Buying an Energy Efficienct Refrigerator or Water Heater in 2015: Changes to ENERGY STAR Ratings

Energy efficiency in the home is a great tool for homeowners, allowing reduced environmental impacts while minimizing operational costs of the home. Conservation Pros provides energy efficiency renovations for residences saving owners thousands each year through air sealing, insulation, crawlspace encapsulations, and more. Once energy efficiency renovations have taken place it is time to start considering more efficient appliances. This article is a guide to help you decide on an energy efficient appliance since the 2015 changes in the ENERGY STAR and DOE requirements.

It is going to be a hassle to buy a new ENERGY STAR residential appliance without knowing the changes to ENERGY STAR in April of 2015.  Let us start with the common sales tool: the labels.


The format of the labels changed from yellow with black lettering to black with yellow lettering in 2015.

Changes have also been made to the calculated energy use and cost described by the labels.  Much of the confusion arises from the changes to the calculations which have made it hard or near impossible to compare the older models to the newer ones in terms of efficiency.  The bottom line:  the newer refrigeration and water heating appliances are more efficient, due to higher standards for energy factors set by the DOE.  Both refrigerators and water heaters will appear to have higher use, however, this is not at all the case;  The energy cost calculations went from less than $0.1065/kWh in 2014 to $0.12/kWh in 2015, and the tested annual energy consumption went up due to changes in the temperatures that appliances are tested at.

“For example, we set the refrigerator and freezer to 37 degrees and 0 degrees, respectively, following the instructions found in most manuals. The new DOE standard calls for 39 and 0 degrees, rather than a more complicated, less real-world interpolation involving multiple temperature settings.”

The result is a more accurate measurement that more directly reflects the actual use and cost of running the appliances.

The newer water heaters are also significantly larger per gallon capacity, which could result in many issues for installers.  The installation costs could be higher for the new ENERGY STAR gas water heating units which require an outlet for condensate disposal, and stricter requirements for the venting of gas water heaters.

Buy the right sizeWhen buying an ENERGY STAR appliance it is most important to calculate the correct size for the appliance.  This applies to water heating and refrigeration.  If either of them are over-sized they will not result in the energy savings you are seeking.  Also, if you have an ENERGY STAR refrigerator, and several mini-fridges throughout the house, or are certainly not being energy efficient.  Large refrigerators don’t actually use a whole lot more than small ones, so if you have an ENERGY STAR refrigerator and one or two mini-fridges as well you have most-likely doubled your energy use for refrigeration!

Either you are a green builder, or you have a water heater than is nearing the end of its days.  Either way, you should be looking into energy efficient water heaters rated with ENERGY STAR certifications.  Now that you know the DOE has made changes in the (EF) of all residential water heating appliances, and that ENERGY STAR has stepped up their requirements and rating analyses displayed on the label, you will be prepared to make a decision on a new residential water heating or refrigeration appliance.

New 2015 ENERGY STAR  Rating Notes:

– New vs. Old Labels – Black with yellow letters vs. yellow with black letters
– kWh/year – 2015 appliances show higher use, however are indeed more efficient.
– Cost/year – 2015 appliances show higher cost, based on a change from $0.1065/kWh to $0.12/kWh in 2015
Water Heaters – 2015 water heaters are larger in size, due to additional insulation.  Also, installation costs of gas or oil-fired water heaters may rise significantly due to changes in exhaust and condensate requirements.
Refrigerators – Avoid mini-fridges or any multiple’s or refrigerators at all costs!  If you really need to compare old vs new ENERGY STAR refrigerators try using energy use and efficiency ratings by Consumer Reports.

Additional Resources

ENERGY STAR – Most Efficient Appliances 2015

ENERGY STAR – Water Heaters

Consumer Reports – Water Heater Buyers Guide

Consumer Reports – ENERGY STAR 2015 Changes

Video: Refrigerator Buying Guide

Mother Earth News – Changes to Energy Star 2015

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