Don't be confused by the new EnergyGuide label

Dan DiClerico

Refrigerators manufactured after Jan. 1, 2014, will be more energy efficient than older models, thanks to newly enacted federal energy standards. That’s good news if you’re shopping for a new refrigerator. But the new EnergyGuide label found on these energy-efficient models could cause confusion in the marketplace, even among well-intentioned retail sales staff. Here’s how to make sense of the situation.

The format for the new EnergyGuide label is basically the same, with one exception. Instead of black letters on a yellow background, the new label for refrigerators (and stand-alone freezers too) made after Jan. 1 will have yellow letters on a black background. That’s straightforward enough. The confusion arises with how the numbers for the new label are being calculated.

As part of the new standard, set by the Department of Energy, manufacturers are required to use more rigorous test methods to measure energy use. Those new tests are more in line with how Consumer Reports measures energy consumption. For example, we set the refrigerator and freezer to 37 degrees and 0 degrees, respectively, following the instructions found in most manuals. The new DOE standard calls for 39 and 0 degrees, rather than a more complicated, less real-world interpolation involving multiple temperature settings.

An easier update to wrap your head around concerns electricity pricing. The old label was based on a 2007 national average of 10.65 cents per kilowatt-hour. The new label uses the more current average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The upshot to all this is that pre-2014 refrigerators, which are still plentiful on showroom floors and through online retailers, could actually seem more energy efficient than newer models, because their EnergyGuide labels are based on an earlier, easier test.

So what can you do? For starters, make sure you only compare labels that are similar, that is, the old with the old and the new with the new. Better yet: check Consumer Reports’ refrigerator Ratings. Besides giving you a highly real-world sense of energy costs, our Ratings also include scores for performance, noise, and ease of use—crucial information that you won’t find anywhere on the EnergyGuide label, old or new.

—Daniel DiClerico     

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