What Is ENERGY STAR and Why Should It Matter to You?

Energy Star logo on a fridge

People love the comfort of HVAC systems in their homes. But there’s a catch: those energy bills can take a toll on one’s finances. Thanks to technology, you now have the means to enjoy this comfort while also being kind to your pockets. One crucial player in this game? The ENERGY STAR program. You’ve probably seen this blue label when shopping around for home products. But what exactly is ENERGY STAR, and why should it matter to you? 

ENERGY STAR is not just another label or a marketing gimmick. Established by the EPA in 1992, it is a program designed to help consumers identify and select products that deliver superior energy efficiency without compromising performance.

Why should you care? It’s simple. Not only does it promise to lighten your energy bills, but it also ensures you’re doing your bit for the planet. Sounds promising, right? Let’s delve deeper into the ENERGY STAR program and its benefits.


In a world increasingly aware of its ecological footprint, ENERGY STAR emerges as a symbol of successful environmental stewardship. This program, launched in the early ’90s by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stands as an international benchmark for the highest levels of efficiency, energy savings, and environmental protection. 

Some of the main features of the ENERGY STAR program include:

  • Voluntary Program: Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a mandatory certification. Manufacturers and companies choose to participate, signifying their commitment to sustainability.
  • Benchmark of Efficiency: Products bearing the ENERGY STAR logo meet stringent efficiency standards, ensuring lower energy consumption.
  • Diverse Categories: ENERGY STAR isn’t just about one kind of product. From your everyday kitchen appliances to entire homes and commercial buildings, the program covers a vast array.

HVAC systems (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) deserve special mention here. They’re the energy guzzlers of your home. In fact, as per EnergyStar.gov, HVAC systems can make up nearly half of your annual household energy expenses, averaging around 40%. Hence, an ENERGY STAR label on your HVAC system is like a green light for efficient performance and potential savings.

Take an ENERGY STAR-certified heat pump as an example. It can produce up to three times more heat compared to the electricity it uses. That’s stellar efficiency right there! Moreover, choosing the right size of the HVAC system tailored to your home ensures you enjoy optimal comfort without burning a hole in your pocket.

Transitioning to the broader picture, it’s worth noting that the ENERGY STAR program doesn’t stop at air-source heat pumps. It encompasses a wide range of HVAC systems, such as:

  • Furnaces;
  • Smart Thermostats;
  • Boilers;
  • Ductless Heating & Cooling;
  • Central Air Conditioner;
  • Portable and Room Air Conditioners;
  • Ventilation Fans;
  • Geothermal Heat Pumps.

Why Should ENERGY STAR Matter to You?

When you’re in the market for an HVAC system, it’s easy to get swayed by attractive price tags or brand names. But scratch beneath that surface and the gold standard of energy efficiency stands tall: ENERGY STAR.

Now, what does “energy efficient” really mean? It’s all about achieving more with less – getting the same performance while consuming fewer resources. So, while a non-certified furnace or AC might be cheaper initially, it’s likely to cost you more in the long run.

How much of a difference can this make? Reports from EnergyStar.gov have shown that individuals who shifted to ENERGY STAR-certified HVACs observed around 20% savings on their yearly energy expenses. Impressive, right?

Here’s why considering ENERGY STAR products is a smart move:

Environmental Impact

HVAC systems contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions when they consume more energy than required. By choosing an ENERGY STAR-certified system, you take a firm step towards reducing your carbon footprint.

Long-Term Savings

Initially, ENERGY STAR-certified HVAC systems might seem a tad pricier. Yet, in the long run, their efficient energy usage means substantial savings on energy bills. Remember, when investing in HVAC, it’s not just about the initial cost but the cumulative expense over the years.

Improved Performance

Energy efficiency doesn’t mean compromised performance. An ENERGY STAR system ensures consistent temperature regulation, optimal air quality, and fewer system breakdowns.


