How can I ensure my appliances are energy-efficient?

In this guide you’ll find answers to the following questions:

  • How to energy ratings work?

  • How do I measure an appliance’s energy consumption?

  • What’s the most energy-efficient appliance I can buy?

  • What fridge-freezer should I look to buy?

  • Which energy efficient dishwasher should I choose?

  • What should I look for in an energy-efficient washing machine?

  • What other energy appliance tips can you share?

How do energy ratings work?

All appliances should come with energy ratings on the side, which are designed to give you a clear indication of how energy efficient an appliance is. The ratings system is the same across all appliances, going from G (extremely inefficient) up to A and – for products launched before March 2021 – beyond, with some appliance types carrying ratings of A, A+, A++ or even A+++ depending on how energy-efficient they are.

These A-plus ratings came into existence because as energy efficiency improvements come onstream, the old ‘A’ rating is no longer sufficient to highlight the most energy-efficient appliances of a certain type. Rather than regrade the entire system – which would make it difficult if not impossible to compare older appliances with newer ones – additional A+/A++/A+++ ratings have been added.

All change!

The system has recently undergone an overhaul to simplify things for consumers, although there will inevitably be a period of overlap where both systems remain in place. For all products launched before June 2020, the above system remains in place; for those launched from June 2020 to March 2021, you’ll find the old system has been joined by a new set of ratings, which has reverted to a straight A-G ratings system, with A the most energy efficient, and G the least.

From March 2021, all new appliances will only display the new ratings system. Note, the way certain appliances are tested has changed too, to provide a more accurate means of comparing like-for-like. For example, washing machines and dishwashers no longer display a figure based on their ‘average’ annual consumption, but a set figure based on 100 washing or cleaning cycles.

How do I measure an appliance’s energy consumption?

The energy rating certificate should include an annual kWh figure – this is the average amount of energy that the appliance consumes over a year. How manufacturers come to this figure varies – for example, fridges are partially filled, interior volume calculated to include components such as shelves and drawers, and the unit placed in a room that has been heated to 25 degrees Celsius. The unit’s power is then measured over an extended period to come to the figure listed.

Measuring appliances yourself is tricky, because they don’t draw a consistent amount of electricity – for example, when fridges or freezers reach a set temperature, the refrigeration motors are switched off and the temperature monitored until it starts to rise, at which point, the motors kick in again.

Similarly, washing machines will consume different amounts of energy at different parts of each cycle. Check the manufacturer’s manual, which should reveal how much energy different washing cycles consume during a single load, then multiply this by how many times you use the machine over a set period to gain a more accurate picture of your own usage.

You can also measure an appliance’s consumption using your smart meter’s In-Home Display to get a real-time picture of how energy is consumed through its cycle.

For more information on measuring appliance energy consumption – including how consumption affects your energy bills, check out our guide to measuring electricity in kWh.

What’s the most energy efficient appliance I can buy?

You might be tempted to simply go by an appliance’s energy rating – A+++ (or A from March 2021) is the highest efficiency rating out there, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Larger capacity washing machines and fridge freezers with A+++/A ratings are likely to consume more electricity than a smaller A+/B rated one, for example, which is why it’s also important to compare appliances’ annual consumption figures, which should be listed alongside the energy rating.

Another reason to avoid buying bigger for the sake of it: if you never fill your dishwasher or washing machine, or leave your fridge half empty, then however clever the machine is, you run the risk of wasting unnecessary energy and water.

What fridge-freezer should I look to buy?

Refrigeration accounts for 16.8% of all electricity consumption in the average UK household according to the Energy Saving Trust, so while they may be built to last, energy efficient improvements in fridges and freezers means that there may still be value in looking around to see if you can find a significantly more efficient replacement for your current model, however well it appears to be running. This is especially true if your fridge-freezer predates 2012, when legislation made it mandatory for all new fridges and freezers to have efficiency ratings of A+ or better.

As touched on above, there are two key considerations when purchasing a new model: size and position. Purchase the smallest fridge or freezer that matches your lifestyle, one that will be filled close to capacity rather than being left half-empty for long periods. And remember to check the dimensions of your chosen model, to ensure it’ll fit in your kitchen.

Which energy-efficient dishwasher should I choose?

