Understanding Energy Efficiency Standards

Energy Star and CEE logos When looking for a new refrigerator it can be a bit confusing to determine how efficient a refrigerator is. Most new refrigerators claim to be Energy Star qualified, but what does this really tell us other than that it’s similar to all the other Energy Star qualified refrigerators?

Occasionally manufacturers will also publish their CEE Tier ratings, but what are these? Is Tier 1 the best, or is Tier 3 better? This isn’t immediately clear, and rarely gets any clarifications on manufacturers’ or retailers’ websites.

Here we will delve into what Energy Star certification and CEE Tier ratings actually mean.

You might also want to check out our own method of rating refrigerators using a simple formula we call YOP/CuF (Yearly Operating Cost / Cubic Feet of capacity). Or you could check out the Refrigerators with Lowest Yearly Operating Cost post we made on this subject.

What is Energy Star Certification?

Energy Star certification denotes how efficient the refrigerator is in regards to yearly energy cost. Energy Star certified refrigerators are 20% more efficient than Federal standards, and are 15% more efficient than non-Energy Star certified refrigerators in general. To illustrate how much difference this makes, consider the hypothetical posed on the Energy Star website:

If everyone purchasing a refrigerator this year chose a model that has earned the ENERGY STAR, together we would save 715 million kWh per year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from about 100,000 cars.

So even though it’s only 15% savings, it represents a great deal of possible savings when applied to the millions of refrigerators that are sold.

What are CEE Tier Ratings?

The Consortium on Energy Efficiency (CEE) also publishes ratings for refrigerators and promotes their Super-Efficient Home Appliances Initiative (SEHA). Their ratings are stricter than Energy Star certification, and come in different tiers so that you can easily see how some refrigerators are more energy efficient than others even if they both are Energy Star qualified.

CEE Tier Qualifications
Tier Efficiency
Tier 1 20% more efficient than Federal standards
Tier 2 25% more efficient than Federal standards
Tier 3 30% more efficient than Federal standards

As you can see, this means that CEE Tier 1 refrigerators at least need to meet the Energy Star guidelines. Tier 2 refrigerators are at least 5% more efficient, and Tier 3 are at least 10% more efficient. This gives a much better idea as to how different models of refrigerators compare to each other.

For the most part, refrigerators don’t significantly exceed the 30% level, with only 10 models qualifying with greater than 35%. The most efficient Tier 3 refrigerator is the Sunfrost R10, which is a full 72% more efficient than Federal guidelines. It should be noted that this model doesn’t have a freezer though. The Sun Frost RF12 does have a freezer and comes in at 52% above Federal standards. With 4 of the top 10 models in this regards, Sun Frost takes the prize as the manufacturer of the most efficient refrigerators.

Breakdown of Energy Star Certified Refrigerators by CEE Tier

What are the Federal Minimum Standards?

The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) put into effect minimum energy efficiency standards for refrigerators and freezers that are in effect until Sept, 14, 2014 when new standards will take their place.

NAECA establishes categories of refrigerators, fridge/freezers, and freezers based on their configuration. These categories are:

  • Top Freezer
  • Bottom Freezer
  • Side By Side
  • Single Door (Fridge/Freezer)
  • Single Door (Fridge only)
  • Chest Freezer
  • Upright Freezer

The other features that the NAECA looks at are whether there is automatic or manual defrost, and if there is a through the door ice dispenser. These are features that are major contributors to the energy use of a refrigerator. Refrigerator size is also taken into account, with compact appliances having their own formula.

How to Calculate the Federal Minimum Standards

To equalize models based on their ratio of fresh food space to freezer space, an Adjusted Volume is calculated. This is done because it takes more energy to cool a volume of freezer compartment as it does to cool the same volume of fresh food compartment. For fridge/freezers, the Adjusted Volume (cubic feet) is the Freezer Volume multiplied by 1.63, then added to the Fresh Volume feet for the total Adjusted Volume. With freezers (chest and upright) the Adjusted Volume is 1.73 times the Freezer Volume.

Once the Adjusted Volume is calculated, it is then multiplied and added to by modifiers listed in the table below:

Federal Standards for Refrigerator Energy Consumption
Size Fridge Freezer Ice Service Defrost Formula (CuF) Formula (L)
Full X Manual 8.82AV + 248.4 0.31av + 248.4
Full X X Manual 8.82AV + 248.4 0.31av + 248.4
Full X X Partial Automatic 8.82AV + 248.4 0.31av + 248.4
Full X Top Freezer Automatic 9.80AV + 276.0 0.35av + 276.0
Full X Automatic 9.80AV + 276.0 0.35av + 276.0
Full X Side By Side Automatic 4.91AV + 507.5 0.17av + 507.5
Full X Bottom Freezer Automatic 4.60AV + 459.0 0.16av + 459.0
Full X Top Freezer Door Automatic 10.20AV + 356.0 0.36av + 356.0
Full X Side By Side Door Automatic 10.10AV + 406.0 0.36av + 406.0
Full Upright Freezer Manual 7.55AV + 258.3 0.27av + 258.3
Full Upright Freezer Automatic 12.43AV + 326.1 0.44av + 326.1
Full Chest Freezer Any Type 9.88AV + 143.7 0.35av + 143.7
Full Other Freezer Any Type 9.88AV + 143.7 0.35av + 143.7
Compact X Manual 10.70AV + 299.0 0.38av + 299.0
Compact X X Manual 10.70AV + 299.0 0.38av + 299.0
Compact X X Partial Automatic 7.00AV + 398.0 0.25av + 398.0
Compact X Top Freezer Automatic 12.70AV + 355.0 0.45av + 355.0
Compact X Automatic 12.70AV + 355.0 0.45av + 355.0
Compact X Side By Side Automatic 7.60AV + 501.0 0.27av + 501.0
Compact Bottom Freezer Automatic 13.10AV + 367.0 0.46av + 367.0
Compact Upright Freezer Manual 9.78AV + 250.8 0.35av + 250.8
Compact Automatic 11.40AV + 391.0 0.40av + 391.0
Compact Chest Freezer Any Type 10.45AV + 152.0 0.37av + 152.0

These are the values that are in effect now. They have been updated from time to time, and are scheduled to be updated again on Sept 15, 2014.

3 Responses to Understanding Energy Efficiency Standards

  1. What will the formula be when they change in 2014?

  2. Dear Mr. Seeley,
    Thank you for your support of energy efficiency. Please contact us for clarifications and current information about the Consortium for Energy Efficiency. We are happy to help out. Thanks.

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