ENERGY STAR air conditioners must meet strict energy-efficiency requirements developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE). ENERGY STAR air conditioners use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard models and use ozone-saENERGY STAR air conditioners use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard models and use ozone-safe refrigerants.
How to find an eco-friendly air conditioner
Choosing an ENERGY STAR model will of course save you money and reduce your electricity bill. For help finding an ENERGY STAR air conditioner:
- Visit ENERGY STAR's Find Room Air Conditioners website for lists of models.
- Ask a salesperson to help you identify ENERGY STAR products.
- Look for the ENERGY STAR logo, which may appear on the appliance itself, the packaging, or the EnergyGuide Label.
You'll also want to look for an air conditioner that uses refrigerants that won't harm the ozone layer. Thankfully, all ENERGY STAR air conditioners meet this criteria, but knowing what to look for is a good idea:
- Opt out of R-22 refrigerant air conditioners. R-22, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC), has been the most common refrigerant used in air conditioners since chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were phased out in 1995. Although it's less damaging to the ozone layer than the old CFCs, it still creates holes in the ozone layer when it leaks from A/C units. New air conditioners must be R-22-free by 2010 (although R-22 can be produced after that time to service old machines) and production of R-22 will be phased out completely in the US by 2020.
- Look for R-410A air conditioners (residential and commercial). R-410A is a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is sold under several trade names, including GENETRON AZ-20åš, SUVA 410Aåš, and Puronåš. Although CO2 is still produced during the manufacture of this substance, it does not produce ozone-depleting gas if allowed to enter the atmosphere. To get even more green points, choose an R-410A model that's ENERGY STAR qualified.
- Look for R-134a or R-407C air conditioners (commercial only at this time). The EPA has also approved the use of R-134a and R-407C in commercial cooling systems, both of which are non-depleting refrigerants and are being used in some commercial applications.
Find it! ENERGY STAR air conditioners
Most major air conditioner manufacturers offer ENERGY STAR models, which are sold in appliance centers, home improvement stores, and online.
Before you buy
A black and yellow EnergyGuide Label is required to be attached to many appliances, including air conditioners. Check the EnergyGuide label for information about how much energy a particular air conditioner is likely to use compared to similar models, and how much it will cost to operate per year. These labels can be compared like price tags to find the most energy-efficient models.
Also keep in mind that the price listed on the price tag is not the total price you'll pay. Costs of installation, maintenance, repairs, and operation apply after the initial purchase. Buying a more expensive but energy-efficient model will save you money on energy costs throughout the air conditioner's life span.
Choosing an ENERGY STAR air conditioner helps you go green because…
- It uses at least 10 percent less energy than conventional models, which reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the air conditioner.
- It often includes a timer and/or thermostat for better temperature control, so that you can choose to use the minimum amount of energy necessary to cool your home.
- They don't harm the earth's ozone, a protective, UV-filtering atmospheric layer.
Through the ENERGY STAR initiative, Americans saved enough energy in 2006 to avoid the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of 25 million cars, while at the same time saving $14 billion on utility bills. If only one-tenth of American households switched to ENERGY STAR appliances, the CO2 savings would be equivalent to the carbon sequestration of 1.7 million acres of trees.
ENERGY STAR room air conditioners are required to be at least 10 percent more efficient than the federal standard. In 1992, the federal Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER)standard for room air conditioners was set at 8.9, but starting in January 2010, the standard is expected to increase to 11.2. Room air conditioners with higher EER scores are more energy efficient than those with lower scores.
ENERGY STAR central air conditioning systems are required to be at least 14 percent more efficient that standard models. As of January 23, 2006, all central air conditioners manufactured in or imported into the United States must achieve a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating of 13 or higher (as opposed to the previous 1987 standard of 10). This regulation is expected to save US consumers 4.2 quadrillion Btus over the next 25 years, equivalent to the amount of energy annually consumed by 26 million American households. That represents a savings of over $1 billion.
