If you’re in the market for a new home appliance and you want that purchase to be as environmentally friendly as possible, you might look for options that feature a label from Energy Star, a symbol backed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy specifically to promote energy-efficient products.
Each year, Energy Star puts out a list of the Most Efficient appliances, those that the program says “save you money and protect the environment.” The list also features the “most efficient, pollution-reducing products.” Until now, that list might have included gas-powered appliances such as gas dryers, furnaces, and boilers—despite the fact that those items rely on polluting fossil fuels.
For its 2022 Energy Star Most Efficient list, though, the EPA announced that it will not include furnaces, boilers, or gas dryers, a move that was spurred by activism from environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Rewiring America, Sierra Club, and the Rocky Mountain Institute. For the first time, the list will include only electric appliances that can run on 100% clean energy. (The 2022 Most Efficient list isn’t out yet; the EPA just recently finalized its criteria for the products eligible for recognition, which meant the removal of gas dryers, furnaces, and boilers, according to a September 28 memo.)
“Water heaters, furnaces, and dryers, they produce a really significant amount of both greenhouse gas pollution and other kinds of air pollution,” says Denise Grab, manager of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carbon-Free Building team. (Gas stoves are also particularly polluting, but there is currently no Energy Star label for any residential ovens or ranges.) Across the country, fuel combustion from homes and businesses produced 590 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent—almost 9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas—in 2018 alone. These appliances also produce twice as much nitrogen oxide—which causes smog and particulate matter pollution that can harm our health—as all the gas power plants in the U.S. combined. To combat this pollution, some cities have moved to ban gas hookups in new construction buildings.
Gas dryers haven’t appeared on Energy Star’s Most Efficient list for a few years because they haven’t been able to meet the program’s standards, but furnaces and gas- and oil-powered residential boilers have appeared on recent lists. Though the initial draft of criteria did include some other gas appliances, it was revised after environmental advocates submitted comments in August calling on the EPA to withdraw them.
In a letter signed by members of the NRDC, Sierra Club, and others, advocates wrote that “recognizing gas-fired products as Most Efficient is inconsistent with the program’s goals.” Moving to all-electric appliances, the environmental groups note, is a crucial step toward reaching the Biden administration’s climate goals to cut 50% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
“This is the first time a federal agency has really recognized that there’s not a place for gas appliances in a clean-energy future,” Grab says. This move eliminates gas appliances only from the Most Efficient list, which she calls the “best of the best”; there are still gas appliances in the overall Energy Star program, which would be a lengthier process to assess. “We can’t keep installing new gas appliances that will be around for 10 to 20 years when we’re in a climate crisis now.”