Choosing energy-efficient appliances

Last updated Wednesday 2 July 2008

Do your white goods make the grade?

If your fridge-freezer or washing machine is approaching its 10th birthday, it will likely be using 50% more energy than a new top rated model and costing you up to 37 a year in extra bills. So, should it stay or should it go?

Most appliances in your local showroom sport a brightly coloured energy label telling you how efficient they are. Graded from A to G, an A-rated machine provides the biggest CO2saving, and can reduce the long-term running costs too. The most efficient models get an Energy Saving Recommended (ESR) badge.

Fridges and freezers go up to an A++ rating. But beware, because fridge and freezer ratings are based on volume, huge American-style refrigerators can get an A++ rating, even though they use nearly 50% more energy than a typical 300-litre model.

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Photo: Choosing energy-efficient appliances

Saves up to 300kg of CO2 a year

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • Brits are only beaten by the Germans in terms of having the most efficient dishwashing techniques
  • Tumble dryers, fridges and washing machines are the biggest users of electricity around the home
  • Refrigeration and freezing appliances in UK homes use nearly as much electricity as all offices
  • A new combined fridge-freezer can save up to 150kg of CO2 a year
  • If everyone upgraded their cold appliances (fridges, freezers) to Energy Saving Recommended products, it would save around 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 and nearly 900 million a year
  • If everyone upgraded their wet appliances (washing machines, dishwashers) to Energy Saving Recommended models, it would save around 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 and nearly 250 million a year. That's equivalent to 12 million Brits halving their beef intake

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What's stopping me?

"If I spend a fortune on a fridge I'll have no money left to buy anything to put in it"

In general, the cheapest appliances are the least efficient and have the highest long-term running costs but paying over 300 won't get you the most efficient one. You can compare appliances' running costs at Sust-it.

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What's the debate?

"Isn't it better to run the old appliance into the ground, given all the energy that goes into making a new one?"

The energy used in the manufacture of a new product - even an energy efficient one - is certainly a factor in these decisions. As appliances produce around 90% of their CO2 after they leave the factory, by its 10th year it's probably worth making the switch.

"We're supposed to cut our use of electrical appliances, but I heard that dishwashers are actually more efficient than washing the dishes by hand"

This comparison depends on your technique. If you use a plug and avoid running the hot tap, you'll almost always beat the dishwasher for energy efficiency. A medium-sized dishwasher can be slightly more energy efficient than hand-washing, but only if it's fully loaded and run on the economy setting.

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How do I do it?

Compare appliances with the Energy Saving Trust to see how much they cost, how much CO2 they produce and what their annual running costs are (see the energy label for information). An Energy Saving Recommended fridge or fridge freezer will cost you around 50 to 100 more than an average A rated fridge or fridge freezer.

  • Size matters - buying smaller appliances will save the most CO2 and cash, so beware those jumbo-sized options, even if they're A-rated
  • For fridge-freezers, make sure it's A++ rated. Chris Goodall advises buyers to "look for a 300-litre model that uses less than 300kWh a year and costs less than 300". Paying more won't necessarily get you a more efficient appliance
  • Beware: a 'frost-free' freezer will save you time defrosting it, but adds an extra 15kg to your CO2 tally each year
  • Arrange for your local council to collect your old fridge or freezer from you. The coolant inside contains hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which emit harmful greenhouse gases equivalent to 200kg of CO2. When selecting your next model, look for a hydrocarbon based coolant - these are less polluting
  • Washing machines are sized by how many kilos of washing they take: a 6kg capacity machine should use 1kWh of electricity per wash
  • Unless space is tight, avoid combined washer-dryers, which are emissions heavy, and look for washing machines with the most efficient spin
  • Can't live without a tumble dryer? Make sure it's a gas condensing type, as they use less energy
  • Use appliances less frequently to reduce running costs and don't leave them on standby

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Comments

Baz, Shropshire 2009-02-06

I think the debate is not to throw out your old appliance and buy a new one, which would not be environmentally good, but rather when you do change your appliance make sure it's an efficient one, that way you can spread the cost of replacement.
As for the tumble dryers, an electric condensing dryer costs little more than a non condenser and you don't need a CORGI man to fit it so your savings for an electric dryer are quite large.
What about a solar tumble dryer using a simple flat plate solar collector to heat the incoming air?

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Efficiency ratings
All white goods and other household appliances sold in the UK are now required by law to carry a rating indicating their energy efficiency. Goods are graded A to G, with A the most efficient. Information on the EU-wide labelling scheme is available from the government's environment department, Defra.
Greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases raise the earth's temperature through the greenhouse effect. There are six main examples. As well as carbon dioxide, they include: water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (which include sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs). Of these, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs are controlled under the Kyoto Protocol to limit their concentration in the atmosphere. The heat warming capacity of each gas is measured by its 'global warming potential': how much heat it traps depends on its chemical make-up and how long it stays in the atmosphere.
Hydrocarbons
Hydrocarbons are compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon only. All fossil fuels - such as coal, oil and gas - are hydrocarbons, until they are burnt when they mix with oxygen, creating (amongst other gases) CO2.
Kilowatt-hours (kWh)
A kilowatt-hour is an amount of energy equivalent to a power of one kilowatt (a thousand watts) running for one hour. The unit is commonly used on electricity meters. If you know how many kilowatt-hours of energy your household uses, you can translate this into kilograms of CO2 emitted by multiplying it by 0.527. A megawatt hour (MWh) is an amount of energy equivalent to the power of one megawatt (a million watts) running for one hour. Similarly, a gigawatt hour (GWh) is a billion watts for one hour, and a terawatt hour (TWh) is a trillion. While your domestic gas bill will be set out in kWh, the output for a power station, for example, will obviously be expressed in one of these much larger units.
Standby
Standby, or 'sleep mode', is a mode in which electronic appliances are turned off but still drawing current and ready to activate on command. Although legislation has limited the energy new appliances can use in standby mode, they still use more energy than if they are switched off at the wall.

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