In 1937, when being green had more to do with envy than the environment, a group of engineers at Bendix Home Appliances invented the first automatic front loading washing mahine. Unlike the top loading basin and wringer washers of the time, the new Bendix used significantly less water and utilized a high speed water-extracting spin cycle.
The success of the new concept washer vaulted Bendix Home Appliances to the top of the appliance heap; peaking in 1950 when Bendix commanded an industry-leading $12 million in sales. However, the success of the Bendix washer was short-lived.
Soon other appliance manufacturers introduced cheaper top loading machines that were less efficient and offered a lower price tag. With modern aqueducts bringing copious amounts of water to the west and powerful new clothes dryers available in most new homes, water use and drying time no longer significantly impacted consumer purchasing decisions.
The United States paid a price environmentally when it abandoned front loading washing machine in the 1960s. While European appliance manufactures worked to improve the efficiency of horizontal washers, the U.S. residential washing machine market became dominated by top loading machines for over three decades.
New ENERGY STAR clothes washers initiatives in the 1990s finally brought change the appliance industry. Through partnerships with manufacturers and financial incentives for research and development, ENERGY STAR, was able to persuade major appliance makers to redesign, retool and ultimately manufacture a new generation of front loading machines. However, not all ENERGY STAR initiatives have been so successful.
From the beginning, ENERGY STAR allowed appliance manufactures to self test, report and regulate, with predictably poor results. For example, separate efficiency standards for different refrigerator configurations have enabled manufactures to produce side-by-side models that are a significantly less efficient than similar-sized bottom-mount freezer models. Additionally, large 36″ inch professional-style refrigerators have been given the ENERGY STAR seal of approval even though they consume an average of 600 KWh of electricity annually.
Cheating has also been a problem. In September 2008, a test by Consumer Reports found that LG’s French door refrigerator energy usage was 100% higher than what was listed on the government-mandated DOE yellow sticker adhered to the product. LG subsequently apologized for the mishap, paid a fine to the DOE and reimbursed consumers who purchased the product. And although the fridge was not ENERGY STAR rated, it nevertheless demonstrates that some manufactures can’t be trusted to test and publish accurate efficiency data.
Separately, Consumers Reports found that energy efficiency data reported on many refrigerators did not include the use of through-door ice and water dispensers. home appliances Assuming that most consumers use this feature, Consumer Reports did efficiency testing with through-door system in operation. The tests showed that the refrigerator models used hundreds more kilowatts of electricity annually than was reported on the yellow energy sticker. Consumer Reports concluded, “if the refrigerators are used as intended, the owners won’t save as much electricity as they were led to believe when they purchased the appliance.”