peace of mind that the item they just purchased is safe for the environment.
Because ENERGY STAR rating has made certain brands stand out from the crowd of other products in the market, thousands of brands willingly offer their products to the ENERGY STAR program to be rated.
This win-win-win situation between the buyers, the makers of the product, and the government on behalf of the environment made the ENERGY STAR program the most sought-after certification program for brands in America.
A large number of product manufacturers, service providers, health organizations, educational institutions, and even entire cities supported and associated themselves as “partners” to the ENERGY STAR program.
How Do Products Get ENERGY STAR Certified?
Getting certified by the joint powers of DOE and EPA is definitely not a walk in the park. These executive agencies created specific sets of criteria on every category of product for ENERGY STAR certification.
For instance, residential air source heat pump and central air conditioner equipment are classified together. While product specification for room air conditioners has its own eligibility criteria.
These forms are strict rundowns of the high standard that DOE and EPA want to uphold, in search for energy-efficient products that are both budget-saving and preservers of the environment.
The individual product will undergo a series of tests performed by a third-party verification testing through a Certification Body acknowledged by the EPA. The list of the accredited laboratories and certification bodies is available on the ENERGY STAR website.
Additionally, the Department of Energy and EPA can perform their own tests on the products that are already qualified. This means that the ENERGY STAR label granted to a product is not in any way lifetime. “In the event of a specification revision, please note that the ENERGY STAR qualification is not automatically granted for the life of a product model,” the eligibility requirement clearly states.
Once a product is finally found to adhere to all the requirements lined up by DOE and EPA and has been successfully certified, it will be the proud owner of the highly exclusive blue ENERGY STAR label.
What’s more is that the product will be included in the select list of ENERGY STAR partners posted on the official site, where consumers can browse and compare before heading to the stores to make their purchase.
With this privilege of being an ENERGY STAR partner, the manufacturer of the product already certified has the responsibility of “adhering to [ENERGY STAR Identity Guidelines] and ensuring that its authorized representatives, such as advertising agencies, dealers, and distributors, are also in compliance.”
Furthermore, an ENERGY STAR partner is compelled to educate its consumers on proper installation and use of the product for them to receive its full benefits. In terms of the central AC unit, this is what ENERGY STAR required the partners to fulfill:
“Offer and encourage training to distributors and/or contractors on the following issues: air distribution issues and their effect on equipment performance, refrigerant charging, proper installation of registers, ductwork, and plenum to ensure low leakage and to meet insulation requirements, and proper use of the Manual J calculation, or other equivalent calculation, in order to encourage proper sizing of equipment.”
Clearly, before achieving the right to proudly wear the blue star label, organizations should comply with the high levels of criteria of the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection agencies and consistently uphold its standards.
Can ENERGY STAR Ratings Help You?
Since it started in 1992, the ENERGY STAR program was revealed to have countless benefits to individual American consumers, families, businesses, and organizations who trusted and purchased its certified products.
In 2018, ENERGY STAR’s official site reported massive savings on electricity of “5 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity, avoid more than $500 billion in energy costs, and achieve 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions.”
How can these benefits impact you as an owner or potential buyer of ENERGY STAR certified air conditioners?
In terms of air conditioning, ENERGY STAR certified central air conditioners are described to have higher Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) and Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) ratings. SEER defines anticipated energy efficiency for one whole season, while EER determines energy efficiency at a single air temperature.
But as of 2023 these ratings have been updated. The SEER rating has been changed to SEER2. And you’ll see a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF2) rating used more commonly in place of the EER rating.
ENERGY STAR-certified air conditioners are established to use 8% less energy than other new models available in the stores.
Of course, it is not enough to simply scout for the blue ENERGY STAR sticker, buy it, and expect it to fulfill your every expectation from a perfect AC unit.
A critical portion of the ENERGY STAR® Program Requirements is an instruction for the manufacturer to include the following disclaimer:
“Proper sizing and installation of equipment are critical to achieving optimal performance. Split system air conditioners and heat pumps (excluding ductless systems) must be matched with appropriate coil components to meet ENERGY STAR criteria. Ask your contractor for details or visit www.energystar.gov.”