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A guide to energy-saving appliances

By Kat Sommers

There's a lot to think about when buying a new appliance for your home. How big should it be? How much? And how green? This guide should help with that last one.

People looking at washing machines and wondering which to buy

Understanding energy labels

First off, you need to know about energy labels. No, really. Stay with us.

An illustration of a pair of glasses and a pen on an energy label

You've probably spotted them before. They're those colourful traffic-light labels on the sides of light bulbs or TVs, or even cars. 

Every household appliance for sale in the EU must display an energy label, to show how energy efficient it is. The scale goes from A++ (dark green) at the top, all the way down to G (which is red, and, you've guessed it, bad).

Appliances that rate highly on this scale tend to be more expensive. But that shouldn’t put you off. Longer term, they'll use less energy, which means they’re cheaper to run.

Here's what to look out for if you're planning to buy new appliances for your home.

Buying energy-saving light bulbs

At a glance:

  • LEDs are the most energy efficient bulb on the market

  • Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are next best and more affordable

  • Halogen bulbs use 5 times as much energy as LEDs

  • Old-fashioned bulbs with a filament are the least energy efficient

  • The lower the wattage, the less energy a bulb will use

When buying bulbs, look for 'LED'. Like J.R.R. Tolkien, light-emitting diodes are better known by their initials. Not only do they last much longer than traditional bulbs - sometimes as long as 25 years - but they also get top marks (from A++ to A) on the energy-efficiency scale.

In fact, if you replaced all the bulbs in a typical home with LEDs, you'd save up to £35 and reduce your carbon footprint by 65kg a year.

The trouble is, LEDs can be pricey. So compact fluorescent, or CFL, bulbs are a more affordable energy-efficient alternative. They’re those big twisty ones that stick out from under lampshades. Clunky bulbs are the price we pay for a happy planet – not to mention being a great band name.

Halogen bulbs are the next least energy-efficient on the list. They rank a B at best on the energy efficiency scale, but can scrape a lowly F. They use approximately five times as much energy as LEDs, which is why they’re currently being phased out.

And then there are the old-fashioned bulbs. You can no longer buy them, but if you find some in your loft, then the lower the wattage, the less energy they’ll use.

Save water with an energy-saving shower head

At a glance:

  • Use less water by having showers not baths

  • The quicker the shower, the more energy you’ll save

  • Buy a water-saving shower head

When it comes to washing yourself, remember this rule of thumb: the less water you use, the less energy you need to heat it.

Illustration of someone running into their shower and scaring a cat away

So showers are better than baths, and a quick shower is best. Which means no more spending 10 minutes perfecting that high note in "I Wanna Dance with Somebody".

And while we're on the subject of showers, look out for water-saving shower heads. They don't use energy, so they don't have an energy label.

They restrict the amount of water being let through instead, so look for how many litres they claim to reduce your water consumption by. They're particularly effective if you have a non-electric or power shower.

A family of 4 could save around £70 on their yearly gas bills with a water-efficient shower head.

Make your computer more energy-efficient

At a glance:

  • Buy a laptop not a desktop computer

  • Turn it off at the plug

Laptops may be space savers, but they're good at saving energy as well. Their compact size and smaller screens mean they use a lot less energy than a desktop computer. So much so, that over the course of a year using one avoids 35kg of CO2 being added to the atmosphere. It could also save you up to £20 a year.

Another way to save energy is to turn your computer off fully. Leaving it on standby costs a typical home around £6 and creates about 20kg of CO2 a year.

Save time and energy with a dishwasher

The lowest-rated dishwasher available to buy in the shops now is A+. But don't let that guide you. Buying an A+++ dishwasher instead of an A+ one could save you £75 over its average 11-year lifetime.

And then there's all the energy you'll save in that time. It's win-win.

Zap the energy your TV uses

At a glance:

  • Smaller screens use less energy

  • If you have to go big, maximise on energy efficiency to save money

Depending on how much you use it, your TV can be one of the most energy-draining appliances in your house.

Bulb illustration of a TV measuring its waist

In general, the bigger the screen, the more energy your TV will use, so the current trend for bigger and bigger screens will have an impact on your bank balance well beyond the day of purchase.

So choosing a 32" LCD instead of a 42" one could save you over £40 a year in running costs over the TV's lifetime. That's a whopping £400 if it lasts 10 years.

If you have to go big, try upsizing on energy efficiency too. Choosing an A++ rated 40" TV over a market average one could save around £140 over the TV's lifetime.

Buying a low-energy fridge freezer

At a glance:

  • Fridge freezers range from A+ to A+++

  • It’s worth paying the extra for an energy-efficient model

  • Save even more by keeping them in tip-top condition

Modern fridges and freezers are much more energy-efficient than they used to be. You could call them straight A students, in fact, because the lowest rating you'll see on one is an A+. 

But the difference between an A+++ fridge or freezer and an A+ model is bigger than you'd think. Assuming it lasts for the average lifespan of 17 years, it amounts to a saving of around £320. You'll save over half a tonne of CO2 in that time too. Worth paying that little bit extra upfront.

You can save even more energy with a few energy-saving quick wins too: like keeping the fridge full, and dusting behind its coils once in a while.

Energy-efficient washing machines save money in the long run

At a glance:

  • Make sure the washing machine has an energy rating of at least A+

  • Buy one with an A+++ rating for extra savings

First, the good news: the lowest-rated washing machine available to buy in the shops now is A+.

But going a few steps further will pay dividends. A washing machine with an A+++ rating instead of A+ could save around £65 and use 17% less energy over its average 11-year lifetime.

Save energy using a tumble dryer

At a glance:

  • Dryers with a low energy rating will cost you more in the long-run

  • A model rated A+++ will save you money as well as energy

There are still tumble dryers with only a B rating for sale, but paying a bit extra goes a lot further when it comes to this appliance. That's because tumble dryers are one of the most energy-inefficient appliances in your home, and expensive to run as a result. 

So it's well worth spending that extra money upfront. Going for a model rated A+++ for energy efficiency over a B-rated one could save you around £495 over its average 13-year lifetime.

Buy a slow cooker for energy-efficient meals

Slow cookers are a great energy-efficient alternative to your oven, especially for warming stews, tagines and curries. 

They use just a little more energy than a traditional light bulb, and you can leave your food to cook slowly throughout the day while you’re at work or when you need to get on with other things.

Smart plugs and appliances help save energy

At a glance:

  • Smart appliances let you control how much energy they use remotely

  • Save money by seeing how much energy they use in real-time and taking action to reduce your usage

Bul illustration of a man switching on his heating remotely, wearing holiday clothes and with a suitcase in snow

So-called 'smart' appliances don't usually save energy by default. But they do put you in control by showing how much energy they're using in real-time, and letting you switch them on or off wherever you are. 

As well as smart plugs, there are smart TVs, smart washing machines, and even smart doorbells, so you can see and speak to whoever's at your door at home.

Smart thermostats are also available, such as Nest and Hive, which give you maximum flexibility when it comes to managing your heating. You can control your heating even when you're out, using your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Where we got our figures

These figures came from the Energy Saving Trust in March 2019.

They're based on a typical home, so your savings will vary. Unless you live in a 3-bedroom, semi-detached house with gas heating, that is, on the average tariffs for gas and electricity.

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