Most household appliances – from washing machines to boilers – are now sold with an “eco” mode designed to be greener and more efficient than the standard settings.
This mode can usually be found via a button or an option on a dial. But running the washing machine or dishwasher in eco mode often takes much longer than a quick wash. So can green settings really save you energy and money – or are they just an eco-friendly cleaning gimmick?
Running a washing machine in eco mode normally takes at least two hours. But Andrew Lord, store manager at Lords Electrical in Wigston, Leicestershire, says surprisingly it can still use less energy than a quick 30-minute wash.
Efficiency: Most household appliances are now sold with an “eco” mode designed to be more efficient than the standard settings
“When you’re on eco mode, clothes soak longer and less water is used,” he says.
Lord explains that the same temperatures are achieved in eco mode as on standard settings. However, since the water takes longer to heat up in eco mode, less energy is used.
He uses an automotive analogy to explain: “A car speeding down a highway at 100mph will get there much faster than if it were going 50mph – but uses a lot more fuel.
Lord says eco mode uses 20% less energy. A two hour cycle might cost around £1.43. Therefore, using eco mode could save 28 pence per wash. However, the biggest savings come from running the washing machine at a lower temperature. Cutting it from 40 to 30 degrees uses just over half the energy and still does a thorough job of cleaning clothes, according to consumer group Which?
A low temperature wash over a standard wash would save around 71p. Also use eco mode and you can reduce it further to 57p.
VERDICT: Could shave off 86p running a wash load.
Modern televisions usually have an eco mode setting hidden in a menu accessible via the remote.
But the mainstream publication What Hi-Fi? warns that usually it’s little more than a gimmick. This hurts performance and the savings are low.
“Before you rush out to make sure your TV is running in eco mode, there’s one important downside to consider – it can really ruin your picture quality,” he says.
A modern LCD flat screen TV consumes about 0.12 kWh (4p over an hour). Eco mode reduces the dynamic range of the lighting, so the image is much duller and won’t save you more than a penny every two hours.
VERDICT: Avoid for a clear view.
When turning on the central heating, you may have noticed an eco mode on the controls. The Worcester manufacturer estimates that this setting typically uses 10% less energy.
Over a year, you could save up to 750 kWh, according to his calculations. With gas prices currently capped at 10.3 pence per kWh, this represents savings of £77 per year. However, there is a downside. The feature works by disabling your preheat settings. This means that when you turn on the hot water tap, you may have to wait ten seconds for the water to flow at the desired temperature.
As energy bills soar, you may decide this is an inconvenience worth bearing. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to run your boiler more cheaply, including turning down the thermostat, turning off radiators in rooms not in use, and keeping the area in front of radiators clear so heat can circulate freely.
VERDICT: You could save up to £77 per year.
Most refrigerators and freezers have an eco mode. However, it is designed for when the fridge-freezer is not opened regularly, for example when you are on vacation.
This is because when the door is closed for long periods, no cold air can escape, so it can use less energy to stay as cool.
Using eco mode at these times can reduce the annual cost by around 15%.
The average fridge-freezer uses about 275 kWh of energy per year, according to consumer magazine Ideal Home.
With the current energy price cap, this equates to around £94. So eco mode would save £14 a year.
On some models, such as a Beko fridge-freezer, it is possible to opt for the eco mode to be triggered automatically once the door has been closed for six consecutive hours.
VERDICT: Average savings of £14 per year and food stays fresh.
Tumble dryers use around 4.8kWh of energy on average, which equates to around £1.63 per hour. Some have an eco mode that leaves clothes very slightly damp – great for ironing, but not for putting straight into closets and wardrobes.
This setting can reduce the drying time by about ten minutes, reducing the cost by almost 30 pence. If you use your dryer frequently, the savings can quickly add up.
However, much greater savings can be achieved by using eco mode on dryers that contain a heat pump.
These use less than half the electricity because they reheat the already warm air after passing through the drum.
These models tend to cost around twice as much as a standard tumble dryer – around £500 instead of £250. However, if you use the dryer as often as three times a week you will save around £143 a year and in year two it will pay for itself.
VERDICT: The biggest savings require investment.
Spin doctor: Andrew Lord says an ‘eco’ wash cycle uses less energy
A typical dishwasher costs around £1.02 for a standard wash.
Eco mode tends to take at least half an hour longer, but consumes less power. The extra time means the dishes have more time to soak and therefore become just as clean but at a lower temperature.
One Which? The spokesperson said: “We have found that dishwasher eco modes can use between 20-40% less energy than traditional normal settings.
“They usually take longer than a standard wash, but over a year offers great savings.”
The average home uses a dishwasher five times a week. Savings over a year could be as much as £106.
VERDICT: Clean up with big savings.
… EVEN THE CAR
Many modern cars have an eco mode to improve fuel economy.
Once the eco button is pressed, the throttle becomes less responsive and the engine is throttled back to a lower power setting.
This means you drive at a smoother pace and use less fuel. Manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Honda and Toyota offer this option as standard in most new cars.
They can also include reducing the power of heating and air conditioning. Some also automatically turn the engine off at red lights and turn it back on as soon as you step on the accelerator.
Fuel savings typically range from 7% with the Hyundai Active Eco system to 24% for the Ford Focus.
Motorists spend an average of over £1,000 a year on fuel, according to personal finance researcher NimbleFinance.
So driving in eco mode could save £240 over the year.
VERDICT: Smoother travel and great savings.
Defrost and descale to reduce costs
Here are some other ways to reduce the cost of running appliances:
Defrost the freezer: Ice builds up over time, making your fridge’s freezer or ice compartment less efficient – and more electricity is needed to keep the temperature down due to a thick layer of icing. Defrosting can double the efficiency. If you have two large units – a double fridge and a separate freezer – you can save £100 a year on the energy bill.
Descale the appliances: Limescale builds up on heating appliances – such as kettles, washing machines and dishwashers – clogging the elements. Using a 50p sachet of descaler, or alternatively lemon juice or white vinegar, can reduce the cost of running these appliances by up to £50 a year.
Check for broken seals: The rubber gaskets that trap hot air in ovens and cool air in fridges and freezers can perish over time, leaving appliances 25% less efficient. You could save up to £100 per appliance each year by fixing broken seals. Replacement gaskets usually cost from £10.
Look for a blue flame: A gas hob should have a clean blue flame – indicating a temperature of at least 1960 degrees centigrade. If there is a flicker of yellow or red, it may not reach maximum temperatures and therefore operate less efficiently. Clean the device and consider calling in experts if there is little improvement.
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