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Reducing your energy bills: how to find efficient appliances

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 23 November 2011 at 9:20 am

How we buy and use electrical appliances in the home has a significant impact on how much electricity we consume - and thus, how high our bills are. So how do we make sure that we buy the most efficient appliance for our needs?

With difficulty, it seems, according to The Elephant in the Living Room, a new report from the Energy Saving Trust. To illustrate this point I'll look at its findings on fridges and  washing machines.

The good news is that a fridge bought 15 years ago uses on average around 50% more electricity than a comparable model bought today. However, buying the most suitable and efficient fridge today still isn't simple.

Two trends are threatening the shift to energy efficient fridges:
- the fashion for larger American style fridge-freezers
- add-on features such as ice-makers and water chillers, (for some strange reason) the extra energy needed to run these are not included in their energy efficiency rating & labelling, meaning you might end up with a energy-guzzler without realising it.

In addition, due to the significant increases in energy efficiency of fridges (and the instransigence of the fridge manufacturers), the labelling hasn't been adjusted to reflect the improvements in energy efficiency. There are virtually no products that measure less than B (the scale of labelling is A - G. So it would be fair enough to assume that an A-rated model is the best available - indeed 85% of fridges sold are in this category. However, you'd be wrong. There are two extra categories: A+ and A++, have been tacked on, so that A-rated fridges don't need to be down-graded. These more efficient grades only had 13% and 0.5% of the market each in 2010.

Washing machines are an example of how just buying the most energy efficient model isn't enough: you also need to think about how you use it. They too have improved in efficiency, so the best in class have A+ ratings. They've also increased in size, with machines with bigger drums (taking 7Kg+ loads). The problem is that if you buy a bigger machine, but carry on washing lots of smaller loads, you can cancel out the increased energy efficiency of the new washing machine.

Similarly, what temperature you wash at has a significant impact. Washing at lower temperatures can use 40% less electricity, with associated cuts in your electricity bills.

In short, it's not enough to just buy the best efficiency label you can afford. Because how you use it will also be key. A convenient shortcut can be to either buy products that carry out the Energy Saving Trust Recommended label, or to check out the power usage of your preferred option on sust-it.

We've all got used to looking to see what the fuel consumption is when we're buying a new car. Wouldn't it be great to have a simple equivalent for appliances and electronic goods, which clearly states the kWh per use/day/whatever?

Photo by sunfox


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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2 comments - read them below or add one

Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 19 December 2011 at 3:12 pm

@rippa700 - good point. I've not updated my old Bosch because it's got the hot fill. It's not just the A+ ones that don't have hot fill. Virtually all new washing machines are cold fill only. And from what I understand, most of the cost of running them is about heating the water.

However, there is an argument that says that because the runs from most cylinders are so long, the water isn't generally very hot by the time it gets to the washing machine, so the benefit of hot fill is marginal.

There is also some interesting discussion on the Navitron forum about how to get round the problem - some of which may well invalidate the guarantee.

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rippa700Comment left on: 16 December 2011 at 9:05 pm

I've had a conundrum with A+ rates washing machines. It seems that in order to get the A+ they must be able to measure the energy required to heat the water, so they only accept a cold water input. Having fitted solar hot water we cannot use that hot water with an A+ rated machine. I would imagine that the heating is 90% of the energy demand anyway, so in fact a much lower energy rated machine that does accept hot water would be far more economical (in CO2 terms). Better still a new class of A+ that works with solar hot water. Any comments?

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