White wash: a guide to appliance labelling

G Magazine

As the cost of living escalates, so does the importance of having efficient appliances at home. Struggling to make heads or tail of energy, gas and water-saving labels? We’ve compiled all the info to make it easy.

White wash

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There comes a time in the life of every appliance when it’s time to say goodbye and bring in a newer model. In fact, this farewell is – environmentally speaking – due sooner than you might imagine. A new refrigerator uses around half the energy of a model 12 years or older, while, according to life-cycle expert Hartmut Kaebernick from the University of NSW in Sydney, a dishwasher should be replaced every seven or eight years as energy efficiency outweighs the environmental cost of manufacture and recycling during that time.

Households are directly responsible for around a fifth of Australia’s carbon emissions, and appliances play a big role in that. That’s why the Australian and New Zealand governments have made energy rating labels compulsory for a range of appliances. Not only are these a useful point of comparison for consumers, they provide an incentive for manufacturers to develop more energy-efficient products.

“Once an appliance has been purchased, the only real ongoing costs are the energy (plus water for some appliances). Many people tend to overlook energy costs as they are hard to determine from a normal electricity bill,” says a spokesperson from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

“However, simple calculations show that, over the life of a typical appliance, these energy costs are often equal to or greater than the initial purchase cost. By looking for the most energy-efficient models in the size and type of product, consumers can make a large reduction in energy costs they have to pay over the next 10 to 20 years.”

Energy rating labels have been around in Australia for 25 years, and they are regularly updated to reflect improvements in technology. Some types of appliances (fridges, freezers, televisions and air-conditioners) have improved in efficiency more than others, so they’ve been upgraded from a six-star to a 10-star label. Those that attain up to a six-star rating carry a six-star label instead of the 10-star one.

When comparing appliances, the label provides two types of information. The crest of stars at the top is an indication of energy-efficiency: the more stars, the more energy-efficient. Buy the most energy-efficient model in a size that reflects your needs.

On the bottom half of the label you’ll find the energy consumption figure in kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. If you multiply this figure by your local energy tariff, you’ll have an estimate of the annual running costs. However, these calculations are based on average usage that may not accurately reflect your household habits. See the sections on appliance categories that follow for tips on calculating annual running costs that are tailored to your circumstances.

When it comes to dishwashers and washing machines, much of the total energy consumption is devoted to
heating water. That’s why water-efficiency has a bearing on energy-efficiency and consumption. All new dishwashers and clothes washing machines must carry a blue Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) label. Introduced in 2005, the WELS scheme replaces the old voluntary AAAAA water efficiency rating system. According to 2008 projections, the WELS scheme could save Australians more than one billion dollars in energy and water reductions by 2021.

For more information, including product databases, visit www.energyrating.gov.au and www.waterrating.gov.au.

Washing machines

Energy consumption calculations for washing machines are based on a use rate of seven loads per week, which is the average for Australian households. That may seem a bit high for many people but it’s easy to work out actual running costs based on your household laundry habits. First, estimate how many washes you do in an average week and multiply by 52 for total washes per year. Divide the kWh figure on the label by 365 to get the energy use for one wash. Multiply the number of washes your household does per year by the energy use for one wash. Lastly, multiply this figure by the electricity rate in your region.

Washing in cold water uses 80-90 per cent less energy than washing in warm water. The standard energy-labelling test is done in warm water, which means most of the energy consumption goes towards heating the water. Choosing a model with high water efficiency will also translate into energy savings for warm washes.
New WELS-approved washing machines use one-third of the water of older models, so water savings are now
easier to achieve than ever before. As a general rule, front loaders use significantly less water than top loaders.

Machines that allow warm and cold washes are labelled with the annual energy consumption for both options.

Automatic load sensing and water level adjustment options will allow you to use the minimum amount of water and energy for each load.


In calculating energy-efficiency, the regulatory standard assumes a whopping 10 hours per day in ‘on’ mode. The remaining 14 hours per day is assumed to be passive standby mode, less any time in active standby mode (not all TVs have this mode). The screen uses the most energy, so the energy-efficiency depends on the screen area. LCD screens with LED backlighting tend to be more energy-efiicient than plasma screens. Although the rating system goes up to 10 stars, the most energy-efficient models on the market today have only attained a seven-star rating.

In addition to the Australian energy rating label, some TVs also carry the internationally-recognised Energy Star Label, which originated in the United States. Products marked with this label use 20 – 30 per cent less energy than the US government requirements, reducing the amount of energy consumed by either automatically switching to a ‘sleep’ mode when not in use or reducing the amount of power used when in ‘standby’ mode. See www.energystar.gov.au or www.energystar.govt.nz for more info.

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