The Obama administration isn’t satisfied giving the American people several big things we don’t want -- the stimulus package, expanded bailouts, Obamacare -- but it is also hitting us with a multitude of bothersome regulations. Perhaps most annoying of all is Washington’s attempt to redesign home appliances. Just weeks after taking office, the president announced an accelerated process to create stringent new energy efficiency standards for nearly everything around the house that uses energy. The Department of Energy is well on its way towards accomplishing this goal, boasting of more than 20 such regulations since President Obama came to office.
If past experience is any guide, these regulations will raise the purchase price of appliances -- in some cases more than is ever likely to be earned back in the form of energy savings. Worse, several may adversely impact product performance and reliability. There are potentially problematic regulations on the way for virtually every room in the house.
The Basement -- new standards are in the works for water heaters and furnaces. In the case of water heaters, the Department of Energy estimates price increases ranging from $67 to $974 depending on size and type.
The Bathroom -- the same 1992 law that gave us those awful low-flush toilets also restricted the amount of water showerheads could use to 2.5 gallons per minute. Some consumers thought the flow from these showers too weak, and opted for models with two or more showerheads, each of which contributed 2.5 gallons per minute. But the Department of Energy recently eliminated this option by reinterpreting the law to require that the total flow must comply with the limit. It is good to know that regulators are hard at work ensuring that Americans can’t get what they want.
The Kitchen -- there are pending regulations for refrigerators, dishwashers, conventional ovens, and microwaves. With refrigerators, it’s a clear case of regulatory overkill. They have already been subject to multiple rounds of increasingly tighter standards, with each new rule saving less energy than the last while adding to performance and reliability issues. One more regulation may well go beyond the point of diminishing marginal returns and be downright harmful.
The Laundry Room -- New standards are on the way for both clothes washers and dryers. The last clothes washer regulation managed to both raise the cost of many models by hundreds of dollars while compromising cleaning ability. Yet another round could make things worse.
The Bedroom, Living Room (or any air-conditioned room) -- both central air-conditioners and window units are scheduled for new regulations. Even the Department of Energy conceded when rolling out its last round of central air-conditioner standards in January 2001 (one of those last-minute Clinton administration regulatory surprises) that many homeowners would never recoup the additional up-front cost of compliant models. The new standards could be an even lousier deal.
These new Obama administration regulations come on top of all the previous ones, including the worst of them all -- the Bush-era requirement that will effectively ban incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012.
In nearly every case, consumers who want more efficient appliances (or those compact fluorescent light bulbs) are free to buy them. Energy use labels provide all the information needed for consumers to make comparisons. The only thing federal regulations accomplish is to force the government’s preferred choice on everyone.
There are a lot of things coming from Washington that need to be revisited. These awful appliance efficiency standards should be high on that list.