Big Screen TVs: Six Tips for Picking an Energy-Efficient Model

big screen tv savingsSome TVs use as much electricity as a refrigerator, one of the home's biggest energy hogs. Yet big-screen TVs come in energy-efficient models at prices comparable to the electricity-gobbling beasts. Trouble is, you can't spot them just by looking at them. Side by side, they may appear identical, but the wrong choice could swell your annual electric bill by more than $100.

No sense wasting money on electricity when you could spend it on fun outings. Six tips to find the best big-screen TV that proves lighter on the wallet (and planet) over time:
  • It's not enough to look for the Energy Star symbol -- about 80% of TVs get the label, says Stephanie Fleming, residential sector senior manager for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), adding: "It really doesn't mean much."
  • Don't expect to see a helpful EnergyGuide label detailing the expected annual electricity cost pasted to TVs at the store like you see on fridges or dishwashers. While the Federal Trade Commission this past fall ruled to require such labels, they're not on TVs yet.
  • To help bewildered consumers, a new rating system by Fleming's outfit, NEEA, alerts the public to super-energy-efficient TVs among all Energy Star choices. The least-thirsty TVs can be as much as 30% more efficient, says Mardi Cino, consumer products manager for NEAA. In the Pacific Northwest, new "Energy Forward" labels from NEEA actually appear on the greenest TVs in stores, but since it's a regional labeling program, stores in other states don't offer that convenience. Still, anyone anywhere can take advantage of the organization's research: Search its interactive tool by TV size and brand here.
  • Even simpler (but less detailed), check out this Top 10 list of most-efficient large TVs, as well as separate lists for medium TVs and small televisions. The lists are offered by the nonprofit Example: No. 1-rated Samsung's 46-inch, LED-backlit TV (model UN46C5000QF) is estimated to provide up to $206 in cost savings versus the average Energy Star TV. Pricegrabber, a shopping-comparison feature found on each TV's page on TopTenUSA, says this model starts at $1,247.
  • Realize that hot deals such as Black Friday bargains likely sell models that are being phased out -- meaning they're less energy-efficient TVs with bigger electricity use, Cino says. Just because a TV gets an Energy Star when it's manufactured doesn't mean it's still among the more efficient models. Examples: A store may have in stock a bargain TV that complies with Energy Star version 3.0, but current standards actually fall under Energy Star version 4.1 -- and in September, they'll advance to version 5.3 (TVs recommended by the NEEA meet these future strict standards). As PCWorld pointed out, a 50-inch TV under the 3.0 standard could be called Energy Star even if it used 318 watts of power -- that's more than some refrigerators. The difference in your electric bill between choosing that TV instead of a newer model would be noticeable -- potentially as much as "a hundred-plus dollars a year," Cino says.
  • If nothing else, do this simple thing: Download the specifications for the TV you want. If the specs say it uses less than 108 watts of power, you're golden -- that's the most efficient, Cino says. Energy Star version 5 standards will require that any TV bigger than 50 inches in diameter can't suck up more than 108 watts (down from 210 watts for 60-inch TVs, which is comparable to some refrigerators).
Bottom line: If you opt for a television that uses just 108 watts, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing it definitely doesn't slurp up as much electricity as your fridge. But you still could do better if you eschew the big screen.

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