Joining the EU

27 Mar, 15

As more household appliances come under the Energy Label, we re-evaluate the influence of energy use

It’s long been debated as to how important energy efficiency is as a purchasing decision for consumers when they are buying household appliances. While most kitchen experts would agree looks and price remain key when choosing a model, they also can’t deny energy efficiency is growing in importance. It’s not all about the big picture, as consumers are beginning to realise the benefit to their own home environment.

Product development manager at Smeg, Joan Fraser explains: “In the early days of energy labelling; only a few consumers were prioritising it as an important part of their decision. Since general awareness has risen, the pricing of eco-efficient appliances has become more accessible and as energy prices have increased, so energy efficiency is more of a consumer consideration than it used to be.” And it’s easy to see why when national sales manager for Gorenje Stuart Benson offers the statistics: “According to Which? choosing an energy-efficient appliance could save the consumer around £37 a year on electricity bills.”

Energy efficiency has long been accepted as a reason to purchase in Europe and, although lagging behind, the UK is slowly catching up. Trade marketing manager of Whirlpool UK, Neil Austin commented: “An extensive Whirlpool study across five European countries – Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Poland – has revealed that 71% of Europeans have already purchased an appliance with an A+ or A++ energy label. This trend is catching on in the UK too.”

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Echoing the views of Neil Austin, brand trading manager of Teka UK, Tim Spann says “We certainly get enquiries from designers that ask for our most energy-efficient appliances and so it must increasingly be seen as a selling point.”

Joining the EU

The EU energy label offers consumers at-a-glance information on the energy efficiency of household appliances which include refrigerators, wine storage, washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers ( from A+++ through to G ratings), depending on product type. Some manufacturers even offer further information with a suffix -30% or -40%, stating the appliance is 30% or 40% more energy efficient than the category it follows. However, this is not an official classification by the EU.

But most recently these EU Energy Labelled products have been joined by gas and electric ovens, as well as cooker hoods, and even vacuum cleaners. And as more products come under the EU Energy Label directive, which is bound to happen, it’s easy to see how efficiency is going to grow in importance for consumers when purchasing major or small appliances.

More education required

However, is enough known about the different classifications on each label? While we all could recognise A is better than D, how much better than A is A+, A++ or A+++? Product manager for kitchens at Miele, Richard Treffler points out: “Little information is known about the tangible benefits each energy rating offers, although the principle is understood; the better the energy rating, the more expensive to buy but the lower the cost to run.” And Joan Fraser of Smeg agrees, pointing out: “There is still some resistance from the consumer – for example, if an energy rating goes from A to A++, the consumer may feel that the difference is not worth a much higher price, unless the higher-rated product is partnered with an additional premium feature that offer the customer a real benefit.” It is up to a kitchen showroom retailer to fully understand the Energy Label and be able to explain to their client a machine which is A+++ is 40% more efficient than an A model. Not to forget to mention, they are also legally responsible for having the Energy Label on show in the store.

But industry experts counter that the Energy Label is only half the battle in helping consumers reduce their energy bills. If a low-rated appliance is frequently used on programs which don’t optimise time and energy, it can affect the energy use. Rita Balestrazzim brand and communicaition manager, of Servis points out: “The energy efficiency of a product can vary according to which programmes are used most regularly. Frequent use of standard programmes, rather than lesser-known specialist energy-saving washes will reduce the efficiency of even the highest energy-rated wet appliances. Similarly, fridge freezers are unlikely to help save money, if the energy saving features on offer are never discovered.”

Since the first major domestic appliances to come under the directive of the EU label were refrigeration, washing machines and dishwashers (in 2011) it makes sense to start with features on thses appliances. And being the early adopters of the Energy Label these, arguably, have led the way in energy efficiency.

