What do the energy labels on washing machines mean?

Energy Labels The energy labels on washing machines have several ratings, which this and related pages explains and comments on. This first page looks at the energy efficiency rating, which is not a good indicator of an washing machine’s environmental credentials at all.

Energy efficiency rating

washing-machine-eco-label We should all know by now that A is the best and G is the worst. But it doesn’t tell us how much better or how much worse each rating is. It’s not much use saying one thing is better than another without saying how much better.

How much difference is there between an A and a B? It simply says “more efficient” at the top, and “less efficient” at the bottom. By that indicator £100 could be at the top of a chart (A) and £99 could be second (B), but there’s only £1 difference. You might think that even if A is only slightly better than B it’s better to have the A isn’t it? But not if the B or even C is a much better washing machine altogether. And what if the difference between an A and a B is only £10 a year but the A costs £50 more?

I think it’s fair to say that soon after these ratings came out most washing machines quickly started to rate well on them, and often using trickery (Washing machines not delivering right temperature). As is so often the case, any target results in them being met at any cost – often costs which totally outweigh the whole point of the targets in the first place.

The eco labels have had to be updated several times and they’ve had to add A+, A++ and even A+++ to try and compensate for the fact that almost every washing machine ended up with an A rating, making a mockery of the system.

On the Energy Saving Trust web site they say the following about the energy efficiency ratings -

"Remember, the more energy efficient an appliance is, the more money you can save – and the more you can help the environment."

However, this is only theoretically true, and only really true if the "more energy efficient appliance" is exactly the same price, and built to the same quality standards, and is the same in most other ways. This is rarely if ever the case. If you compared a Which? Best Buy that had a high reliability record with one that had a reputation for being unreliable, but the unreliable one had a higher energy efficiency rating I do not agree that the unreliable washing machine is either the best to buy, or would help the environment more. I would say the opposite is true. If you were comparing two different models of the same manufacturer from the same model range though, and they had different energy efficiency ratings, that would be a reasonably fair comparison because they are the same build quality and likely to share the same reliability standards.

Because proper buying decisions are so complex and difficult to work out it's easy to rely on these labels too much. What if you choose a more energy efficient washing machine because of environmental concerns without realising that this washing machine damages the environment more than the other because of the way it’s manufactured, or because of the distance it has travelled round the world compared to one made in your own country, or because of its unreliability record or its lack of longevity?

Because the energy efficiency ratings only focus on energy usage they should only be used as a very small part of the buying decision. Buying a good quality washing machine should be the number one priority. Check out the Which? £1 offer and thoroughly research the best washing machines and other products to buy.

How much would you save if you replaced an old washing machine (bought in 1998) with one of the new, "A" rated energy saving recommended models of similar size?

According to the Energy Saving Trust, you would only save up to £10* per year, which seems surprisingly low. I’m sure most people would expect much more savings than that.

If the annual difference in energy usage between a current A rated washing machine and one made in 1998 is only a maximum of £10 then surely the difference between a current A rated washing machine and a B, or C, shouldn’t be too significant? Savings are good to pursue, and even £10 a year is worthwhile, but small savings like this shouldn’t influence complex buying decisions too much.

* The (up to) £10 per year savings quoted here are relevant only for washing machines. Other appliances (such as freezers and fridges) have greater savings differences between grade levels, and greater annual running cost savings compared to 1998 because they are on 24/7. The above link also lists estimated potential savings for the other white goods appliances as well as for various home insulation projects.

How much money would you save if you bought a washing machine that had an energy efficiency rating of A instead of one that was B rated?

According to Which? it was just £5.20* a year (doing 5 washes a week). When comparing an A rating with a C rating the savings almost reaches £10 a year. These savings aren’t that significant if you end up with an unreliable washing machine that doesn’t last long. Over a several year period the savings start to add up but they can still be easily wiped out with just one repair. Watch out for washing machines with lower than C rating though as there are still a handful of really poor ones available.

* figure found during research in mid 2008 so should be more significant now prices have increased so much

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