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History and Impacts

Appliance and equipment efficiency standards have served as one of the nation's most effective policies for improving energy efficiency. The first standards were enacted at the state level in California in 1974. At the national level, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) was enacted in 1975, and established a federal program consisting of test procedures, labeling, and energy targets for consumer products. EPCA was amended in 1979 and directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish energy conservation standards for consumer products.

The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 established minimum efficiency standards for many common household appliances. Congress set initial federal energy efficiency standards and established schedules for DOE to review and update these standards. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct) added standards for some fluorescent and incandescent reflector lamps, plumbing products, electric motors, commercial water heaters, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. EPAct also allowed for the future development of standards for many other products.

In 2005, the Energy Policy Act (EPAct 2005) set new standards for 16 products and directed DOE to set standards via rulemaking for another five. In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA 2007), enacting new or updated standards for 13 products. EISA also included a requirement that DOE maintain a schedule to regularly review and update all standards and test procedures.


The Appliance and Equipment Standards program has grown to cover products representing about 90% of home energy use, 60% of commercial building energy use, and approximately 29% of industrial energy use. Today, more than 50 different products are covered.

Standards Save Consumers Money

The implementation of standards has driven remarkable gains in energy efficiency of household appliances and other products, translating into substantial savings for American consumers. The cumulative energy savings of standards phased in through 2013 will be about 70 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of energy through 2020, and will amount to 128 quads through 2030. (The US consumes a total of about 100 quads of energy per year.) The cumulative utility bill savings to consumers of these standards are estimated to be over $950 billion through 2020, growing to over $1.7 trillion through 2030.

An example of energy savings through appliance and equipment standards is the refrigerator. A new refrigerator today uses a third of the energy it did in 1973, but offers 20% more storage capacity and costs half as much. Other efficiency gains in household appliances since 1990 include:

  • New clothes washers use 70% less energy
  • New dishwashers use 40% less energy
  • New air conditioners use 50% less energy
  • New furnaces use 10% less energy

While some efficient products may cost more at the time of sale, they make up for this premium by saving consumers money through lower energy bills over the products' lifetime. A typical household today already saves about $227 per year off their energy bills and can expect to save $320 per year by 2030, as they replace their appliances with newer models that use less energy.

Standards Benefit Manufacturers

Federal efficiency standards reduce the regulatory burden on manufacturers by pre-empting a potential patchwork of state standards with a single federal standard. Efficiency standards can also help lower the cost of innovative energy efficient technology by facilitating their entry into the market and providing economies of scale.

Standards Help the Environment

Standards implemented since 1987 have helped the United States avoid producing 2.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual greenhouse emissions from nearly 440 million automobiles. These standards will have avoided a total of 3.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide through 2020, and nearly 7 billion tons by 2030. Annual carbon dioxide savings will reach over 280 million tons by 2020.