Products with the ENERGY STAR certification often have a longer lifespan. This stems from the fact that efficient systems tend to experience less wear and tear.

Incentives and Rebates

Many local and federal programs offer rebates and incentives for purchasing ENERGY STAR-certified products, making them a financially attractive option.

Qualified ENERGY STAR HVAC Systems (& Their Benchmarks)

When we discuss HVAC systems that carry the ENERGY STAR label, it’s like talking about the top tier of performance. Gaining this label isn’t a walk in the park. Only products that meet strict standards get to wear that distinguished blue sticker.

Manufacturers are put through their paces. They face rigorous testing from an impartial third party and must hit specific benchmarks. The areas they’re judged on? Well, it’s not just about energy efficiency but also the system’s features, functions, and overall performance. 

Moreover, the air quality standards have to be on par with the latest regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While that sounds challenging, remember each HVAC system type has its unique qualification standards. Let’s delve into the specifics.

Heat Pumps and Central Air Conditioners: A Power Pair

graphic showing the working of air source heat pump
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Both the central air conditioner and its heat pump buddy work with a single-phase electric current. Their mission? 

In the summer, the AC or the heat pump works to expel heat from indoors out, resulting in a pleasant living space. In the winter, the heat pump uses a reversing valve to reverse this process and extract heat molecules from outside air. This warms up homes without an increase in energy consumption. 

Heat pump systems really shine on the market, standing out as some of the most energy-efficient HVAC champs around! The two main types are:

The ENERGY STAR benchmarks for these are:

  • SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) –  This rating measures the cooling efficiency by estimating how much electricity (in watts) is required to cool your home during a typical summer. 
  • EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) – The EER is another way to measure the overall energy efficiency of an air conditioning unit. However, while SEER measures efficiency over a season, EER is based on a standardized measurement of how well the unit operates at a specific outdoor and indoor temperature.
  • HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) – The HSPF is a metric that measures the overall energy efficiency of heating devices, similar to how SEER ratings assess cooling devices. It quantifies how much heat (in BTUs) you’ll get per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The higher the HSPF rating, the more energy-efficient your heat pump.

Here’s a quick glance at the ENERGY STAR benchmarks:

Heat Pump:

  • Split Systems (Ducted): HSPF2 ≥ 8.1, SEER2 ≥15.2
  • Split Systems (Non-Ducted): HSPF2 ≥ 8.5, SEER2 ≥15.2
  • Single Package: HSPF2 ≥ 8.1, SEER2 ≥15.2

Central Air Conditioners:

  • Split Systems: SEER2 ≥15.2, EER2 ≥12.0
  • Single Package: SEER2 ≥15.2, EER2 ≥11.5

Moreover, ENERGY STAR offers Cold Climate Heat Pumps for those residing in colder climates. These systems are specially designed to provide optimal performance under low ambient temperatures. Their key features include:

  • A Coefficient of Performance (COP) of at least 1.75 at 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Higher energy efficiency, with SEER2 up to 22.0 during cooling and HSPF2 up to 10.5 during heating when properly matched with equipment.


COP (Coefficient of Performance) – It shows how good they are at turning electricity into heat. If a heat pump has a COP of 1.5, it means for every bit of electricity it uses, it gives out 1.5 times that amount in heat. So, it’s doing more with less!

Furnaces: Our Heat Heroes

graphic showing the working of a furnace
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

A furnace is essential for chillier places. They create warmth using power sources like fossil fuels. Therefore, while they’ll keep your living space cozy and toasty, they emit more carbon emissions than electric systems. 

However, ENERGY STAR-rated furnace’s high-efficiency blower motors can help lower these emissions. Here is a list of the key ENERGY STAR markers that make furnaces more eco-friendly:

Gas Furnaces: 

  • U.S. South: Must have an AFUE rating of 90% or above.
  • U.S. North: A higher threshold with an AFUE* rating of 95% or above.

Oil Furnaces: 

  • The norm is an AFUE rating of 85% or above.


