I Saw it in the Stars (A Guide to Energy Efficiency)

I Saw it in the Stars (A Guide to Energy Efficiency)

With new houses comes the need for new appliances. At least, in our case it has. The last thing I wanted to do was rush out and buy a whole heap of new stuff for our new home, but we did need a new fridge and a new washing machine.

…Our old fridge (purchased in 2002 by my in-laws) was wildly inefficient. It was far too big for the two of us and guzzled energy like it was going out of fashion. Despite this, we would have (reluctantly) put it in storage for two months until our new home was ready. However, our kitchen has been designed (somewhat cunningly, with energy efficiency in mind) to only fit a smaller fridge, and our old one was far too wide. We sold it to some students in a four-person house share – a better use for a fridge this size.

…Our old washing machine (purchased second-hand via Gumtree in 2012) was life-expired. It left dirty marks on our clean laundry. The seal was covered in black slime which did not come clean no matter how much vinegar or bicarb I used, nor how many 95°C washes I ran – and a replacement was the price we paid for the machine. I’d have happily paid if it was just the seal (I’d rather repair than replace), but in addition the tubing needed replacing, the electrics didn’t work properly, it had developed a small leak and it’s possible the bearings were going (hence the dirty clothes). Our ex-neighbour is looking after it until I take it to pieces and recycle the parts – I’m particularly keen on doing something fun with the stainless steel drum.

I was keen to get second-hand appliances, but my husband wanted new and energy efficient ones. He argued our old washing machine was a good example of how second-hand doesn’t always work out. There were very few fridges of the size we need available on Gumtree. We could choose the most energy efficient options and look after them properly.

In the end, my husband won. I did feel guilty that we bought new, but choosing quality and energy efficiency means they should last a long time and use less power overall. Whether this was the best choice, only time will tell. I must confess, being able to do a load of laundry that actually comes out clean has also dissipated some guilt.

Choosing an Energy-Efficient Fridge

I found it very confusing that no matter how big the fridge was, the energy star rating was around 3.5 stars. Fridge sizes began at 250 litres, and went all the way up to 850 litres, and yet the stars were practically the same. How could that be?

It turns out that under the star system, fridges are compared with other fridges of a similar size. They do not compare all fridges with one another. Crazy, right? This means the star rating is fairly meaningless on its own. What is far more important when choosing a fridge (or any electronic appliance) is to look at the actual energy rating. All appliances should state their energy use in kWh (which stands for kilowatt hours) over a year.

(If you have an old fridge and want to work out how much energy it uses, you can use an energy monitor. I’ve written about how you can use an energy monitor to work out consumption and cost in a previous post, when I found out that my previous fridge used 639 kWh a year. That is a huge amount!)

The most energy efficient fridge we could find that was big enough for the two of us but fit the space (600mm wide) has an energy rating of 284 kWh per year. That’s 225% less energy than our previous fridge. Interestingly, it wasn’t the smallest fridge on display but one of the newest models. Most models in the size range were 300 – 350 kWh, and some were as high as 450 kWh.

At 284kWh per year, our new fridge will use 0.78kWh per day.

Fridge Energy Efficency Star Rating Treading My Own Path

In 2014 I learned that most domestic fridges in wealthy nations use more energy than the total energy consumption of an average citizen in many African nations. It inspired me to find out the energy consumption of my fridge and write the post My Fridge vs the People of Africa. I made a graph showing the energy consumption of citizens of various African nations, and the energy use of my fridge and the fridge of the guy whose article prompted me to investigate. I’ve updated the graph to show where our new fridge sits in the graph:

My Fridge vs the People of Africa Updated 2016
My old fridge is the red column, and my new fridge is the green column. The six yellow columns represent the total electricity consumption of an average citizen in each of 6 African nations in 2010. (The two blue columns relate to the 2014 post which I’ve linked to above.)

Choosing a Waterwise and Energy-Efficient Washing Machine

Washing machines have two differentials to consider: electricity use and water use. They are easier to compare than fridges because they are all relatively the same size, but rather than looking at stars, it is still better to look at the numbers.

Energy consumption is listed per year, in kWh and it makes assumptions about the frequency and type of wash that will be used. To aid comparison, all machines compare regular 40º C cycles and assume they will be used once a day. We  run our machine about 3 times a week, usually on a cold or 30ºC setting, so we would expect our energy consumption to be less than the quoted amount. If you use your washing machine every day and run hotter washes, the energy consumption would be higher.

