This piece was originally published in the March 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.
By Pat Walsh, Editor in Chief, NEMA
The year was 1957. The place, new suburbia. The event, the dawn of the Gold Medallion Home™. Welcome to the All-Electric Generation.
NEMA, which at the time included appliance manufacturers in its membership, created the Gold Medallion Home Program to identify and promote all-electric domiciles as the epitome of modern life. Trademarked 10 years later, the premise was simple—using a lot of electricity would stimulate the demand for home appliances, make them more affordable, benefit manufacturers, and ultimately help the country prosper.
As mid-century America boomed and power plants proliferated, the cost of electricity went down. Gone were the Great Depression and World War II; in their place were years of promise and affluence. Elvis rocked, President Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon, and electricity was cheap.
Previously existing houses were stigmatized by coal- and oil-burning furnaces, which were neither clean nor economical. In contrast, Gold Medallion Homes were both. All electric, from baseboard heaters to appliances, with plenty of electrical receptacles in between, they were forward-looking and sleek. Entire neighborhoods were planned and built with medallion homes as the standard.
Utility companies and appliance manufacturers profited by encouraging homeowners to consume more power by buying more electrical products. To maintain this high demand, the electroindustry launched Live Better Electrically (LBE), an effective mass marketing campaign that was supported by electric utilities and major electrical manufacturers. Its goal was simple: encourage homeowners to consume more electricity.
Medallions, usually affixed next to the doorbell, branded mid-century all-electric homes. Using the Gold Medallion Home model, LBE had several aims:
- Provide prospective homebuyers with a recognized symbol of electrical excellence
- Raise electrical standards in new construction
- Help builders sell homes by promoting the benefits of electrical living
- Show existing homeowners features and fixtures that could be used in their present homes
- Upgrade existing home electrification
To earn a gold medallion, a house had to be solely sourced with electricity for heat, light, and power; have full 150-ampere service with a specified number of outlets and switches per linear foot; and include specific appliances like an electric range, refrigerator, and even air conditioner—customary now, but revolutionary then.
Those of a certain age might recall Queen for a Day, arguably the first reality television show. Indicative of the social value placed on electrical appliances, it pitted four women against each other to compete for prizes based on hardscrabble lives pockmarked by misfortune, disease, and desertion. The audience would determine who demonstrated the most dire straits by means of an “applause-o-meter.” In addition to a sable-trimmed velvet robe, bejeweled crown, and bouquet of long-stemmed red roses, the winner invariably would take home a washer and dryer, home range, or other appliance approved under LBE guidelines. Losing contestants got smaller prizes, such as toasters. Sponsors included the major appliance manufacturers, of course.
According to the Edison Electric Institute, LBE was a huge success. By some estimates, the nationwide goal of one million Gold Medallion Homes was achieved, although actual data is unavailable.
Today, all-electric homes reflect not a decreased appetite for electricity, but a hunger for abodes that are energy-efficient, internet-connected, and sourced from renewables. Welcome to the new generation of all-electric sustainability.
From Gold to Premium
The success of the medallion homes led to the NEMA Premium® programs. While the products are different, its goal is to stimulate demand for electrical products that will save consumers money by increasing efficiency.
The NEMA Premium motors program provides highly energy-efficient products that meet the needs and applications of users and original equipment manufacturers based on a consensus definition of “premium efficiency.” Instead of a gold medallion, it uses the NEMA Premium logo. It is estimated that the campaign saves 5,800 gigawatts of electricity. This translates to preventing the release of nearly 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the next 10 years—equivalent to keeping 16 million cars off the road.
The NEMA Premium Efficiency Transformer Program helps utilities, commercial buildings, and industrial plants incorporate super high-efficiency electrical transformers into their operations. It is based on NEMA TP 1-2002 Guide for Determining Energy Efficiency for Distribution Transformers, a standard that was adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy as the national energy-efficiency rule for low-voltage dry-type distribution transformers.
On the other hand, the NEMA Premium Electronic Ballast Program was so successful that it has been retired. The federal government applied the premium specifications for T8 fluorescent ballasts as the new minimum, thus eliminating its need.
The Premium Exit Sign Program stands apart from other NEMA Premium programs in that it establishes standards for and encourages the use of high-performance exit signage and does not focus strictly on energy efficiency. Instead, its goal is to increase visibility and attract attention.
By creating higher minimum standards in homes, businesses, and industry, we have gone from all electric to all efficiency.