Energy ratings explained: how to buy energy-efficient appliances

06 January 2022 | Celia Topping

Energy efficiency ratings: put simply, they’re here to help us make good decisions about all the stuff we plug in, and switch on. How? By giving us handy insights into the long-term running costs, and the greenhouse gas emissions of the products we use. 

These ratings help us to buy more energy-efficient white goods. And that helps us reduce our energy bills, as well as our carbon emissions. But sometimes they can be a little confusing. So here’s our run-down on energy rating labels, and how to get the best out of them.

What’s on an energy label?

You’ll have seen energy labels on most of the appliances and white goods in your home. They’re white labels that show a colour-coded rating, from green to red. They tell you exactly how energy-efficient your appliance is. 

They’ve been around for a long time now, as the EU introduced them in 19941. But in 2021, they got a revamp. 

The current energy labels include this information:

  • QR code: this takes you to the manufacturer’s website where you can learn more details about the product. 
  • Manufacturer’s brand and model: key information about your appliance is shown at the top of the label. 
  • Energy rating: this rating, from A to G, tells you how energy-efficient your product is. Keep reading to find out more about energy-efficiency ratings. 
  • Energy use in kWh: the label should tell you how much energy your device will use in kWh. On some labels, like those on fridge-freezers, this shows how much energy the appliance is expected to use over the course of a year. But it varies between appliances: on a washing machine label, you’ll see how much energy the appliance should use for 100 washes. 

There are also various symbols shown at the bottom of energy labels. These are different depending on which kind of appliance you’re looking at. Some examples of the kind of information they show include:

  • Water use: some appliances now show how much water they are likely to use in litres. You’ll see this underneath a small tap symbol at the bottom of the label. 
  • Capacity: fridge-freezer labels now show the total amount of space inside, in litres. 
  • Noise: some appliances, like washing machines, now come with a symbol that shows how much noise they will make on a scale of A-D (where A is most quiet). 

What’s an energy rating? 

An energy rating is a way of measuring and showing how energy-efficient an appliance is, based on how much energy it uses.

How are appliance energy ratings calculated?

The ratings are based on the amount of energy a device uses. The fewer units of energy (measured in kWh), the better its rating. And the better for the environment, too. 

Manufacturers work this out by doing standardised tests, which are then independently verified. The tests are different for each kind of appliance:

  • For washing machines, manufacturers test how much energy the appliance uses over 100 washes. 
  • Fridge-freezers are given a rating based on lots of factors, including how big they are, and how many different features they have. 
  • Dishwashers are rated based on how much water and energy they use over 100 cycles. 
  • Cookers are given an energy rating based on their size, and how much energy they use to heat a brick to 55°C.

Why are energy ratings important?

Since its introduction, the EU energy label has been a key driver for helping us choose more energy-efficient products. It also encourages manufacturers to use more energy-efficient technologies, to drive sales. 

For example, roughly ⅔ of fridges and washing machines sold in 2006 were labelled as class A. But 90% of those appliances sold in 2017, were labelled A+, A++ or A+++2. It seems the financial and environmental draw of energy-efficient appliances made a huge impact on the nation’s shopping habits. 

The new energy ratings system

More and more energy-efficient appliances are being developed year on year. Because of this – as well as the slightly confusing “+” rating system – the EU updated the rating scale in 2021. All those “+” signs were replaced by a simpler scale – running from A to G3.

There aren’t many A-rated appliances around right now. When the scale was changed, there was room left for improvement, as undoubtedly there will be more energy-efficient technology breaking through in the years to come. 

That’s why an energy-efficient fridge that had an A+++ rating a couple of years ago could be ranked as C or D now. It’s not actually become any less efficient, but standards are getting higher. 

Which appliances use the new energy ratings system?

The new energy labels using this simpler A-G rating system can currently be found on:

  • Dishwashers
  • Fridges, freezers, and fridge-freezers
  • Washing machines and washer-dryers
  • TVs and electronic displays
  • Lighting
  • Dishwashers

Energy ratings explained: what’s a good energy-efficiency rating?

The best energy rating your appliance can have is A. The worst is G. 

This means that an A-rated appliance will use the least amount of energy to do its job. This works out better for your wallet, and better for the planet. A G-rated appliance, meanwhile, will guzzle lots of power. It’ll be expensive to run, driving up your energy bills and adding to your carbon footprint.

