Proposed DOE Dishwasher Rules Will Cost Lots of Green

Published January 14, 2015

New efficiency standards targeting residential dishwashers proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy are expected to cause dishwasher sales to decline by more than one-third and add hundreds of millions of dollars to industry manufacturers’ production costs. 

DOE estimates the regulations will reduce water consumption by about 68 gallons per household per year and reduce the average household’s electricity bill by about $0.56 a year.

On the other hand, the regulations are projected to cause a 34 percent decline in dishwasher sales, and the cost of industry compliance with the rules will exceed $200 million.

Heritage Foundation Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change David Kreutzer said proposed government mandates like these are unnecessary, because free markets naturally allocate and use resources in the most efficiency way possible. 

“Resources have benefits, and we want to use resources where they provide benefits equal to or greater than the cost of using them. That’s what the market does very well,” he said. 

Optimizing the Wrong Things

“The whole energy resource-saving thing—where the goal is to use less—doesn’t make sense to me. We don’t want to waste resources, but markets already don’t want to waste resources,” Kreutzer said. “We don’t want cars to use gasoline for no reason whatsoever, for example. 

“If you look at the ads, people apparently want more fuel-efficient vehicles,” he explained. “Every time I watch a football game, the ads are telling me which truck gets the most miles per gallon,” he said. “If truck drivers are sensitive to the changes in miles-per-gallon, I’m sure the other drivers are, as well.

“What regulations don’t do very well, when the federal government makes these mandates, is include all of the tradeoffs. Look at cars, with the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. They don’t consider comfort or convenience or safety,” Kreutzer said. “The fact that we’re driving smaller, less comfortable, less safe cars doesn’t fit into the calculation anywhere.

Wasting Time and Effort

Kreutzer says the proposed regulations on dishwashers optimize for the wrong factors, decreasing water use at the expense of other factors such as time and convenience.

“Energy regulations on dishwashers cut the water use, because it’s the hot water that you’re cutting back, [but] in order to get the dishes clean, you have to run the pump longer,” he said. “You save two gallons of hot water, but you’ve added 45 minutes or so—or more, in some cases—to the washing cycle.”

Kreutzer noted government efficiency mandates “don’t consider convenience; they don’t consider durability; they don’t consider other features. They simply look at the total amount of electricity or water that gets used.

“Markets already give people the incentive to conserve resources. When you put government regulations over top of that, they simply distort the tradeoffs so that people aren’t allowed to get the most efficient use of the resources,” he concluded.

Kelsey Hackem ([email protected]) writes from Columbus, Ohio.