Wall Street Journal reports consumer frustrations with over-regulated appliances

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2023 is turning into the year of bad appliance regulations. Since January, CEI has submitted comments critical of proposed Department of Energy (DOE) efficiency standards for dishwashers, washing machines, stoves, and water heaters. Meanwhile, earlier rules for air conditioners, furnaces, and light bulbs took effect this year.

All threaten higher prices and reduced product performance, but perhaps worst of all are the proposals to tighten the already-strict energy and water use limits for dishwashers and washing machines. A November 24 Wall Street Journal article by Austen Hufford, “Why Does My ‘Efficient’ Dishwasher Take a Zillion Minutes for a Load?”, documents the struggles many consumers face from these standards as well as the lengths some must now go to get their dishes and clothes clean.

The most noticeable defect is the big increase in the time it takes to do a load of dishes. The article cites data compiled by CEI showing cycle times rising from 70 minutes in 1983 – before the multiple rounds of successively tighter dishwasher standards took effect – to 160 minutes this year. Even DOE admits that its regulations are the culprit, noting that “[t]o help compensate for the negative impact on cleaning performance associated with decreasing water use and water temperature, manufacturers will typically increase the cycle time.”  

Adding to the inconvenience, consumers also report having to rinse the dishes before and/or after running them in the dishwasher to get them sufficiently clean, or running them twice.  Apparently, efficiency with regard to homeowners’ time is not a consideration when setting efficiency regulations.

For washing machines, the current regulations mandate so little water be used that homeowners have had to take matters into their own hands to get their clothes clean. The article describes how some consumers have learned to dump extra water into their machines mid-cycle, while others risk voiding the warranty by tinkering with their washers to increase the flow.

Rather than consider a fix to these problems, DOE is doubling down by proposing even tighter requirements for dishwashers and washing machines that are likely to make things worse. As with so much irrational policy coming from Washington, these proposed rules are justified in part by the claimed climate benefits from a further ratcheting down of energy and water limits.   

The only good news is that Congress is fighting back. A new dishwasher or washing machine regulation would likely be subject to a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. However, any such action by Congress would need to be signed into law by a president who is very unlikely to reject a rule his own bureaucrats came up with – and who has shown little flexibility on any measure the administration claims will help save the planet from climate change. Nonetheless Congressional action could at least set the stage for a future rejection of these bad dishwasher and washing machine rules – and along with them the whole DOE regulatory program that targets all home appliances.