Most household electrical 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 on eco often takes far longer than a quick wash. So, can eco settings really save you energy and money – or are they just a green-washing gimmick?
Running a washing machine on the eco setting normally takes at least two hours. But, Andrew Lord, director of Lords Electrical shop in Wigston, Leicestershire, says that counter-intuitively, this can still use less energy than a 30-minute quick wash.
Cashing in: Most household electrical appliances are now sold with an ‘eco’ mode designed to be more efficient than the standard settings
‘When you are in eco mode, clothes get a longer soak and less water is used,’ he says.
Lord explains the same temperatures are achieved in eco mode as on standard settings. However, because the water takes longer to warm up in eco mode, less energy is used.
He uses a motoring analogy to explain, saying: ‘A car speeding up a motorway at 100mph will arrive much more quickly than if it went at 50mph – but uses far more fuel.’
Lord says eco mode uses 20 per cent less energy. A two-hour cycle could cost around £1.43. Therefore using eco mode could save 28p a 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?
Washing at a lower temperature on a standard wash would save around 71p. Use eco mode as well and you could reduce it further still to 57p.
VERDICT: Could shave 86p off running a load of washing.
Modern TVs usually have an eco mode setting tucked away in a menu accessed via the remote control.
But consumer publication What Hi-Fi? warns that generally this is little more than a gimmick. It impairs performance and the savings are small.
‘Before rushing to make sure your TV is running in eco mode, there is one significant downside to consider – it can really mess up your picture quality,’ it says.
A modern LCD flat-screen TV uses around 0.12kWh (4p over an hour). The eco mode lowers the dynamic range of lighting so the picture is much duller – and will save you no more than around a penny every two hours.
VERDICT: Avoid for a clear view.
When cranking up the central heating, you may have noticed an eco mode on the controls. Manufacturer Worcester estimates that this setting typically uses 10 per cent less energy.
Over a year, you could save up to 750 kWh, according to its calculations. With gas prices currently capped at 10.3p per kWh, that adds up to savings of £77 a year. However, there is a downside. The function works by turning off your pre-heat settings. That means that when you turn on the hot water tap, you will have to wait perhaps ten seconds before the water runs at your required temperature.
As energy bills soar, you may decide this is an inconvenience worth putting up with. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to make your boiler run more cheaply, including turning down the thermostat, switching off radiators in rooms not being used and keeping the area in front of radiators clear so the heat can circulate freely.
VERDICT: You could save up to £77 a year.
Most fridges and freezers have an eco mode. However, it is designed for when the fridge freezer is not being opened regularly, for example when you are on holiday.
That is because when the door is shut for long periods, no cold air can escape, so it can use less energy to keep just as cool.
Using eco mode at these times can knock around 15 per cent off the annual cost.
The average fridge freezer uses around 275 kWh of energy a year, according to consumer magazine Ideal Home.
With the current energy price cap, this amounts to around £94. So eco mode would save £14 a year.
On some models, such as a Beko fridge freezer, it’s possible to opt for the eco mode to kick in automatically once the door is shut for six consecutive hours.
VERDICT: Average savings of £14 a year and food stays fresh.
Tumble dryers use around 4.8 kWh of energy on average, which amounts to around £1.63 an hour. Some have an eco mode that leaves clothes very slightly damp – perfect for ironing, but not for putting straight into cupboards and wardrobes.
This setting can cut drying time by around ten minutes – knocking almost 30p off the cost. If you use your dryer frequently, the savings can quickly add up.
However, much bigger savings can be made using the eco mode on dryers that contain a heat pump.
These use less than half the electricity because they reheat air that is already hot from passing through the drum.
These models tend to cost around twice as much as a standard dryer – around £500 rather than £250. However, if you use the dryer as often as three times a week, you would save around £143 a year and by the second year it would be paying 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 uses less energy. The extra time means the dishes have longer to soak and thus get just as clean but at a lower temperature.
A Which? spokesman says: ‘We have found that eco modes on dishwashers can use between 20 and 40 per cent less energy than traditional normal settings.
‘They usually take longer than a standard wash but over a year offer great savings.’
The average home runs a dishwasher five times a week. The savings over a year could be as much as £106.
VERDICT: Clean up on big savings.
…EVEN THE CAR
Many modern cars have an eco mode setting to improve fuel economy.
Once the eco button is pressed, the accelerator becomes less responsive and the engine is turned down to a lower power setting.
It means you drive at a more consistent pace and guzzle less fuel. Manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Honda and Toyota offer the option as standard in most new cars.
They can also include lowering heating and air conditioning strength. Some also automatically turn off the engine at red traffic lights and turn it back on again the moment that you touch the accelerator.
Fuel savings are typically anything from 7 per cent with the Hyundai Active Eco system to 24 per cent for the Ford Focus.
Motorists spend more than £1,000 a year on fuel on average, according to the personal finance researcher NimbleFinance.
So, driving in eco mode could save £240 over the year.
VERDICT: A smoother journey and good savings.
Defrost and descale to cut costs
Here are some other ways to slash the cost of using household appliances:
Defrost the freezer: Ice builds up over time that makes the freezer or ice compartment in your fridge work less efficiently – and more electricity is required to keep the temperature down due to a thick layer of frosting. A defrost can double the efficiency. If you have two large units – double fridge and separate freezer – you may save £100 a year on the energy bill.
Descale appliances: Limescale builds up on heating appliances – such as on kettles, washing machines and dishwashers – clogging up the elements. Using a 50p sachet of descaler, or alternatively lemon juice or white vinegar, can knock as much as £50 a year off the cost of running these appliances.
Check for broken seals: Rubber seals that lock the hot air in ovens and cool air in fridges and freezers can perish over time, leaving the appliances 25 per cent less efficient. You could save up to £100 per appliance every year by fixing broken seals. Replacement seals typically cost from £10.
Look for a blue flame: A gas hob should have a clean blue flame – indicating a temperature of at least 1,960 degrees centigrade. If there is a flicker of yellow or red, it may not be reaching top temperatures and is therefore running less efficiently. Clean the appliance and consider calling in experts if there is little improvement.
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