AFUE* (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) – A numerical percentage that shows how much of the fuel a furnace consumes is turned into heat for your home. For example, an AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the fuel is used to heat your home, while the other 10% is lost through exhaust.

What’s more, ENERGY STAR-RATED furnaces have two cool traits:

  • A high-performance electric fan motor.
  • Minimal air leakage rate, significantly less than industry standards.

Boilers: Low in Resources, Heavy-Duty Role

Plumber installing a boiler
Photo Credit: kelvinjay / Canva Pro / License

Boilers are ideal for heat distribution systems running mostly on water. In recent years, they’ve even started to appear in radiant floor heating setups as well. Their use of condensing technology makes them more efficient than older models. This allows them to recover heat from exhaust gasses before releasing them into the atmosphere.

Boilers have two ENERGY STAR benchmarks:

  • Oil boilers: FUE of 87% or more.
  • Gas boilers:  AFUE of 90.0% or higher.

ENERGY STAR-labeled boilers embrace technological advancements such as:

  • Electronic ignition: a brilliant move that says goodbye to a perpetually burning pilot light. It means the boiler will only turn on when needed, reducing energy waste.
  • Innovative combustion techniques: extract more heat from the same fuel amount. 
  • Sealed combustion: this design draws air from outside the home for combustion, avoiding heat loss and possible safety hazards. With one pipe drawing in the outdoor air and another releasing exhaust, it prioritizes both energy efficiency and the safety of your home’s air quality. A top-notch choice for modern heating!

Geothermal Heat Pumps: Harnessing Earth’s Power

Geothermal heat pump
Photo Credit: Dr Tzeferis Petros / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

These are incredible systems that use the Earth’s constant temperatures to heat and cool homes efficiently. Their criteria for certification include specific EER and COP values, which vary based on their type and design.

Water-to-Air Geothermal Heat Pumps 

These systems work by transferring heat between the Earth’s underground water source and the air in your home. This process involves closed or open loop systems, each with its own energy efficiency requirements.

  • Closed loop systems must have an EER of 17.1 or above and a COP of 3.6 or higher.
  • Open loop systems require even higher efficiency, with an EER of 21.1 or more and a COP of 4.1 or higher.

Water-to-Water Geothermal Heat Pumps 

These systems use underground water as a source and deliver heat through a hydronic system, such as radiators or radiant floor heating.

  • For closed loop systems, the EER should be at least 16.1 and COP at 3.1 or above.
  • Open loop systems must have an EER of at least 20.1 and a COP of 3.5 or higher.


A closed-loop system continuously circulates water through a series of underground pipes, whereas an open-loop system uses water from a nearby source, such as a well or pond.

Smart Thermostats: Efficiency-Boosting Accessories

Woman uses smart phone to control thermostat
Photo Credit: SDI Productions / Canva Pro / License

This high-tech gadget has come a long way from the standard manual thermostat. Smart thermostats provide optimal heating and cooling by learning your household’s patterns, adjusting temperatures accordingly, and allowing remote control via smartphone apps.

ENERGY STAR-certified smart thermostats offer advanced features such as:

  • Work even if not connected: They’ll run using manual settings, meaning you don’t have to worry about your Wi-Fi being down.
  • Conservation measures during peak load times: It can program the system to reduce energy use when demand is at its peak, helping to stabilize the overall power grid.
  • Ability to set and follow schedules: Smart thermostats allow you to create schedules based on your daily routine, so you never have to adjust the temperature manually.

Ventilation Fans: Silent and Efficient

Bathroom exhaust fan
Photo Credit: magraphics / Canva Pro / License

With ENERGY STAR, even ventilation fans receive their fair share of innovation. ENERGY STAR-labeled ventilation fans are significantly quieter than regular ones while still keeping energy consumption to a minimum. 

