Refrigerators don't always meet efficiency promises

January 18, 2010 4:17:03 PM PST
The cash for used appliances program is just a couple of months away and while you can save money buying something that is energy efficient, the promised energy savings may not be as advertised. The Energy Star ratings have been criticized before and now even more problems are cropping up. If you want that new appliance you're shopping for to be an energy saver, it may be tough to get what you want ? at least as it pertains to refrigerators. Consumer Reports' tests show there are ongoing problems with the Energy Star program.

Energy Guide labels -- you see them on all types of appliances. They tell you how much electricity an appliance uses, based on tests required by the government. Machines that do well qualify for an Energy Star rating. But can you rely on it? Not necessarily when you're shopping for a refrigerator, according to Consumer Reports.

Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman with Consumer Reports said, "In our tests, refrigerators typically use about 20 percent more energy than it says on their yellow Energy Guide label. That's because our tests are tougher, and we believe they better reflect how you'd actually use a refrigerator."

Consumer Reports' tests have found some French-door refrigerators are off by far more. A GE made by Samsung used almost 40 percent more electricity than the number on its guide would suggest. And Consumer Reports found an LG and a Sears Kenmore made by LG used about 50 percent more.

Consumer Reports says that the government's test procedures need to be better defined, so that manufacturers can't claim energy savings you are unlikely to see at home. For example, Consumer Reports found those two refrigerators made by LG use significantly less energy only at the warmest settings required by the government tests.

"But you're not likely to use those settings, because your food's going to spoil faster," Kuperszmid-Lehrman said. "So you're not going to get the energy savings."

But don't despair. Consumer Reports found plenty of refrigerators that pass tough tests with flying colors, including an $850 one. It's a top-freezer made by LG.

A side-by-side will cost you more, but you can still get an energy-efficient machine. One Whirlpool Gold costs about $2,000 and performed well in Consumer Reports' tests.

The Department of Energy just recently announced it has stripped 20 L-G-made French-door refrigerators of their Energy Stars, including the two that had problems in Consumer Reports' tests. While this action shows the government is addressing some of the issues with its Energy Star program, Consumer Reports says the government still needs to clarify test conditions