There’s even wider variation when it comes to dishwashers and their energy use. You need to factor in both electricity and water consumption – thankfully, the energy rating takes both into consideration, but again look for A+++/A models and avoid full-sized models if you live alone or as a couple, as any energy-efficiency advantages they may have over compact models are lost if you never fill the dishwasher to capacity.

What should I look for in an energy-efficient washing machine?

Choosing a new washing machine is tricky at the best of times with so many different factors from drum size and quietness to fundamentals like washing and rinsing performance to consider. Prior to March 2021, an A-rated appliance is the minimum, with A+, A++ and A+++ all supported. The problem is that the more efficient a washing machine, the less effective it is at cleaning. 

Thankfully, you can choose an effective model while ensuring it’s still being used efficiently, and as with other appliances it comes down to size. Basically, don’t buy a larger drum than you’ll need – for most households, 7kg is sufficient – and always fill the drum to capacity. Also, don’t assume faster spin speeds will remove more water – in most cases, a 1,200-1,400 rpm model is just as effective (if not more so) than a machine offering 1,600 rpm.

What about energy-efficient tumble dryers?

Ultimately there’s no substitute for drying clothes using air – even if you’re indoors, you should be able to find a spot where clothes will dry within 24-48 hours of being put out. Just make sure they’re well-spaced and look for an appropriate hanger to maximise drying capacity in a small space. Also check there’s adequate ventilation to prevent the build-up of damp from the moisture expelled and ensure they’ve been adequately spun before hanging them out.

If you can’t live without a dryer, look for condenser models that come with heat pumps that re-circulate the hot damp air instead of venting it to conserve heat and reduce energy consumption. Such models should come with an A+++/A energy rating to reflect their efficiency, and although they’re significantly more expensive, prices are starting to slowly drop.

What other energy efficiency appliance tips can you share?

Perform regular maintenance

Door seals obviously trap the heat or cold air in, so make sure they’re in good working order and if they’re perishing, look to see if you can replace them rather than the entire appliance. Make sure you regularly defrost your fridge-freezer, clean your dishwasher and washing machine by running monthly empty loads.

Position smartly

Fridges and freezers should be positioned a minimum of 10 centimetres away from the wall to improve air circulation. Avoid placing them next to the oven if possible; if not, insulate the area between them using foam if your appliance doesn’t come with built-in insulation.

Cool your meals naturally

Avoid placing hot food straight into the fridge or freezer – let it cool down first.

Keep them filled

Your appliances should be filled close to capacity to ensure they’re not wasting unnecessary energy – consider putting tap water or even wads of newspaper in empty spaces in your fridge or freezer until you can fill the space or hold off washing dishes or clothes until you have a full load.

Open-door policies

Make sure you don’t leave fridge or freezer doors open longer than necessary – some newer models will beep an alert if you do. On the other hand, leaving your dishwasher door open after it’s finished washing can help your dishes dry quicker (and more naturally).

Save water with your dishwasher

Reduce water and energy consumption by using the economy or eco setting. Also don’t pre-wash your dishes – instead, simply scrape off any uneaten food into your food waste bin.

Load correctly

Follow your manufacturer’s instructions to the letter when loading your dishwasher – that includes washing plastic items in the top rack to avoid warping. Make sure all receptacles face down to allow water to drain away.

Wash at lower temperatures

Unless you’re dealing with heavily soiled clothes, there’s no need to wash at more than 30 degrees Celsius – some washing liquids are even designed to wash as low as 15 degrees Celsius, if your machine offers such a setting.

Read more:

Hand adjusting temperature on thermostat

100 energy-saving tips for your home

Can you have too many tips to help you save energy at home? We don't think so - here are no fewer than 100 energy-saving tips that everyone can use to keep their energy usage and bills as low as possible.

Read More
A woman operating a smart thermostat

The ultimate guide to smart thermostats

Learn all you need to know about smart thermostats. How do they work and could they save you money?

Read More
Mother and son using oven to cook

How can I be more energy-efficient when cooking?

We all spend time in the kitchen, and we therefore need to think about whether we're doing so in the most efficient way possible. How can you cook in an energy-efficient manner? Our guide provides some helpful tips that you might find useful.

Read More

Written by

Published on Wed 31 Mar 2021 03.50 GMT