Water consumption is quoted per wash for a regular program, not per year.

Washing Machine Star Energy Ratings

The machine we chose had high energy efficiency and low water use, but it was expensive. It was double the price of the next best performing brand. It uses 180kWh per year, and 60 litres per wash (compared to 265kWh per annum and 72 litres per wash for the cheaper brand). I confess, this was not actually the best performing machine on sale, it was second-best. The same brand had a better model that only used 50 litres per wash, but cost an extra $300 and our budget simply didn’t stretch that far.

It wasn’t just the energy and water efficiency that convinced us to switch, it was the design. Having had various issues with our previous model we were keen to choose something that would last. The brand we chose has a great reputation for long-lasting machines, and a service centre close by. It uses minimal electronics (an issue with our previous model) and it has a stainless steel rim rather than a rubber seal around the door. Rubber seals always accumulate grime and dirt, they are tricky to clean and expensive to replace (and you need to know what you are doing).

Having read the manual thoroughly (because believe me, this machine is going to be maintained well and will last a lifetime!) I discovered there is a helpful table which tells the user exactly how much energy and water each wash uses. The quick wash uses the least amount of energy and water and cleans surprisingly well. I did not realise that Wool + Hand Wash settings use so much water!

Washing Program Energy and Water Use Guidelines
I don’t know if all washing machine instruction manuals contain this kind of information, but it is so useful that I hope they do! Some longer programs use less energy than shorter ones (which I wouldn’t have guessed) and hand washing uses far more water than I imagined too.

Choosing a Waterwise and Energy-Efficient Dishwasher

Fans of dishwashers often state that dishwashers are very water efficient and use less water than washing the dishes by hand. Having spent a weekend looking at appliances, I can tell you that the most water efficient models use less than 15 litres per wash. It is estimated we use around 30 litres washing up in the kitchen sink, so yes, dishwashers do appear to use less water.

However they also use energy, and they are not particularly energy efficient. A dishwasher with a current 3.5 energy star rating will use around 0.75kWh per wash. Run it every day, and that’s around 275kWh per year. Then there’s the noise, and the biggest one of all – the energy needed to mine / refine / manufacture / transport the appliance – plus it’s another appliance to dispose of at the end of its life.

Despite my husband’s wishes, we won’t be getting a dishwasher. It’s an appliance we simply don’t need. We will be practicing mindfulness and doing the dishes. Well, I say we, but I suspect it will be me. I’m okay with that ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Would you have chosen new or second-hand? What factors influence your decisions? If you’re part of a more-than-one-person household, how do you find consensus with differing opinions? Have you any great experiences of buying second-hand, terrible experiences of buying new – or vice versa? Any stories or wisdom to share? What’s your record for the longest-running appliance you’ve owned or used? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

26 Responses to I Saw it in the Stars (A Guide to Energy Efficiency)

  1. When I moved in about 16 years ago I got a brand new cooker, fridge, and a washing machine. I’ve been tempted to replace the cooker for ages since the oven uses stupid amounts of electricity and seems to take forever to heat up. But as it still works, we simply use the hob and oven cook only when we absolutely have to. (Putting off the inevitable!)

    I managed to keep the washing machine going about 14 years. Towards the end of its life it sounded like a jet engine taking off and finally developed a leak too. I bought a new one. The fridge-freezer was replaced maybe a year earlier, again with a brand new appliance. I just want them to last as long as possible and when you buy second-hand, you don’t always know how old they are and how well they have been kept.

    • I always imagine you as a nomad with only a backpack of possessions Min – I find it strange thinking about you owning all those appliances!

      I would have to get rid of the oven. A good oven is a must for me. I’m surprised I ever managed to live in a house with a terrible gas oven for 2 years. Never again, I tell you! Cooking is my creative outlet and an oven is a big part of that.

      14 years sounds pretty good to me! We figured that working on the price we paid for the last one (which only last 3.5 years), our new one needs to last 12 to match it. I’m confident we can do that – even if we have to replace some parts at some stage.

      I agree – we all want things to last as long as possible. Hopefully we will have these for many many years!

  2. I’m about to buy a washing machine – would you be willing to mention which one you chose? That way it’ll get included in my comparison!

    • I highly recommend the Whirlpool Duet Sport… its not only insanely energy efficient but it also lets you wash everything in cold water as its a high efficiency model…ours has lasted over 10 years and is still going strong!

