kitchen & bath | Feb 13, 2024 |
Another appliance efficiency crackdown is coming. Here’s what you need to know

The debate surrounding energy-efficient appliances in homes is heating up again.

The U.S. Department of Energy is tightening standards for dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers after coming to an agreement with manufacturers. The standards, which should be finalized by mid-2024, will go into effect within the next three to six years, lighting a fire under appliance companies to update their products. The Wall Street Journal’s John Keilman writes that the new regulations will cut the average home’s utility bill by $120 and lower carbon dioxide emissions by 270 million metric tons over the next 30 years.

This report comes on the heels of the news that the Energy Department is also increasing regulations for gas and electric stoves and ovens. As detailed by Maxine Joselow in The Washington Post, future models of electric stoves will be required to use 30 percent less energy than the current lowest-performing model, while gas stoves and electric ovens will need to use 7 percent less energy and gas ovens 4 percent less energy.

The new standards will apply to appliances manufactured in 2028 or later, not those currently on the market or already installed in homes. They will only affect 3 percent of gas stoves and 23 percent of electric stoves on the market, according to the Post. The regulations will not be telling Americans “how to cook their dinner,” as Sen. Joe Manchin wrote on X last year—nor will there be a complete ban on new gas stoves, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission previously suggested as a possibility before backtracking.

Energy-efficiency standards are updated every six years to keep the guidelines abreast of the latest technological capabilities. Keilman points out that when these regulations hit the market, appliance companies adapt with upgrades like new compressors that help refrigerators maintain a consistent temperature, advanced sensors that stop clothes dryers when the job is done instead of completing a preprogrammed cycle, and motors and pumps that allow dishwashers to use less water per load.

Chicago-based designer Dijana Savic-Jambert of Maredi Design, which specializes in sustainable and regenerative design practices, sees the new regulations as another step in the right direction for the home sector. “Ultimately, it means that the consumer is going to save money on their utility bills, from water to electricity,” she says. “Especially with induction cooktops, you are ensuring the option that will give you the best indoor air quality because they do not emit harmful pollutants like gas cooktops do, which we now know is scientifically proven.” Consumer resistance, she finds, often comes from discomfort with the unfamiliar. “With any new type of technology, [there’s a] learning curve,” she explains. “[While] cooking with induction is different from cooking with gas, it is also much more precise in terms of temperature control, and it even shortens cook time.”

New York–based designer Laurence Carr has long advocated for her clients to use energy-efficient appliances. “It’s an investment in their wallet, the environment and the future,” she says. For those who seek her out for her sustainability bona fides, that investment is a no-brainer.

Yet some in the appliance industry question how much further the quest for energy efficiency can go. Whirlpool’s head of sustainability, Pamela Klyn, told The Wall Street Journal that appliances are approaching their efficiency limits. For example, for the electric footprint of a modern microwave to be any lower, it would have to run without a clock. The increased prices of new-and-improved appliances are another concern. In the same WSJ article, Paul Storch, who runs the Bronx-based appliance retailer Felix Storch, says that the new compressors needed for the small refrigerators he sells could raise the prices by almost 10 percent, which translates to $50 to $100 per fridge. According to the Energy Department’s calculations, though, the money consumers spend upfront on more expensive appliances will be offset by lower energy bills down the line.

Despite naysayers’ critiques, the bulk of the evidence driving these new regulations seems to point to a cleaner and healthier environment, along with financial savings for consumers. The world is moving in a more environmentally conscious direction, and sooner than later your clients may want to as well.

“These are constantly evolving conversations that [are important] to have with clients because the education component is so significant,” says Savic-Jambert. ”Even if they are not replacing appliances right away, [we want them to be] aware of the best choices for the future.”

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