Keep an eye out for new smart technology in refrigerators and freezers beginning next fall. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced revisions to its Energy Star requirements for residential refrigerators and freezers that go beyond simple energy efficiency. The EPA is encouraging manufacturers to incorporate connected, "smart" features into their appliances.

"We can all do our part in meeting the challenge of climate change," said Janet McCabe, principal deputy assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air & Radiation. "By choosing Energy Star appliances, families can save energy, save money, and reduce carbon pollution."

According to the EPA's announcement, the new standards will help reach those resource- and pollution-reduction goals by requiring Energy Star refrigerators and freezers to use at least 10% less energy than models meeting 2014 federal minimum efficiency standards. The requirements go into effect Sept. 15, 2014. Additionally, models with connected features will provide homeowners additional energy-saving opportunities including:

  • Viewing real-time energy use;
  • Receiving energy-related messages, such as alerts when the door is left open;
  • Managing appliance settings remotely;
  • Having "smart grid-ready" connections to respond to utility signals during peak and off-peak demand.

The EPA says that if all refrigerators and freezers sold in the U.S. met the updated requirements, energy cost savings would grow to more than $890 million annually, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of taking 1 million vehicles off the road.

Cool Technology

Some manufacturers already have a selection of connected appliances on the market. Whirlpool's Smart Side-by-Side Refrigerator features 6th Sense Live technology that lets users track energy use or activate certain settings such as "Vacation Assistant" when they're away from home.

Miele offers a range of appliances that are compatible with its wireless RemoteVision technology, connecting the units to the brand's monitoring center. The virtual link transmits temperature and performance data to Miele's client services center, which will contact the user if a fault occurs.

In 2012, Sub-Zero partnered with home automation company Control4 to introduce its Smart Appliance Module and app to integrate with Control4 wireless home control systems. The system can alert homeowners when the refrigerator door is ajar, lower the unit's power consumption at different times of day, and increase ice production prior to entertaining. General service requests can go directly to Sub-Zero's service center for troubleshooting and diagnosis.

Jill Notini, vice president of communications and marketing for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) says that the organization and the appliance industry are excited about this development. "The encouragement for connected appliances isn't a requirement to meet Energy Star, but it gives manufacturers an incentive to move forward because now they know how to test for it," Notini says. "We see smart and connected appliances as part of the future for consumers, and we know they have incredible benefits for energy savings and convenience."

Notini says she's confident that appliance manufacturers are well-positioned to bring more smart appliances to market and that they'll be monitoring consumer acceptance of the technology in general.

"These appliances won't appeal to everyone," she says. "Not everyone cares to have these kinds of features, and the industry is interested in preserving consumer choice, so not all appliances will be connected. We're just in the nascent stages of this technology unfolding in the market, and for those who are interested, as the technology goes beyond the traditional boundary of home appliances, we see privacy, security, and choice as the three tenets of what the industry wants to offer."