    • The brand is Asko. It’s not a brand I’d heard of (they aren’t sold in the UK) but if you search, Asko and Miele are thought to make the best machines, and are often recommended.

      We chose this because it doesn’t have the rubber door seal around the drum (which traps grime behind it, is hard to clean and expensive to replace). It’s pretty hard to replace a washing machine door seal yourself – check out a YouTube video and you’ll see what I mean! Instead there’s a seal around the plastic dome on the door which is easy and cheap to replace at home.

      It also doesn’t have a lot of electronics. The last one had some electrical issues and we were keen to choose a machine that was simple. Plus Asko seem to really care about the environmental impact of their machines.

      It was double what we were expecting to pay, but if it lasts the cost will be worth it. After all, we use it 3x a week. Not to mention actually having clean clothes – this machine cleans so much better than the previous one. Even the eco setting actually gets stuff clean!

  3. Wow, you really did your research! Thanks for sharing. I am wondering how reliable the claims regarding water use and energy use are. With the Volkswagen fraud in the back of my mind, it would be interesting to verify these claims.

    • I went to a talk recently which explained a bit about how the star ratings work, and for air conditioners they’re tested at one ambient temperature (35°C) so manufacturers make sure they are optimal for that temperature. So they’re bringing in zoned labels for particularly climate-dependent appliances like ACs, heaters and water heaters so help show the spectrum of the appliance. You’ve done a lot of research, it’s a pretty confusing topic!

    • With the washing machine, I would say very. There are details in the back of the manual about exactly how they test the machine, including location and size of fabric samples! It also has a sensor and can adjust the water depending on the volume of the load. but if you really wanted to test, you would simply need to use an energy meter to measure the energy whilst it runs a cycle, and for the water, attach the waste pipe to a bucket and measure the volume!

      For the fridge I suspect it’s more an average and would depend on ambient room temperature, how full it is, how often the door gets opened. Again, if you really wanted to know you could plug an energy meter in and check. Maybe get the data for a week, and then do the maths. (There’s instructions on the other blog post I linked to above.)

      I think it’s different to the VW issue because it really is something that people can check at home. Emissions is something very different. Maybe at some point I’ll borrow an energy meter and check…

  4. I will have to agree with your husband on getting the new appliances… it’s hard but ultimately yes you will realize way more savings in energy and cost and at the end you can sell it or recycle it. Not sure what it’s like where you are but here all major appliances can be recycled… the Energy Trust here in Oregon will even come pick up your old refrigerator and give you a rebate for doing so, as they want to get that power off the grid. And I will of course have to disagree with you on dishwashers as it’s been proven that they’re not just a water saving but an overall energy savings by a mile (http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/dishwasher-vs-handwashing-the-winner.html). And our Bosch dishwasher is so quiet I actually have to look for the light on it to make sure I don’t open it in the middle of the cycle… but it did take some getting used to buy my husband who had never had one, same as our Energy Star rated clothes dryer that we use in the winter when we can’t use our clothes line outside :)

    • I very much doubt appliances are recycled here – although I’d love to be proved wrong – but maybe in 10+ years they will be! But I’m feeling very reassured that many of you are with me (well, my husband!) with the ‘choosing new over second hand’ thing. I actually found the shopping process very stressful – I felt like such a consumer!!!

      I’m standing my ground with the dishwasher ; ) That article talks about energy and water use, and nothing to do with the energy costs of mining, manufacturing, assembling, transporting and ultimately disposing of yet another appliance. It’s not just about water use or energy! The other factor for me is that we have solar hot water for the dishes, but dishwashers use cold water and heat the water themselves – so it makes sense to use hot water I already have (for free!) than pay and use fossil fuels to heat it in the dishwasher (I’m assuming I’d mostly run it at night after dinner).

      Another factor with the dishwasher – and this has nothing to do with energy – is that we have very minimal crockery and cutlery (I’m an aspiring minimalist, after all!) and we’d run out of stuff to use before we even filled the thing up!

  5. I generally look to buy used but at the moment I’m looking for a good energy efficient washing machine and have decided to purchase a refurbished model with a warranty. It’s hard to know what the efficiency of a washer will be when buying used so this is a good compromise for me.

    I’ve seen a lot of good repurposed uses of old drums, one was a storage ottoman that might be useful for you. Depending on how you design it, it could be storage, a side table and even extra seating when needed.

