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Re-wired up, ready to go! Energy efficiency of household appliances

Re-wired up, ready to go! Energy efficiency of household appliances

The Great British public love their gadgets. This is especially true when their tech claims to be joining the ranks in the fight for Mother Earth. Understandably, however, the dry details concerning the energy efficiency of household appliances is seldom a hot topic for conversation.

This lack of interest becomes less understandable when you consider the amount of electricity needlessly drained by many of these appliances each year, costing the consumer hundreds of pounds and the planet its climate. Which? goes as far as to recommend people replace appliances that are over ten years old.

Should you replace the electrical appliances in your home? Well, we had a recent chat about it over a coffee:

AAAAA!!!! Energy efficiency ratings

Every household electrical appliance comes with an energy efficiency rating that classifies how well the appliance uses electrical energy.

Ratings range from a low of ‘G’ to a high of ‘A+++’. Since 2012, the minimum standard to which fridge and freezer manufacturers must build fridges and freezers is ‘A+’, if they are to sell the appliances in the EU. That for newly built washing machines is ‘A’.

Appliances made before this time are likely to be ‘C’ or ‘B’, meaning that modern appliances can often be 60% more efficient than old ones.

Thankfully, the EU plans to re-scale the existing energy efficiency levels by March 2021, making ‘A’ the new highest rating. One would expect the UK to adopt this more sensible taxonomy too.

Size matters

However, energy efficiency ratings do not tell the whole story, as they take size into account.

Image showing different feet sizes in bed. It shows how energy efficiency of household appliances depends on size.
Not only do little things take up less space, they require less energy.

In other words, a small A++-rated fridge could well consume less power than a large A+++-rated fridge. The exact same principle applies to washing machines, tumble dryers and televisions.

So, when it comes to picking an energy-efficient appliance, size is the most important consideration to make.

Somewhat on the contrary, there is no point in scrimping for a small washing machine only to use it twice as often. This would use far more energy than just doing one wash in a slightly too big machine.

It is recommended to buy the next size up from the weight of the weekly load.

Defund the ice: food cooling appliances

Fridges and freezers were always destined to be chief energy guzzlers in the home, purely because they are switched on for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To that end, manufacturers of the appliances have improved their energy efficiency to a magnificent degree in recent years. 

Having said that, a fridge or freezer can easily stay in good form for fifteen years. Hence, many households still own old ones, wasting vast amounts of electricity. In fact, the average household spent £114 operating fridges and freezers in 2017. The expense of the modern state-of-the-art kit could be as little as £21.

The difference could be 800 kWh of energy per year, with pre-2001 appliances consuming as much as 1000 kWh. Saving this amount of energy is like giving up 1700 miles-worth of driving in a diesel car – that’s roughly the distance from London to Warsaw.

One of the most efficient combined cooling appliances on the market is this Liebherr A+++ rated fridge freezer. It has a total capacity of 361 litres. The cost of the appliance, though, is eye-watering: £1383.99. Annually consuming 178 kWh of energy at a cost of around £21, the fridge-freezer has a lengthy payback time of 14 years.

A more affordable alternative is this LG A+++ rated fridge-freezer. It has a total capacity of 340 litres and is almost as efficient as the Liebherr model, annually consuming 188 kWh of energy. At a cost of £549.99, the payback time is about 6 years, i.e.: well within the fridge’s lifetime. 

Energy efficient refrigeration options are plentiful – the median payback time for a 200-300 litre fridge-freezer is 4-7 years.

For a small stand alone fridge, however, payback time can be as little as two years when a ten year old appliance is replaced with the modern equivalent.

Food practice: top tips for saving energy on fridges

Energy saving tips include:

  • Keep the back of the fridge clean from dust
  • Regularly check the seals to keep the interior air-tight
  • Position away from sunlight
  • Set the fridge to 4℃ and freezer to -18℃
  • Let warm food cool down before placing in the fridge
  • Keep as full as possible, even if with bottles of water and newspaper: air heats up quicker than food, drink and water, meaning that opening the fridge heats the interior more slowly when there is a small volume of air inside. This reduces the amount of energy subsequently required to cool the interior back down.

Washing machines live longer with carbon: green laundry

Ah, laundry appliances.

Surprisingly, these notorious household energy oligarchs consume more energy than fridges and freezers, despite being switched on for a fraction of the time. A 10 kg C-rated tumble dryer, for instance, will annually consume 700 kWh of energy. Whew!

Even modern washing machines annually use roughly the same amount of energy as a fridge-freezer. For example: Hoover produce a 10 kg A+++ rated washing machine that uses 239 kWh of energy annually and 12900 litres of water, whilst Indesit’s 7 kg A++ washing machine annually uses 197 kWh of energy and 10630 litres of water.

