Whitegoods wisdom

G Magazine

When it comes to buying an eco-friendly, energy efficient appliance, knowing your stuff and asking the right questions is the key.


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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/


Fridge space
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.

Added extras
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.

Efficient newbies
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


New models
Once seen as huge water suckers, improvements in design mean that dishwashers are a better eco choice than times past. Research out of Europe is showing less water consumption from a good dishwasher than a bad manual hand wash, a fact that doesn’t surprise Whiteside. “Dishwashers are getting very efficient in their water usage, as you can get a wash around the 10 L mark with some brands,” he says.

Seeing stars
When choosing which model to buy, you’ll want to consider both water and energy star ratings. Remember too, in order to optimise water and energy savings dishwashers should be run as close to 100 per cent full as possible. “One [small] drawer is fine if you live alone,” says Armansin. “But if you’re a particularly busy family and need to be filling the machine at the same time as washing, two drawers are fantastic,” she says.

Eco cycle
Buyers are often sold on features like eco cycles. Although an eco wash can be a good feature, not all cycles are created equal. Talk to the salesperson about how long the eco cycle runs for – remember you’ll be paying for the power to run the machine while it’s going.

Keeping cool
You should also look for a machine with a cold water connection. “You’ll go through too much hot water otherwise. [A cold water outlet] lets the machine heat the water to the heat that it needs,” Whiteside says. Obviously, the cooler the water the less power you’ll use, but cool temps can be a false economy too – pots and pans may not clean well on an eco cycle, so a ‘pot’ setting can pay off in terms of efficiency.

3 of the best:
Bosch ActiveWater Plus (SMS65M08AU), $1,849, www.bosch-home.com.au
Miele dishwasher (G 5935 SCi XXL), $3,749, www.miele.com.au
Asko dishwasher (D5644SS), $1,999, www.asko.com.au


From the front
If you remember just one tip about washing machines it should be this: front loader, front loader, front loader. A 4.5 star front loader can save you 70 L a wash, compared to the average top loader. Yes, there’s some debate about whether front loading washing machines make your towels scratchy (something that a bit of bicarb soda as softener can fix), but it’ll definitely use far less water and energy than a top loader, savings which quickly add up if you’re doing multiple loads per week. “Front loaders also have a gentler washing action than top loaders,” says Armansin.

Pick your cycle
Just says it’s worth having a conversation with the salesperson about the efficiency of different cycles. “Often the energy star rating on the front of a washing machine relates to the most environmentally friendly cycle [ie: eco]. You might have two different machines but the star ratings will refer to different cycles,” she says. The key is to consider the cycle you normally use (for example, fast wash, eco wash or cold wash) and make
your comparisons based on that. “Remember that a lot of the eco cycles use less water, but take a long time to run through. Keep that in mind when buying appliances, particularly washing machines,” says Just.

Need for speed
The speed settings of front loaders are another reason they typically trump top loading machines in terms of performance. “The average fastest speed of a top loader is about 1000 revs per minute (RPM), while front loaders can go from 400 RPM – some will clean washable silks – but go up to 1800 RPM, for sheets and towels,” says Armansin. “If you live in an apartment or are reliant on a dryer, that will really cut your energy use for the next part of your laundry,” she says.

Worry-free warranty
While a good washing machine should last for years, it’s worth asking about warranty and repairs. “Some machines are self diagnostic, so it’ll display a code if something goes wrong. Then the repairperson can bring the right part, which limits your service costs,” Armansin says.

3 of the best:
Panasonic 8 kg front loader
(NA-148VG3WAU), $1,149, www.panasonic.com.au
Bosch Logixx 8 VarioPerfect (WAS32742AU), $2,349, www.bosch-home.com.au
Miele EcoComfort (W 5943 WPS),$3,299, www.miele.com.au


First comes first
Let’s face it. When most eco experts are asked about recommendations for buying an air conditioner, advice comes with a big grain of salt. “Ceiling fans are really great!” says Whiteside. Just reminds buyers that before investing in an air conditioner, it’s important to try more efficient ways to cool your home. “Look at other ways you can increase air flow, through cross ventilation, and other ways to reduce heat, like shutters, shading and insulation,” she says.

Size matters
That said, if you are investing in an air conditioner, get it properly sized for the space you’re trying to cool. “There’s no point in getting a 15 KW output for a 20 m2 room. It’s going to be oversized so it won’t be running as efficiently as it should. It’s also going to cost more the larger you go,” says Whiteside.

Inverters in favour
When it comes to the technology itself, look for an air conditioner with an inverter. “Inverters are by far and away the best technology available in air conditioners at the moment. All brands have inverter models, and the price point is becoming more attractive than five or ten years ago,” says Whiteside. While older machines might run full ball and then cut in and out (a massive power sucking exercise), inverters ensure your machine continually runs at its optimum level. This means power savings or, at least, that the power you are using on an inefficient way of cooling is giving you bang for your buck. “There are controls in the inverter machines that maintain the [desired] temperature within a half a degree difference. They’re up to 20 per cent more efficient in summer than the standard type air conditioners,” says Armansin.

3 of the best:
Fujitsu Inverter Multi (ASTG24LFCB), $2,819, www.fujitsugeneral.com.au
Panasonic E-series Inverter, from $1,270, www.panasonic.com.au
LG Inverter Split (E22AWN-11), $1,899, www.lgairconditioning.com.au