Choosing Energy Efficient Appliances for Your Home

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by energy efficiency chatter and jargon when buying just about anything these days. It seems “green and efficient” have replaced “new and improved” as advertising’s leading buzzwords. But if you want to sift through the overload and get only the information you need when making a purchase, just remember two things: EnerGuide and ENERGY STAR. They’re simple performance rating systems that will tell you all you need to know to make a decision that’s good for your wallet and good for the environment.

EnerGuide was developed in 1978 by the federal government to help consumers spend less money on electricity. It is a system of measuring the energy consumption of an appliance, and then giving the appliance a label that shows how it compares to similar brands and models. The EnerGuide label provides an estimate of the amount of power an appliance will use annually, in kilowatt hours. However, for most people the best part of the label is the shaded bar with an arrow showing how the appliance rates in comparison to other similar brands and models. The bar runs from most efficient on the left to least efficient on the right. So the arrow will be near the left end of the bar for appliances that use the least energy, and near the right end for energy hogs. For example, the label above/below is for a midsized refrigerator that ranks near the worst of its class.

Today, most major electrical home appliances sold in Canada are required to have an EnerGuide label attached at the point of sale – so be sure to look for it the next time you shop. The program has been used as a model for similar programs in many other countries. In fact you may come across the yellow label of the corresponding American “EnergyGuide” program on many appliances sold here.

Whereas EnerGuide is a rating system that shows and ranks the energy use of any appliance, ENERGY STAR is an official recognition awarded only to the most efficient appliances available. A product either gets the ENERGY STAR endorsement or it doesn’t. An easy way to distinguish between the two systems is to think back to school days: when it comes energy efficiency, the EnerGuide label is like a report card, and ENERGY STAR means ‘honours’, or top end of the class.

Efficiency is the main measure of the ENERGY STAR system, but the purchase price of an appliance is also taken into account. Highly efficient models do typically cost more than mainstream products. But no product can earn the ENERGY STAR rating unless it is shown that energy savings will more than make up for the difference in price. So if that ENERGY STAR refrigerator you have your eye on happens to cost an extra $100, go for it anyway: the fridge will save you more than that amount in power over its lifetime.

The ENERGY STAR program was launched in the US in 1992, and has become a recognized global standard for energy efficiency. It’s promoted in Canada by the federal government’s Office of Energy Efficiency. ENERGY STAR initially covered electronics only – you may have first seen the logo on your computer monitor. Today, the logo can be found on high-efficiency home heating and cooling equipment, electronics, lighting and appliances. In some cases, the ENERGY STAR logo is included on the EnerGuide label.

Can efficient home appliances really make a difference on your power bill? Well, consider this: the EPA estimates that the use of ENERGY STAR products saved 170 billion kilowatt hours in the US in 2006 – that’s enough power to supply New Brunswick for more than 10 years.

So the next time you’re out shopping for products for your home, look for the EnerGuide label and the ENERGY STAR logo. They’ll help you make a buying decision that’s good for your wallet and good for the environment.

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Carl Duivenvoorden is one of two Atlantic Canadians trained by Al Gore to deliver live presentations of “An Inconvenient Truth”. He lives in Upper Kingsclear, and can be reached via his website,

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