Consumer Reports Energy Investigation: Five Steps to Make the U.S. a Global...

Consumer Reports Energy Investigation: Five Steps to Make the U.S. a Global Leader in Energy Efficiency

Seven Simple Ways Consumers Can Start Saving Today; Latest Evolution of Lightbulbs on the Market


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YONKERS, N.Y., Sept. 7 /PRNewswire-HISPANIC PR WIRE/ — The U.S. energy consumption per capita was at its lowest level in 41 years last year. Americans have bought more energy efficient lightbulbs and appliances, run their air conditioners less and even line dry their clothes. So why does the U.S. use more energy than most other countries? Consumer Reports surveyed more than 1,500 American homeowners about their experiences of becoming more energy efficient over the past 12 months – turns out that its harder than it should be.

While homeowners continue to increase their energy efficient choices, the government needs to do better. Complicated and confusing rebate programs coupled with slack Energy Star standards and outdated testing have squandered potential energy savings. Consumer Reports laid out five key steps that are necessary to help make the U.S. a global leader in energy efficiency and conservation:

— Strengthen Energy Star standards. Its good news that products have become more energy efficient, but when too many products in a category qualify for Energy Star, it becomes harder, not easier for consumers to identify truly exceptional products. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should keep its focus on toughening Energy Star qualifications. When more than 35 percent of all products sold in any category qualify, that should show that the bar needs to be raised.

— Bring testing into the 21st century. Outdated testing procedures mean that newer features can go unchecked. Consumer Reports found appliances that perform differently under Department of Energy (DOE) test conditions than they would in a home. To remain useful, testing procedures must be continually updated and strengthened to keep up with product changes. The current process takes too long, allowing for new features and technologies to appear that are not tested.

— Take the hassle out of incentives. Over the past 12 months, 91% of all homeowners made a purchase or improvement that qualified for a government rebate or tax credit, but only one-quarter of homeowners said they took advantage of an incentive program. The top reason for not participating was because they wrongly thought their purchases didnt qualify. Around half of homeowners who made a qualifying purchase but didnt participate reported this mistaken belief. Other prominent reasons were complicated and confusing rules and concern that getting paid was too much of a hassle. In addition, almost a quarter of poll respondents who qualified and didnt apply explained that the incentives were too small. Qualifying homeowners were least likely to participate in the cash-for-appliances state rebate program, in part because of the incentive amount. States offering more generous appliance rebates have had more success.

— Adopt what works abroad. The European Union has taken a progressive stand against standby power, the amount of energy a product consumes when its not in use, by setting a 1-watt maximum for appliances, moving to 0.5 watts in 2013. In Australia, to make sure their standards better reflect real-world energy use, they have started field testing appliances.

— Turn up the heat on the industry. Stiffer fines must be levied against manufacturers that dont play by the energy-efficient rules. And when a violation occurs, its important that it is widely publicized so that consumers are informed.

“The Energy Star program has saved people billions in utility bills, but we continue to find ways that it could deliver even greater savings,” said Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. “For example, third-party testing is good, but if the test procedures are outdated, too easy, or dont reflect real-world use, theyll only confirm savings the consumer is unlikely to see.”

Seven Simple Steps to Save Energy

Americans are committed to boosting their homes energy efficiencies. Forty four percent have purchased an Energy Star appliance, while twenty three percent have upgraded to a more energy-efficient heating or cooling system. The overwhelming reason Americans are taking action is to lower energy costs (77%). But only a third (36%) are upgrading to take advantage of a rebate or credit. Consumer Reports has identified seven simple steps that consumers can take to save on energy costs.