    • That sounds perfect Lois! I’ve bought refurbished items in the past – a mobile phone and our current tablet were both refurbished – I agree with you that it satisfies our desire to buy second-hand with the peace of mind of a warranty. I was hoping to do that with the washing machine, but going to those big appliance stores was so stressful that although we were only going to get a fridge, we got the washing machine too to avoid having to go back to the shops any time soon.

  6. We recently bought 2 brand new appliances when our old ones failed- a washer- dryer and a dishwasher. Actually the washer dryer replaced 2 broken appliances and appealed to the minimalist in me! I was fed up of buying 2nd hand and finding they didn’t last long. Also, I was fed up of 2nd hand washing machines that stank and were full of black mould. We actually bought our last tumble dryer brand new, before I was minimalist or zero waste because a big chain were closing down and had some crazy good deals. It was a relatively cheap brand and it barely outlasted its 12 month guarantee! Talk about built-in obsolescence- I was disgusted given how much it cost and how little it had been used.

    We chose to buy new because our energy company told us this would massively reduce our energy bills. I was determined to buy good quality, so I didn’t have to make repeat purchases. We went with Miele for everything. We have a different energy rating system in the UK (European I believe). Our washer dryer is A rated and uses 3.7kWh and 79 litres of water per cycle with dryer (which I rarely use) or 0.8 kWh and 69 litres of water just as a washing machine. I tried cold washes but they just didn’t work for us. Towels and bedding I was at 60 to kill germs and nasty niffs, everything else at 40 and delicates at 30. The estimated annual energy consumption is 587.4 kWh but that probably assumes a far greater use of the tumble dryer than I do.

    Our dishwasher is A++ rated and uses 262 kWh per annum. It uses 0.93 kWh in the standard cycle which is the eco wash nearly all the time. The annual water consumption is 2.722 litres. It emits 46 decibels and I’ll be honest, compared to our old one- I can barely tell it’s on. Our bedroom is next to the kitchen and it happily runs overnight without us even noticing. This cycle uses 9.9 litres of water. I wouldn’t be without it from a personal perspective- it’s our 2nd dishwasher and it literally changed our life. What with cooking from scratch and the amount of pots, pans and stuff that generates- I was spending hours every evening washing and drying up.

    • Our washing machine is Asko and I’d never heard of the brand because it isn’t sold in the UK, but it’s Swedish and is comparable to Miele (apparently). Miele is a bit exclusive here (Australians seem to have a thing for “European appliances”) and you can’t buy Miele products in any of the appliance stores, only at the Miele Experience Centre – of which there is one in Perth, the opposite end of town from the store where we bought the fridge and then washing machine. The stainless steel rim on the Asko machine was what sold me, but otherwise we would have looked at Miele. Your ratings sound very efficient!

      I think if you spend a lot of money on an appliance, you are much more likely to look after it properly, and pay to get it fixed. When the fixing costs as much as a new machine, there’s no incentive for many people.

      It’s interesting what you say about cold washes. I always used to wash clothes on cold or 30 degrees, but I think that compounded the build up of grot in the machine. Now we have solar I don’t feel so bad about 40 degrees. I think (and the manual tells me) it’s better for cleaning and better for the machine. I also read you shouldn’t use liquid detergent (which I was) as it builds up a silica layer that bacteria and mould grow on. I’m now embracing the 40 degree and occasional 60 degree washes too!

      Cooking from scratch does generate a lot of pots and pans, but for now I’m happy to clean them by hand. Now I’m not working full time hours I don’t feel the same pressure to find time for everything. Maybe that will change in the future. What model do you have? Did you have Miele before? Not that you’re changing my mind…I’m just curious! ; )

  7. Interesting.
    Check out http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/green-life/2014/04/new-fridge-does-efficiency-outweigh-energy-make-it

    Your new fridge will, according to Mr Green (above) take 5 years to amortise the energy used to make it.
    But, sorry Lindsay, your old fridge is still consuming isn’t it? The students pay the bill!
    So actually more energy is being used?
    Dishwasher… To check out if a dishwasher uses less water than you doing the dishes, you have to measure the amount of water you use in the sink per daily load. Then check out the water consumption of a new dishwasher. Also how much energy is involved heating the water… But there you have solar panels… Which also cost energy to make!
    However, you would also have to take the energy used to make a new dishwasher into your calculation!

    When thinking about our energy consumption, we have to take into consideration manufacturing energy costs as well as material and resources usage. It’s not just the reduced energy we use with a new device.

