When you’re looking to buy a new washing machine, fridge or freezer, you’ll see they have an energy rating – but what’s the difference between A+, A++ and A+++?
We know that energy bills are a big drain on household budgets and a source of worry for many families so keeping those costs under control is really important – and one way is to have the most energy-efficient appliances you can afford.
Your old appliances with poor energy ratings might well be costing you far more than necessary as they were not built to run at optimum efficiency.
So, the energy ratings label you see on appliances show how energy efficient an appliance is, according to how much energy it consumes. Every electrical appliance must carry a Europe-wide energy label and retailers must provide this information by law, so you can challenge them if this is not visible. The information should also be included by internet retailers on their websites and in catalogues.
Energy efficiency labels
The European Union established an energy consumption labelling scheme where energy efficiency of an appliance is rated and labelled through a set of energy efficiency classes from A to G, with A the most energy efficient and G the least. Grade A is divided into a further three categories: A+, A++ and A+++.
On the energy label, products in the darkest green category are the most energy efficient. They use less energy and help you reduce both your energy bills and CO2 emissions. The least efficient are colour-coded red.
You will find that many appliances now are meeting the requirements for the top ratings and because of that manufacturers are moving back to the A-G scale. But for now, the best models will receive an A+++ rating.
Electrical energy we use is measured kilowatt hours (kWh). A kWh is 1,000 watts of energy being used in an hour. So, for example, a kWh equates to an average of four hours of television viewing or 31 hours of laptop use.
The EU energy labelling regulations cover the following household products:
- Refrigerators, freezers and fridge-freezers
- Washing machines
- Electric tumble dryers
- Combined washer-dryers
- Lamps (light bulbs)
- Electric ovens
- Air conditioners
- Vacuum cleaners
- Water heaters
The energy labels are separated into at least four categories:
- Specific appliance details—model and materials
- Energy class colour code A to G
- Consumption, efficiency, capacity, etc.
- Noise emitted in decibels.
To comply with EU regulations, all washing machines have been rated from A to A+++ since 2014. The ratings are assessed by testing on full and partial 60°C cotton loads, a 40°C partial cotton load and are based on the kilowatt hours used annually.
Washing machine labels, or the online descriptions, should advise:
- The energy rating, A to A+++
- Standard cycle energy consumption
- Estimated annual water consumption.
The EU energy rating does not currently take water usage into account, so the water consumption is shown on the label but does not affect the overall rating.
Running your washing machine can cost anything from £12 up to £53 a year, according to Which?, so it makes sense to have the most efficient appliance as well as using them in the most efficient ways.
Fridges and freezers
We run our fridges and freezers, 24/7 so they are pretty robust pieces of technology, but because they work harder for longer, they use more energy.
You might want to consider replacing your appliance if it’s more than a decade old as it’s likely to be draining much more energy than necessary. You should recoup the purchase costs with the energy savings you make in just a few years and a new model would only use a third of the energy consumed by a fridge or freezer built ten years ago.
New fridges and freezers will have energy efficiency ratings of between A+ and A+++ but are graded according to how efficient they are in relation to their size, rather than according to their actual kWh consumption.
This means that, for example, a larger fridge-freezer A++-rated model might look like the most efficient for your needs, but it might well use more energy than a more compact lower-rated model, because smaller versions are usually cheaper to run. So, you need to select the smallest appliance that meets your needs.
The label also contains:
- annual energy consumption in kWh
- capacity of fresh foods in litres
- capacity of frozen foods in litres
- noise in dB(A)
Energy ratings checks
While it should be easy to find the energy consumption details, an EU-funded MarketWatch survey of shops and websites across Europe found that nearly two thirds of products (62%) in the online sites had missed out some information about appliances’ energy consumption and performance.
In the UK websites checked by the survey, all the products checked were labelled with at least some kind of information about their energy performance but surprisingly, 90% of products had energy information missing or displayed wrongly.
The bricks and mortar retailers were better with UK shops having 80% of products showing relevant figures in the right format, and more than 77% of products correctly labelled throughout Europe.
Better for the planet
When you buy an energy-efficient appliance, you are doing much more than just getting control of your electricity bills – you are making a big contribution to looking after the planet, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and longer-lasting devices that don’t end up in landfill so quickly.
Using less energy also takes the strain off our power generation networks, with reduced burning of fossil fuels and less need to mine materials for energy production and manufacture.
And upgrading does not mean we should dump all our working appliances right away. Step by step, we can change them for more energy-efficient models when they reach the end of their useful life, ensuring we recycle them properly. It’s worth investing in highly efficient appliances that may cost a little more but give you additional savings on bills that quickly repay initial costs.