Their performance standards vary, for example:

  • Bathroom and utility room fans between 10 to 89 CFM require an efficacy level of 2.8 CFM/W, whereas those between 90 to 200 CFM need a higher efficacy level of 3.5 CFM/W.
  • Want an even more powerful ventilation fan? Those with a maximum speed range exceeding 201 CFM must have an efficacy level of at least 4.0 CFM/W.

ENERGY STAR also sets maximum allowable sound levels for ventilation fans. These sound levels, measured in Sones, ensure that the fans are efficient and quiet. It runs from a maximum of 2.0 Sones for most fans to 3.0 Sones for the more powerful ones.

ENERGY STAR Certification Summary Table

HVAC System TypeCriteria for ENERGY STAR Certification
Central Air ConditioningMust have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of about 15  or higher and an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of minimum 11.5 or higher
FurnacesMust have an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) of 90% or higher
BoilersMust have an AFUE of 87% or higher
Heat PumpsMust have a SEER of 15.2 or higher and a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) of about 8.5 or higher.


Why is ENERGY STAR important? 

ENERGY STAR certifies the most efficient products across various categories and helps homeowners make sustainable choices. They guarantee products will give you the best service while lessening energy consumption and carbon footprint. Not only that, ENERGY STAR can help save you money in the long run, as certified products consume less electricity or fuel to operate.

Does ENERGY STAR really matter?

ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy in 1992 to promote energy efficiency in products, new homes, buildings, and industrial plants. 

Whether or not ENERGY STAR “matters” depends on your specific goals and perspectives. Here are some considerations regarding an ENERGY STAR-certified HVAC system:

  • Eco-Friendly: Reduced energy consumption means fewer emissions and a greener footprint.
  • Energy Savings: They use less energy, leading to lower utility bills.
  • Quality Assurance: These products meet strict performance standards.
  • Cost-Efficiency: Long-term savings often outweigh initial costs.
  • Consumer Awareness: The label helps buyers quickly identify energy-efficient products.
  • Market Influence: ENERGY STAR has spurred industries to adopt more energy-efficient practices.
  • Tax credits: Government and utility incentives can further reduce costs.
  • Less Maintenance: They tend to require fewer repairs and less upkeep.
  • Higher Resale Value: ENERGY STAR can boost a home’s market appeal.
  • Limitations: Not all efficient products have the label, and not all labeled products are the most efficient.

How is ENERGY STAR different from other energy labels?

When you shop for HVAC systems, you’ll see labels like EnergyGuide and ENERGY STAR. EnergyGuide, run by the Federal Trade Commission, shows how much energy a unit uses and its yearly cost. But ENERGY STAR, backed by the EPA, sets the bar high with tough efficiency standards. If you spot ENERGY STAR, it means the product passed rigorous testing to reach an overall high-performance standard.

How do I know if my HVAC system has an ENERGY STAR rating? 

Any system with an ENERGY STAR logo is certified. To make your job easier, their official website has a product finder page where you can check if your current or prospective HVAC system qualifies for an ENERGY STAR rating. You can also look for the label on the unit itself.

Make a Difference with ENERGY STAR

Choosing an ENERGY STAR-certified product not only promises reduced energy bills and eco-friendly benefits but also guarantees top-tier performance. Moreover, there’s the bonus of potential rebates. It’s a win for your wallet and the environment. 

If you consider updating your HVAC system, remember that expert guidance from local HVAC specialists can be invaluable. They can assist in selecting the perfect system tailored to your home, ensuring it’s both efficient and ENERGY STAR-approved. Invest wisely now, and relish the benefits for years to come.

Main Photo Credit: trenttsd / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED

Luminita Toma

Luminita Toma is a nature-loving writer who simply adores anything pretty, from colorful flower gardens to chic interior design. After plenty of research on landscaping and home improvement, she’s got a keen eye for what makes a home beautiful. When she’s not sharing what she’s learned, there’s nothing she enjoys more than chilling with her friends, hitting the theatre, or traveling.