By Barbara Kessler

Our refrigerators, which can be the biggest electricity hogs of all household appliances, have been getting the once-over from the Energy Star program for several years now, with those bright yellow tags alerting us to what sort of electrical consumption we can expect. Washers and dryers, ditto.

Now our dishwashers, which have been insidiously luxuriating in hot water all this time, are getting the full review by government energy gurus.

The reason: Snap! They use water.

Energy Star, the U.S. government authority on these matters, has previously rated dishwashers based on the electricity they consume. Starting in August 2009, they’ll be subjecting dishwashers to the first set of criteria that will take water consumption into account. The second phase is set to go into effect in summer 2011.

By the time the overhaul is complete in 2012, the new guidelines are expected to save Americans 671 billion Btu’s of electricity and 1.13 billion gallons of water per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which announced the tighter guidelines Monday.

In terms of household use, consumers could expect to save more than a gallon of water with each dishwashing cycle.

How do manufacturers feel about the rules changes? They’ll qualify for tax credits for the production of dishwashers that meet the new ENERGY STAR dishwasher criteria under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

Yes, among the many things planned for that big bank bailout, both big and small, getting the ketchup off your plates while using less energy — and water — is just one.

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