The EU Energy Labels: what do they mean?

Domestic appliances all consume electricity, but with the right information you can choose the most energy-efficient units to help you to reduce your electricity consumption and save money on your bills. More efficient appliances also make better use of the Earth’s resources and can help you reduce your impact on the environment.

One useful measure is the EU energy label, which was first introduced in 1992 and is now compulsory for most common domestic appliances. Its content has changed slightly for some appliances, and it is useful to describe the original 1992 label before illustrating how it has changed since then.

The 1992 Energy Label on an appliance displays four main pieces of information for the consumer: the first of these indicates the manufacturer, make and model. The second consists of the now-familiar colour-coded arrows and rates appliances from 'A' (the most efficient), down to 'G' (the least). The arrow for a highly efficient appliance is coloured dark green, while that for the least efficient units is red; an A-rated appliance may consume as little as half the power of a G–rated one. This provides a useful at-a-glance indication of the energy efficiency of an appliance. The third piece of information shows how much power the appliance actually consumes during normal operation; and the fourth indicates how much noise it emits. These last two pieces of information may be helpful when choosing between two appliances with the same energy efficiency rating.

The latest EU label

Since 1992, many manufacturers have made significant improvements to the efficiency of a wide range of domestic appliances. They have also removed from sale the least efficient ones, such as those originally graded E, F and G. To reflect these developments, EU labels now grade the newest dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerators from A+++, through A++, A+ and A, and so on down to D; but there are usually still seven grades of efficiency.

One other change is the use of pictograms, small icons, to indicate the type of information being displayed. This saves having to print labels in several languages.

Some manufacturers indicate different efficiency grades, like A -50. What do they mean?

Some manufacturers produce appliances that are even more efficient than the new EU labelling can indicate. They must still display the EU label on the appliance, but in their product literature you will sometimes see additional classifications like A -10, A -20, and so on: these are usually explained for you. Manufacturers are indicating that an appliance that they rate A -40 will consume 40% less power, and one rated A -50 will consume 50% less power than an equivalent A-rated unit, and so on. These manufacturer grades do not necessarily correspond exactly to the EU label grades A+, A++ and so on, but the information they provide may help you choose the most suitable appliance. Yet another variation you may see is where a manufacturer grades his appliance as more efficient than the EU rating of A+++ by adding further plus signs, as in A++++, and so on. These manufacturer grades do not necessarily correspond exactly to the grade structure on the EU label.

How the EU label can help you decide between appliances

The first thing to note is that different appliances are designed to perform different functions, and will consume different amounts of power: an A-Graded tumble drier will not necessarily use the same amount of electricity as an A-Graded dishwasher. This is why the efficiency arrow on the EU label shows how efficient it is relative to a standard test for that particular type of appliance: it is therefore a useful guide when that standard test is representative of how people use the product in real life.

This is where the power consumption indicated on the EU label becomes helpful. It may be presented as how much electricity the appliance consumes each time you use it, or as the total consumption over a year of average usage. Seeing how much electricity they actually consume may be particularly useful when choosing between two or more appliances that have the same grade of efficiency.

Most people would probably prefer their appliances to function quietly, and the fourth piece of information on the EU label, the unit’s noise output, can help your decision. The unit of measurement of sound is the bel: a pin dropping registers about 10 decibels (dB), and an ordinary conversation about 60 dB (1 bel is equivalent to 10 decibels). As a rough guide, an increase of 10db sounds about twice as loud because of the way in which sound is measured.