Washing machines and fridges could be much cheaper to power by 2027

Rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy are projected to reduce emissions and save consumers billions of dollars

(Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

The Biden administration on Friday proposed stricter energy standards for household washing machines, refrigerators and freezers to reduce emissions while also saving consumers money.

The Energy Department said the changes to regulations, which have not been updated in over a decade, would save Americans about $3.5 billion a year on energy and water bills while reducing emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. Homeowners would save an average of $295 over the 14-year life of a new clothes washer and $130 over the life of a new refrigerator.

Appliance companies, however, would need to invest approximately $2 billion over the next three years to update product designs and manufacturing lines to comply with the new standards, the Energy Department conceded. The department estimated that in one of the more likely of five economic scenarios, the compliance costs could cause a 15 percent to 30 percent drop in the industry’s value. But it also said that revenue could grow substantially.

“With today’s proposals, we’re building on a decades-long effort with industry to ensure tomorrow’s appliances work more efficiently and save Americans money,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm. “Over the last 40 years, at the direction of Congress, DOE has worked to promote innovation, improve consumers’ options, and raise efficiency standards for household appliances without sacrificing the reliability and performance that Americans have come to expect.”

The new appliance standards, which could come into effect as early as 2027, are being proposed amid a national furor over possible federal regulation of gas stoves because of their potential health impacts. Conservatives have sought to depict the Biden administration as waging a war on household appliances, but experts in energy efficiency say the standards proposed Friday are long overdue and could produce big savings for consumers.

Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the Energy Department is required to conduct regular reviews of appliance efficiency standards. Although the department is not required to tighten the standards, it usually chooses to do so.

Refrigerators on display at a Lowe’s Home Improvement outlet store in Miami in June. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, however, wants to end the reviews that are performed every six years under the act. “More stringent federal efficiency standards are likely to increase costs for manufacturers and consumers without providing meaningful energy savings,” the group says on its website. “Most appliances covered by the program now operate at or near peak efficiency.”

In an email Friday, AHAM Vice President Jill Notini said this is the fifth generation of standards for refrigerators and the seventh for clothes washers. “Standards are a balancing act,” she said. “Manufacturers must deliver efficient products while still providing the features, performance and affordability that consumers expect.”

But Andrew deLaski, the executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said that “the best models [of refrigerators and washing machines] have gotten much more efficient while others still use older technologies that cause higher utility bills each month.”

Today, 15 million refrigerators are sold in the United States every year, and a typical new one uses 75 percent less energy than its 1973 counterpart while offering roughly 20 percent more storage capacity and more useful features, the Energy Department said in a news release. Over that time, the Energy Department has raised the efficiency standard for refrigerators three times.

The Energy Department says the future holds more innovation. It estimated that over 30 years, the standards proposed Friday for refrigerators and freezers could save the country as much as $20.4 billion on energy and water bills, cutting energy use by 12 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 179.2 million metric tons.

Over the same 30-year period, the United States could save as much as $14.5 billion with the use of new clothes washers and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 53.2 million tons.

The Biden administration proposed new standards for household clothes dryers last year.

If approved, the new regulations would be a landmark for appliances that were caught up in President Donald Trump’s efforts to freeze or roll back energy-efficiency standards. At that time, the Natural Resources Defense Council — along with consumer and low-income advocates, and a number of states — sued the Energy Department because it did not take action on 25 standards.


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