1. Jettison the lead foot. Obeying speed limits and avoiding hard acceleration and breaking will add several mpg to the fuel efficiency of a midsized car. Yearly savings – $200

2. Program the thermostat. Trim up to 20 percent from the heating and cooling bills by adjusting temperatures 5 to 10 degrees at night or when no one is home. Devices cost about $80 and some utilities offer rebates. Yearly savings – $200

3. Fix leaky ducts. Pay a heating and cooling pro to seal and insulate ducts that run through the home, especially in unconditioned spaces. Yearly savings – $400

4. Stop pre-rinsing. Washing dishes before putting them in the washer wastes up to 6,500 gallons of water per year. Consumer Reports tests show that its unnecessary. Yearly savings – $75

5. Adjust modes. Manufacturers often ship TVs in “retail mode” to ensure best quality, but the more efficient “home mode” is fine for most types of viewing. Yearly savings – $30 – $60

6. Tame hidden energy use. Between 5 and 10 percent of residential electricity goes to devices that draw power when they are off or in standby mode. Video games are a major offender. Turn them off when they are not in use. Yearly savings – $125

7. Wash in cold water. Tide 2X Ultra for Cold Water for traditional washers ranked best in Consumer Reports testing in removing grass, wine, and other tough stains. Yearly savings – $60

Top Picks in CFL Lightbulbs and a Sneak Peak at LEDs

According to the recent survey by Consumer Reports, eight in ten (81%) Americans have purchased energy-efficient lightbulbs. The latest tests for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) showed theres no shortage of inexpensive, money-saving, energy-efficient options. Most delivered on brightness and many provided color that was closer to incandescents than in earlier versions. All bulbs tested had significantly less than 5 milligrams of mercury, the cap set by Energy Star for those bulbs.

The bulbs in the lab have been cycled on and off since early 2009, or 6,000 hours. Brightness and warm-up times remained virtually the same as after 3,000 hours of testing – a typical incandescent bulb lasts only around 1,000 hours. While dimming has gotten easier, its not better. Though they were more convenient to use, the Leviton Decora 6673 and Apollo Analog 80005, each $20, were not any better than a standard dimmer at reaching low light levels, and this was also confirmed with an outside lab

The latest generation of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) claim to rival the look, dimming ability, and light quality of incandescents, contain no mercury, and last up to five times longer than CFLs and 50 times longer than incandescents. They are pricey, at $60 a piece or more, but could save about $300 in electrical cost over its life compared with an incandescent.

Consumer Reports was able to purchase pre-retail samples of one of the newest LEDs, the Cree CR6, $50 – $60, a replacement for a 65-watt recessed downlight, from the manufacturer. Test results showed that it brightened instantly, like an incandescent and dimmed just as well or better than the best dimmable CFLs weve tested. At 10.5 watts, the CR6 used 84 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent and 30 percent less than a comparable CFL. But at 575 claimed lumens, it wasnt as bright as comparable CFLs, which provided about 625 lumens after 3,000 hours of testing.

How to Choose the Best CFL

— Think about fixtures. CFLs last longer and perform better if theyre on for 15 minutes or more. That makes them better for hard to reach fixtures, but dont use them in areas where instant brightness is needed. Because CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, dont put them in lamps that children could tip over easily and cause the bulb to break.

— Note the lumens. Buying a bulb with just the right brightness and the fewest watts saves energy and money. Energy Star suggests that a 60-watt incandescent and its CFL or LED replacements have at least 800 lumens.

— Consider the kelvins. To match a soft white incandescent, get a CFL or LED with 2700 K. The light bulbs with 3000 K is comparable to the whiter light of halogen bulbs, while bulbs with 3500 K to 4100 K give off a cool, bright white light.

The full report is available in the October issue of Consumer Reports and online at http://www.ConsumerReportsenespanol.org. Other energy-conscious products are rated including water heaters and space heaters.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey using a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,536 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+ who own their dwelling. Interviewing took place over June 17-21, 2010. The sampling error is +/- 2.6 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.

OCTOBER 2010

Consumers Union 2010. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. We accept no advertising and pay for all the products we test. We are not beholden to any commercial interest. Our income is derived from the sale of Consumer Reports,(R) ConsumerReports.org(R) and our other publications and information products, services, fees, and noncommercial contributions and grants. Our Ratings and reports are intended solely for the use of our readers. Neither the Ratings nor the reports may be used in advertising or for any other commercial purpose without our permission. Consumers Union will take all steps open to it to prevent commercial use of its materials, its name, or the name of Consumer Reports.(R)

SOURCE Consumers Union

Consumer Reports Energy Investigation: Five Steps to Make the U.S. a Global Leader in Energy Efficiency