As for tumble dryers, people with gardens should line-dry laundry as often as possible. That is a simple choice.

Tumble dryers are much harder to make efficient, meaning that they have a low minimum efficiency label of C. Whilst efficient models do exist, such as this 8 kg A+++ rated Grundig model, they are incredibly expensive.

The most common rating for tumble dryers on the market today is B.

The choice is less simple for people who do not have gardens, and particularly for those who have poor home ventilation too.

This is because drying clothes inside can result in condensation and black mould. The mechanism to combat such infestation is to open windows during drying.

In winter, this wastes energy through heat. Expecting someone to open windows in winter is also unreasonable. 

Cheer to the eco-mode

Washing machines and dishwashers operating in ‘eco mode’ draw less power, which sacrifices speed.

For years, it was widely believed that the extra hours of washing made no significant impact on the appliances’ energy consumption.

Modern appliances, however, have highly effective eco modes that do, in fact, significantly reduce the amount of energy consumed in the wash. 

That said, the best way to reduce energy consumption is to wash at a low temperature. This has a far greater impact than using eco mode alone. 

However, eco mode should not be used if the load is particularly dirty – less power runs the risk of having to re-do the wash, subsequently using nearly twice the energy needed.

Twenty-first century toys: Televisions

Interestingly, television sales are still increasing, whilst freeview viewing figures are dramatically plummeting.

Image showing the trend of streaming shows on TV screens - shows the discussion about energy efficiency of such household appliances is still relavant.
Despite the increasing popularity of streaming services, TV sales continue to grow.

Such is the result of the booming smart television market, with most viewers taking to digital streaming. Discussion of the appliance itself, however, is still highly relevant in 2020.

Most modern televisions are exceedingly more efficient than those of a decade ago. An A rated 40’’ screen will easily drain less than 100 kWh annually, compared to old devices of similar size using more than 250 kWh each year.

The downside is that modern TVs are incredibly expensive. The payback time is likely to be meaningless.

Having said that, some modern TVs are available for second hand purchase at far cheaper prices. And supporting the circular economy in this way has more indirect ecological effects.

CO2 Arena: Carbon cost of replacing appliances

In general, appliances made before 2012 should be replaced, due to the introduction of new energy efficiency standards that year. 

Don’t forget, however, that replacing old electrical appliances takes its own toll on the environment.

The raw materials dug up from the ground require heavy duty machinery, much of which depends on burning fossil fuels.

The appliance is produced on a carbon intensive assembly line, usually halfway across the world for the biggest manufacturers, meaning it must then be transported by polluting ships and planes.

Meanwhile, a petrol-powered vehicle picks the old appliance up, taking it to a landfill site, polluting the local land marine habitats and wasting space that could used for CO2 capturing green spaces.

And all that is to not even mention the questionable ethical practices of some of these processes. 

An alternative solution is to install a second hand, more efficient appliance. Many ‘good-as-new’ A+ and A++ appliances on the market have been previously owned without any detriment to their performance. Doing so will be the best way to save money and carbon. 

A bit of a quook-up: new appliances to boil water

Famously, there is a spike in the grid’s energy consumption at the sound of the drums signalling the closing credits of Eastenders.

The source? Cups of tea.

Kettles draw a very large amount of power in the short time during which they are heating water for a brew.

The kettle is also one of the easiest places to waste energy, as they are often unnecessarily boiled at full capacity (drawing maximum power) or re-boiled.

To improve on the high energy consumption of boiling water, a theory has suggested that keeping hot water in a tank all day long should reduce the amount of energy wasted though overfilling and re-boiling.

Quooker, the leading manufacturer of such boiling water taps, say that their products are a sustainable alternative to conventional methods of boiling water. 

If only. It turns out that typical usage of a standard tap offered by Quooker annually consumes almost exactly the same amount of energy as that of a kettle.

Quooker products are, then, a sustainable alternative: they sustain the amount of energy consumed from boiling water for an alternative, extortionate price!

The best way to reduce the energy wasted from boiling water in a kettle is to make conscious efforts to stop unnecessarily re-boiling the kettle and only boil what you need. 

Clubbing together

Our service at Don’t do a Dodo intends to make green decisions as easy and affordable as possible. In registering with our free-to-use platform, you can join like-minded people in local and national carbon clubs to gain access to discounts on modern household appliances.

What would the dodo do?

The dodo, if it were alive today, would continue to watch the stone age of TV on its plasma screen, whilst waiting for the laundry to be done in the dryer and the dinner to finish de-frosting in its prehistoric fridge. The dodo spends a lot of money each year on its household electrical appliances. Don’t do that.


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