If energy efficiency is your top concern, you should hold off on purchasing a new dishwasher until early next year. But if it's maximum speed you're after, you may want to act quickly. Energy Star's Version 5.0 specification for dishwashers will take effect on January 20, 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Under the new requirements, standard dishwashers must use no more than 294 kilowatt hours per year and 4.24 gallons per cycle to carry the Energy Star seal.
Consumer Reports has called on the EPA to update its Energy Star specifications more regularly, so we applaud the adoption of a tougher standard for dishwashers. But we'd be remiss not to point out that the increase in dishwasher efficiency has, in the past, resulted in longer cycle times, as machines are forced to stretch less heated water over longer periods to get dishes clean. Following the last Energy Star specification update in August 2009, a few of the models we tested required three hours per load.
Cycle times could get even longer with some models when the new requirement takes effect. But the operative word there is "some." Many models in our current dishwasher Ratings, including top performers by Bosch, Kenmore, and Kitchen Aid, are Energy Star-qualified and have cycle times around two hours. And it's not just the priciest models that manage the balancing act. The Kenmore 1374, for example, is a $620 CR Best Buy that's Energy Star-qualified and delivered excellent washing performance in a relatively swift 125 minutes in our tests.
Bottom line: whether you buy a dishwasher now or wait for Energy Star's Version 5.0 to kick in, you should be able to find a model that suits your needs, provided you know what to look for. That includes finding a model that's quiet, especially if its cycle time does run long and your kitchen is situated near main living areas. Read our complete dishwasher buying advice for full details.