    • Hi Jeanie, thanks for commenting. Yes, my old fridge is still consuming – but it is in a household of 4, rather than 2, which makes more sense with a fridge this size and of course, the consumption of energy will be divided by 4. My husband and I owning it and running it, but keeping it half full makes no sense. Plus students would probably rather pay a few dollars for an old one compared to several hundred dollars for a new one, especially if they won’t be living in the same house long-term. I think there is still demand for older refrigerators, and far better than to scrap a perfectly useful fridge! I could not have wasted a perfectly functional item – I think it would be wrong to do so.

      If you skim through the comments section you will see the dishwasher has been discussed in more detail there, as well as a brief description of the embedded energy above. I am very conscious of the embedded energy – however I already have solar panels, I do not already have a dishwasher. I based my decision on my situation now – if I lived in a different house, in a different climate or country, had a different family or different ways of doing things, maybe I would have chose differently ; )

  8. After we had drainage problems at a previous property (a flat, where clearly upstairs were using liquid detergent), the drain guy advised everyone never to use liquid detergent. I never have- always stuck to old-fashioned powder! Fabric conditioner used to gunk up the drawer of my machine, so goodness knows what it did to the machine/ drainage. I use vinegar now. Once I reach the end of my current box of powder, I have a bag of soap nuts to try (found them in a charity shop- brand new!)

    Our dishwasher is the Miele 4920 SC. It has a cutlery tray rather than a basket and you’d be amazed how much of a difference that makes to how much you can fit in. Honestly, without pots and pans it takes the 2 of us 3 days to fill it enough to run a full load! We have enough cutlery for 6 place settings, but there are small and large knives and forks, so it’s effectively 12 settings. Occasionally we have to wash some up in-between. Even if you have a dishwasher, there’s always stuff you can’t put in it- like grill pans and greasy baking trays. I just decided that I have better things to do than spend 1-2 hours a day washing and drying up. But everyone’s circumstances are different. I have a couple of health conditions and it’s also not worth the pay off from me standing too long at the sink.

    • If you look in any forum, all the technicians seem to recommend powder only! I did ask the washing machine guy who delivered my machine, but he didn’t know anything about liquid being bad. I’m not taking the risk! I’ve also read that using vinegar in the fabric conditioner slot and bicarb in with the powder helps keep the machine clean as well as being good for your clothes. A place in Perth now sells soap nuts in bulk so I will get some to try – I’m keen to collect the water to use on the garden : )

      I think we would run out of things before it was full! We have very minimal crockery and cutlery. Maybe one day… but not any time soon ; )

  9. We have an old Fisher&Paykel washing machine. It was second-hand when we got it, and after seven years it’s still going strong (fingers crossed and knock on wood). It is pretty big – I do laundry once or twice a week – and I don’t think it’s energy efficient either. But I like that it is old and hasn’t broken down yet, and if it does, I’d do my best to get it fixed.

    It did get soap scum build-up from using laundry liquid I made myself – something to keep an eye out for.

    If you know someone who is into electrics, here’s instructions how to make a electricity generator out of the washing machine motor: http://www.instructables.com/id/Stationary-Bike-Generator-from-Washing-Machine/

    As for the fridge, after seven years the plastic is starting to fall apart on the outside corners. We bought it new, but I suspect it was one of the cheap ones. We’re not looking for a new one yet, but I hate it that I have to at some point. But when we do, it’ll be better quality.

    • I have an electricity bike made from an excercise bike and a Fisher & Pykel motor in my shed – I use it for events! I didn’t make it sadly. There is a guy around Perth who has about 30 that he hires out with a big screen for pedal-powered movie nights – they are so much fun : )

      Do you have a model with one of those motors? I think they are less common these days. You could make one some day! I don’t think the machine I had has one like that, sadly.

      Gah, plastic! Never lives up to its promises! ; )

  10. Hiya, you are probably not into burning wood, but I wanted to say we made a a ripper of a back yard fire pit with a washing machine drum we found on the verge. Useful for free camping where fires need to be ‘contained’ Also more wood efficient than an open fire on the ground. Of course, we cook on it with our cast iron pots too.

    • That was my first thought – I’ve seen them at other people’s places and think they look great! I’m not really into DIY projects so this is probably as much as I can muster! Whether I’d use it – that’s the question. Will have to investigate what local sustainable things I can burn!

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