Product certifications: The logos and acronyms you see are meant to enlighten, not confuse

Consumer Reports News: February 21, 2007 12:37 AM

Ever wonder what the symbols, seals, or sets of letters like "UL" or "CSA" on the back of your smoke detector, microwave oven, hair dryer, or air conditioner mean? Known as "certification marks," these logos and acronyms indicate that a consumer product has been tested by this third-party laboratory and that it is certified to meet nationally recognized standards for that type of product. Certification laboratories, like Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), must prove that they have the technology and ability to test a product to the applicable standards.

Governmental and nongovernmental organizations run an accreditation program for U.S. and Canadian laboratories. In the United States, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) accredits those laboratories through its Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory program. In addition to OSHA, other accreditation bodies accredit laboratories as qualified to test electrical, gas, and other classes of products for the U.S. market. Those include the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the International Accreditation Services (IAS), and the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP).

Those organizations issue certification marks in a wide range of categories, including small and large appliances, smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms, electronic equipment and home electronics, computers and computer gear; and heating and cooling equipment.

A certification mark "is important because it shows that a product has been examined and tested by a third party--the certifying lab--which is attesting that the design, construction, and performance of the product meets some voluntary industry standard," says Jim Nanni, appliance and home-improvement manager for Consumer Reports. Without such a listing there is little to guarantee performance and safety except the word of the manufacturer.

It's important to note, though, that those testing labs generate revenue for their testing, "so they do have some motivation to work with manufacturers during the certification process," says Nanni. "However, this end result is still leaps and bounds better than a product that lacks this third-party review. Most people don't realize that many 'standards' that we often speak of are only voluntary--many products are not actually required to be tested to any standard."

Keep reading to see a list of certification marks for common household goods and what the marks mean.

The Mark What you’ll see What It Means
AHAM Certified mark
AHAM logo
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers mark for room air conditioners (with the indicator “Capacity, EER & Amperes,” dehumidifiers (“energy factor water removal”) and room air cleaners (“clean air delivery rate”) indicates those published performance attributes have been measured according to a recognized test method by an independent laboratory.
ARL mark
ARL logo
The Applied Research Laboratories mark means the product’s construction and performance meet applicable U.S. standards. A wide variety of products carry this mark, including power outlets, dehumidifiers, electric heaters, electric kitchen appliances, electric swimming-pool pumps, and duct heaters.
Canadian Standards Association International mark with “US” or “NRTL”
Canadian Standards Association International mark with US or NRTL
The CSA International mark with the indicator “US” or “NRTL” means the product meets applicable U.S. standards. The CSA mark appears on a wide variety of products, including gas and electrical appliances; heating, ventilation and A/C, lighting products, home-entertainment products, industrial controls and switchgear, electromedical and laboratory equipment, plumbing products, recreational vehicles, process controls, power supplies, sport- and personal-safety devices, and information- technology equipment.

Canadian Standards Association Blue Star
CSA Bluestar Logo
The CSA Blue Star mark for gas-fired appliances and accessories indicates certification to applicable U.S. standards. The American Gas Association (AGA) used to issue Blue Star certification, but phased out its appliance testing, certification, research and similar programs by 1997 and CSA International expanded its program in the United States to include certification programs for natural gas and propane appliances.
ETL Listed mark
ETL listed mark
Found on electric-powered and gas- or oil-fired products such as clothes washers and dryers, vacuums, and dehumidifiers, this mark from Intertek ETL SEMKO designates compliance with United States and/or Canadian product-safety standards.
Energy Star
Energy Star logo
A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Star program promotes energy efficiency in consumer goods. Those include large appliances (clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators), heating and cooling (room and central air conditioners, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, home insulations), and home electronics (compact fluorescent light bulbs, televisions, home audio), and much more. The more energy-efficient products in a category earn the ability to be labeled as an EnergyStar product.
FM Diamond
FM Diamond logo
Historically, the FM Diamond from FM Global has been more common on products used in the industrial and commercial sectors. You’ll find the mark on smoke, heat, and flame detectors, fire extinguishers, and automatic sprinklers. It signifies compliance with Canadian and U.S. requirements.
NSF mark
NSF mark
Generally associated with providing certification and safety audits for food and water industries, NSF International is a World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Food and Water Safety and Indoor Environment. But the NSF mark is also found on consumer products such as clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, plumbing supplies, pool and spa equipment, dietary supplements, bottled water, and water filters.

UL mark
Underwriters Laboratories logo
The basic Underwriters Laboratories Inc. mark appears on appliances, electrical equipment, furnaces and heaters, fuses, smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms and detectors, fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems, and countless other home products. Products with this mark comply with applicable U.S. standards. THE C-UL US Listing mark indicates compliance with Canadian and U.S. requirements.

WQA Gold Seal
Water Quality Association logo
The Water Quality Association mark appears on components or additives that have met or exceeded industry standards for contaminant reduction, structural integrity, and material safety. Products include water filters, softeners, and purifiers; water-treatment systems and units, swimming pool circulation-system components and related materials; and much more.

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