Since 1980, EnergyGuide labels displayed on appliances have been helping savvy consumers make energy efficient choices. The distinctive yellow and black labels help shoppers compare the energy use of different appliance models. The more energy efficient an appliance is, the less it costs to operate, translating into lower home utility bills. Using less energy is also good for the environment, reducing air pollution and helping to conserve natural resources.

The labels don't appear on all appliances, but the Federal Trade Commission requires their placement on any new product in the following energy-using product lines:

  • Refrigerators
  • Refrigerator-freezers and freezers
  • Dishwashers
  • Clothes washers
  • Central air conditioners
  • Room air conditioners
  • Water heaters (some types)
  • Heat pumps
  • Furnaces and boilers
  • Lighting products
  • Fluorescent lamp ballasts
  • Plumbing products (some types)
  • Televisions (manufactured after May 10, 2011)

Although clothes-dryers, ranges and ovens, microwave ovens, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and space heaters have to meet federal minimum efficiency standards, they have been exempted from the EnergyGuide program. That's because the amount of energy the products use does not vary substantially from model to model.

How to read EnergyGuide labels

This sample label explains how to use the label as you shop.

how to read an EnergyGuide label

The label includes:

  • The make, model, and size - so you know exactly what product this label describes.
  • A list of key features - both of the appliances you're looking at and the similar models that make up the cost range below.
  • The operating cost range of competitors - this helps you compare the energy use of similar models by showing you the range of operating costs for models with similar features.

Considerations when using the Energyguide label

Remember that some types of refrigerators will be more efficient than others. A refrigerator with a top-mounted freezer, for example, will probably be use less energy than the most efficient side-mounted freezer model of the same cubic size. Our sample label is for a 23-cubic feet refrigerator with a side-mounted freezer and a through-the-door icemaker. When comparison shopping, make sure you compare models that have similar features and are similar in size.

Another word of caution - ranges shown on the labels are updated every five years, and manufacturers are constantly introducing more efficient appliances. As a result, it could be possible to find a model that is more efficient than the most efficient end of the range. In that case, the label may note that the efficiency of this particular model was not available at the time the range was published.

The yearly operating cost is estimated by using a national average cost of electricity. Your utility may charge more or less than the average price, so remember that the EnergyGuide estimated cost is just that - an estimate.

Information on EnergyGuide labels varies from appliance to appliance. The estimated cost maybe based on the average price of natural gas instead of electricity, for example. For room air conditioners, central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces and boilers, the range is not energy consumption, but rather, the energy efficiency ratings for these products (EER, SEER, HSPF & SEER, and AFUE, respectively).