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If there’s a shopping situation guaranteed to spiral potential buyers into a world of eco quandaries, it’s the purchase of household appliances. What’s best for the planet? How do you buy with both sustainability and performance in mind? And what should you be aware of to ensure you’re not being greenwashed?
There’s no doubt that buying a new fridge, television, dishwasher or big ticket appliance impacts the planet as well as your wallet. Appliances usually make up around 25 per cent of our household energy use, and produce 50 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions – just another reason to take such purchases seriously.
So how do we know what’s the best buy? “If you don’t know what questions to ask in advance, you’re not going to get the required information in store. A salesperson will want a sale, whether it’s the best appliance for your purposes or not,” warns Cameron Whiteside, an energy assessor with Footprint Energy Assessors.
While it’s important to have a realistic budget, don’t let specials sway you too far from your plan. “We often walk into a store with an idea of the quality brands and the quality features we’re looking for. Then we see something on special, and all we can see is the money,” says Anne Armansin, an energy efficiency advocate with Origin.
But only considering the dollar spend in store can be a short term gain. Cost of repairs, water and energy use should all factor into your appliance purchases. While websites like www.energyrating.com.au and consumer sites like www.choice.com.au certainly help, we’ve put together a guide on what to consider when buying appliances.
Pick your size
Debate when picking a TV usually centres on size. One person (we’re not specifying genders here!) wants something modest, while the other is ready and willing to supersize your screen at all costs. Have the discussion in advance. If you have decided on a size limit before you get to the store, a salesperson is less likely to be able to nudge you up to something “just a few inches bigger”. So why not upsize? “Bigger is not necessarily better. Choosing the right size television for the room affects your viewing experience,” says Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just. It will also affect energy usage. The Choice website helps buyers calculate the right size screen for a particular room, however, size is not the only consideration when buying a television.
Ditch the plasma
There are three types of television on the market at the moment: plasma, LED and LCD. For a green buyer, plasma is out. “Steer clear of plasma televisions. They consume huge amounts of power. It’s just like operating another heater in your lounge room,” says Whiteside. LED televisions are better environmental performers than LCDs, although both are better than plasma. When Armansin buys, she always goes for trusted brands, believing that the company’s research and development and warranty will pay off long term.
Energy to boot
All televisions will have a star rating. These are a useful guide, however, but more important is the total energy used. Ask the salesperson if there are any eco settings or energy saving modes built in to the set you’re considering, and think about investing in a standby controller, which will turn all connected devices off after a set period. (Armansin uses Embertec’s power saving board, around $80.)
3 of the best:
Panasonic 42 inch HD LED (VIERA TH-L42E30A), $1,199, www.panasonic.com.au
Sanyo 32 inch HD LED (LED32XR10F), $899, www.sanyo.com.au
Kogan 32 inch HD LED (KALED32XXXAE), $349, www.kogan.com/au/
FRIDGES & FREEZERS:
If there’s a common theme to consider when buying appliances, size is it. Fridges are no exception: don’t buy something bigger than you need. According to Choice, two people need 250-285 L of space in a fridge. For
every additional family member, throw in another 28.5 L. (Note: freezer space is additional.)
Leaving some space
Another reason to keep the size in check is performance. “Look at the cavity space you have. A fridge shouldn’t be sandwiched hard into the available space [it needs air around it], or the motor won’t run efficiently,” says Just.
Top or bottom
When it comes to all-in-one units, our experts all agree it makes little difference (environmentally speaking) whether the fridge or freezer is on top. In practical terms you’ll be doing less bending if you have the freezer on the bottom, as what you use most is at eye level. If you’re from a big family and buying a stand-alone freezer (a less energy efficient option than a combination fridge/freezer), it’s worth remembering that you’ll get better performance from a chest freezer than a stand up.
Whatever you’re purchasing, once in store be careful not to be sold on bells and whistles you don’t need. “Items like ice makers are just another thing that can go wrong,” says Whiteside.
While it’s easy to feel guilty about the environmental impact of your new fridge, Armansin says this is one item where eco efficiencies of new models quickly pay off. “New units are up to 40 per cent more energy efficient than those built ten years ago. Plus, in new fridges, the compressor shouldn’t run all the time, in fact the motors should only be running about 30 per cent of the time,” she says.
3 of the best:
Panasonic ECONAVI, $1299 (421 L) up to $1999 (554 L), www.panasonic.com.au
Bosch Side-by-Side (KAN62V40AU), $1,829, www.bosch-home.com.au
Miele Side-by-Side (K 14827 SD CS), $3,799, www.miele.com.au