Sensors improve refrigeration

Improvements to insulation and the adoption of No Frost technoclogy have positively impacted on the energy efficiency of refrigeration. But sensor controls (can you remember when they were called fuzzy logic?), which monitor and adapt to maintain consistent temperatures, have arguably, played an equally sizeable role, if not greater. This has allowed refrigeration to quickly restore temperature when the door has been opened, through to monitoring overall use, when the door hasn’t been opened at all – such as in the case of Holiday Modes.

Stuart Benson of Gorenje comments: “Our award-winning A+++ RK6193 fridge freezer features sensor technology to keep track of user habits for seven days and adjusts the temperature when the fridge is more frequently opened. This greatly improves energy efficiency, leading to energy consumption savings of up to 50%.”

And this technology is joined by the most recent development by manufacturers to creat Flexi-zones, which allow consumers to convert refrigeration space into lower temperature areas, when required.

Water-saving wet appliances

Reduced water use, which in turn lessens energy use to heat it, has boosted the efficiency of laundry and dishwasher. Rita Balestrazzi comments: “Affordable dishwashers are being products to operate on as little as 9 litres of water per cycle, whilst others are currently being designed and developed to run on as little as 5.5 litres.” Using sensors, which automatically detect load size and dirt levels, manufacturers have also developed dishwashers which can recycle water from previous cycles to reduce water use.

This, combined with larger capacities, means fewer washes, while the ability to wash more quickly and at lower temperatures means energy efficiency is at the forefront of new product development. Category manager UK and Ireland for Maytag, Bianca Castro adds: “Connected washing machines hold the potential to take our resource saving to the next level through facilitating the possibility of functions that allow the appliance to ‘self-select’ the best time to run in accordance to resource cost and availability, on the grid.”

And even laundry appliances which have lagged behind in energy saving – power hungry tumble dryers – have begun to play catch up with heat pump models. Bianco Castro explains how its heat pump dryer works to reduce energy efficiency: “Rather than using an element, the tumble dryer gains its ultra-efficiency by using compressed refrigerant gas which is circulated around a closed circuit and passed through a heat exchanger where the gas is condensed, realising the heat rapidly and efficiently.”

Cooking follows suit

Now these appliances have been joined by cooker hoods and ovens, which must now also carry an EU Energy Label. It has seen cooker hoods improve performances and increasingly embrace energy-saving LED lighting. Communications manager for Franke, Jeanette Ward highlights future energy-efficient additions to the company’s hoods portfolio, stating: “We are further going to be strengthening our A and A+ rated extractor hoods in April, with our upcoming Greenline range.”

And oven manufacturers will also be working towards improving energy efficiency of their appliances, with the highest rate of A++ as a goal. Whirlpool is set to launch an induction oven with an A-30% rating, which the company claims will save up to 50% in energy.

Managing director of Glen Dimplex Home Appliances, Jonathan Casley comments: “New legislation and regulations have been published to raise the level of energy efficiency to A+++ standard across a wide variety of electric and gas domestic ovens.” Although there seems some debate about the comparability of ovens, as it depends on how a user chooses to cook. Joan Fraser of Smeg says: “The new labelling scheme doesn’t take into account the flexibility or usability of the cavity, making it difficult for consumers to make a real comparision and evaluate the products.”

EU Label opportunity

With more product categories falling beneath the jurisdiction of the EU Energy Label, now is the time for kitchen designers and retailers to take stock. Use the opportunity to raise consumer awareness of the differences between the products, using your knowledge of eco features and their benefits, which will in turn help deliver more profitable appliance sales.  Combat the differences between differing initial costs with the long-term energy savings the consumer will make if they buy a more or the most energy efficient appliance. Jeanette Ward of Franke concludes: “Energy efficiency is a subject retailers are going to have to embrace more fully now. The Energy Label gives manufacturers a prime opportunity to differentiate their brand, not just in terms of product, but with the training and support they can give to retailers and designers to enhance their knowledge, such that they are fully-versed in the various features and benefits. The energy Label will help to sort the what from the chaff and gives retailers a better picture of the brands they can confidence to work with.”

The full article appears in the February 2015 issue of Kitchens & Bathrooms News.