A+++ rated washing machines - are they worth it?
Almost all new washing machines on sale in the UK are rated A or better for energy performance. Many have even better ratings of A+, A++ or A+++, using the revised set of labels introduced by the EU in early 2012. It is no longer legal to sell new equipment rated lower than C.
Actual savings will depend on use. According to research carried out by the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute (ECI), the average UK washing machine is used for 270 wash-cycles a year. The amount of energy used in each wash depends on several factors including:
- The energy rating of the machine.
- The wash temperature (typically 30, 40, 60 or - more rarely - 90 °C).
- Whether a half-load programme is available and selected.
- Whether it is used as hot-fill (and if so, whether the hot water is heated by gas or electricity) or cold-fill (when the machine will always use electricity to heat the water to the desired temperature).
In the same report, ECI estimated that for new washing machines available in the UK at the time, the average energy consumption per cycle was 1.24kWh. Since then, the average has fallen to just over 1kWh per cycle. These figures assume that the heating element has not furred up (as is possible in hard water areas) as this can significantly increase the cost of heating water.
The revised label recognises that as energy consumed per wash cycle has improved, other factors assume greater importance. So, it now includes an allowance for energy used in standby mode, and takes into account whether a machine has an auto-off function. The reference wash has also been changed and is now based on a weighted average of washes at 60°C and 40°C, with the former including both full and part load cycles. However, it still makes no allowance for low temperature (30°C) washes. In broad terms, an A+++ machine will use around two-thirds of the energy of an A-rated one.
There is sometimes criticism that we have reached a point where chasing higher labels saves less energy than before, and is unlikely to justify the extra cost of purchase. There may be some truth in this, as the best machines now only save a few pence of electricity per wash cycle, and might be expected to save £10 - £15 per annum for average use at typical temperatures. However, washing machines are also longer lived than historically, and so if you look at these annual savings over a 10 or 15-year life (and recognise that fuel costs are likely to rise over the same period), then they still offer a good buy.
The official energy label also includes other useful information, including washing performance and the effectiveness of the spin dryer; again both on an A-G scale where 'A' is the best performance. By making sure that a machine is also rated at least 'A' on the spin cycle, you can save even more money from lower tumble drying costs, or can rely on clothes drying completely outside, without the need to use a tumble dryer at all.
A word about tumble dryers
As with washing machines, there are now 'A' rated dryers available on the market that should use significantly less energy than older machines. The standard for tumble dryers is very high, so there are few models available. They work in one of two ways: either by using a heat pump rather than a conventional heating coil, or by having a very long (typically up to 8 hours), low-temperature cycle. If time is an issue, the low-energy button can be switched of, in which case it will perform like a normal 'C'-rated dryer. These still cost slightly more than normal dryers, but should also contain more sophisticated sensing equipment to prevent clothes being over-dried, leading to fewer creases and wrinkles (or easier ironing).