A represents the best of the best, but there aren’t many A-rated goods on the market yet. Because the scale changed so recently, you’re more likely to be able to find C and D-rated appliances. These are still pretty energy-efficient, especially when compared to older white goods. They probably would have been ranked as A+ or A++ not too long ago!

When you’re shopping, you’ll have to weigh up the energy rating against what you can afford. If a D rating is the most efficient in your budget, then that’s better than opting for an E or F rating. 

Remember: choosing the more efficient product can save you money in the long run. Using less energy means paying less for your energy bills. 

Saving energy on your white goods

washing machine mum son

Whether the appliance you’re buying is brand new or second-hand, there are still ways to improve its efficiency without breaking the bank. 

How to improve the energy efficiency of your washing machine

According to Which?, the running costs of washing machines can range from £15 to £70 a year, depending on efficiency of your machine4. So it makes sense to reduce laundry costs wherever you can. 

Always wait for a full load, and use a cooler 30°C to wash your clothes. Let us guide you through the laundry minefield, with our energy-saving tips on how to make your laundry more energy-efficient.

How to improve the energy efficiency of your washer-dryer

Because washer-dryers combine 2 different functions, they can be expensive to run. But it’s not necessarily as expensive as having both a washing machine and a tumble dryer. 

To get the most efficiency from a washer-dryer, make sure you’re not overloading it when it’s time to run the drying programme. The drying programme has a smaller capacity than the washing programme, so take out some items when the washing cycle is finished. Once the first drying cycle is complete, you can swap your dry clothes for the damp ones you took out earlier, and do a second cycle.

How to improve the energy efficiency of your tumble dryer

Any appliance that produces heat is energy-intensive. This definitely includes tumble dryers. According to Which?, the annual running costs of a tumble dryer can range between £25 and £1215, depending on that all-important energy rating. This is why the tumble dryer is generally seen as the energy-guzzler of the kitchen. 

The most energy-efficient way to dry your clothes is outside on a washing line. But in lieu of a garden, or considering the British weather, a tumble dryer might be the fallback option. 

To limit energy use, be sure to clean the lint filter after every few uses, to help your dryer run more efficiently. Untangle your clothes before putting them in, so they can tumble easier. And stick a dry towel in with your clothes – it actually helps speed the process along and dry clothes faster!

Find out how to dry your clothes in a flash without a tumble dryer

How to improve the energy efficiency of your dishwasher                        

Always wait until the dishwasher is full before you run it. Otherwise you’re not getting the most out of it. On the other hand, don’t overload it, as this stops water circulating properly, and you might not get everything clean. 

Read our practical tips on how to save water in the kitchen, to help reduce your carbon footprint.

How to improve the energy efficiency of your fridge, freezer, or fridge-freezer 

Fridges and freezers use a lot of energy, because they’re permanently switched on. If yours is over 10 years old, or seems to be using up a lot of electricity, it might be worth replacing it even before it stops working. The energy savings you’ll make could pay for its cost in just a few years.

Here are some ways to make sure you’re making the most of your fridge:

  • Set the fridge to 3°C and the freezer to -18°C.
  • Don’t leave the fridge door open!  
  • Keep an eye on the seals, and replace where necessary.
  • Defrost regularly.
  • Keep the back of the fridge clean and free from grease and dust. A build-up of dirt means the fridge has to work harder to keep cool. 

Check out our guide to the most energy-efficient fridge-freezers, to learn how to choose the best one for your home.

What is an EPC rating?

EPC ratings are energy-efficiency ratings for your home. Like the energy ratings for appliances, they’re on a scale from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient). 

EPC stands for Energy Performance Certificate. This is the document that tells you how efficient your home is, and how you can make improvements to it. This is where you’ll find your all-important EPC rating.

To find out everything you need to know about EPC ratings, read our guide

How to save even more energy at home with OVO

Energy-efficiency doesn’t just relate to the appliances you use. At OVO, we’re all about helping you cut energy costs all around the home, however and wherever we can. 

The smart meter revolution is well and truly upon us – so if you haven’t already had one installed, it might be time to consider it! Your smart meter will come with an In-Home Display (IHD), which makes it easy to track your energy use. You can use that information to make tweaks and save money on your energy bills.

Find much more information on how to reduce your gas and electricity bills in our guides:

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