Ozone and refrigerants
The ozone layer protects Earth's inhabitants from harmful UV radiation — a common contributor to skin cancer. In the US, skin cancer is the fastest growing form of cancer. Every hour in the US one person dies from this deadly disease.
Old air conditioners were traditionally made with ozone-depleting CFCs, but were phased out of production in all developed nations in 1996, and replaced with HCFCs, which are 95 percent less potent in terms of ozone depletion. However, since HCFCs still contain chlorine, the main element involved in ozone depletion, they too are being phased out of production in developing countries.
R-22 refrigerant cannot simply be replaced with R-410A refrigerant. New R-410A systems require unique compressors and components specifically designed for use with this new refrigerant. It is recommended that R-410A systems be installed and serviced by companies familiar with these newer units.
Buying a new R-410A air conditioner may cost you more than an R-22 unit. However, this cost may become less significant over the lifetime of your new cooling system. As R-22 refrigerant becomes less available, its price tag will increase, making the servicing of old R-22 units quite expensive.
Tax breaks and subsidies
In the US, installing an ENERGY STAR air conditioner may qualify you for tax breaks at the federal, state, or local levels. For detailed information, see these resources:
- American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy: Provides updates on potential energy legislation.
- Tax Incentives Assistance Project: Explains federal tax credits for energy efficiency.
- Alliance to Save Energy: Offers an index of energy-efficiency programs by state.
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency: Provides information on state and federal incentives.
- Contact your utility provider for information on local offers.
- Btu (British thermal unit): A unit of energy used universally in the heating and cooling industries. It is defined as the unit of heat required to raise 1 pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.
- chlorofluorocarbon (CFC): A haloalkane compound containing chlorine, primarily used as a refrigerant. When this gaseous compound reaches the stratosphere, UV light liberates the chlorine from the molecule and it is then capable of breaking down up to 100,000 ozone molecules (O3) into O + O2. Freon is a trademarked term referring to CFCs used in refrigeration and cooling systems.
- Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER): Efficiency rating regulated by the DOE for room air conditioning units. It is a measure of the cooling units produced (measured in Btus) divided by the energy consumption of the unit (measured in Watt-hours) over a single period of time. The higher the number, the more efficient the system. This rating must now be visibly attached to any new unit for sale.
- hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC): A similar haloalkane compound where not all the hydrogen atoms are replaced by a halogen atom. These are typically used to substitute for CFCs, as the ozone-depleting capacity of these compounds is 10 percent less than that of CFCs.
- hydrofluorocarbon (HFC): A refrigerant used in refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners. It does not deplete the ozone layer but still requires careful disposal. It can cause skin and eye irritations, tremors, and other health problems.
- ozone layer: Part of the Earth's atmosphere, the ozone layer contains relatively high concentrations of ozone (O3). Ozone acts like a blanket that protects the earth from damaging UV radiation, which has been linked to cancer.
- Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER): Efficiency rating regulated by the US Department of Energy for central air conditioners. It is a measure of the cooling units produced (measured in Btus) divided by the energy consumption of the unit (measured in Watt-hours) over a single period of time. The higher the number, the more efficient the system is. This rating must now be visibly attached to any new unit for sale.
- Energy Information Administration - Glossary
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute - Air Conditioner Efficiency Standards
- Fluorocarbons - Toxicological profile HFC-43-10mee
- Federal Trade Commission - How to Buy an Energy Efficient Appliance
- Natural Resources Canada - General info about central air conditioners
- ScienceDaily - Ozone layer
- ENERGY STAR - Appliances
- Federal Trade Commission - How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home Appliance
- ENERGY STAR - About ENERGY STAR
- ENERGY STAR - Room Air Conditioner Product Criteria
- American National Standards Institute - Setting the Standards for Cool Times and Energy Savings
- US Environmental Protection Agency - What You Should Know about Refrigerants When Purchasing or Repairing a Residential A/C System or Heat Pump (see bottom of page)