Kitchen and laundry appliances consume about 20 per cent of a home's energy. Factor in water needs and it is clear that selecting the efficient models is a smart investment.
Choosing your household appliances carefully, by making sure they're as energy and water efficient as possible, is one of the most effective routes to living sustainably.
"Appliances have improved greatly in recent years, with energy consumption decreasing significantly in some categories," says Paul Myors, energy-efficiency expert for Ausgrid. "We're also fortunate to have a simple energy-star labelling system in Australia."
Should you be in the market for a fridge or freezer you can assess the energy-star rating of the products you're considering. With washing machines or dishwashers, the energy stars can be weighed up alongside the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) rating.
"Things get trickier when you're buying appliances that are not energy rated," says kitchen designer Druce Davey of Greener Kitchens, "but knowing a few rules of thumb will help you make the most efficient choice."
In Australia, ovens are not subject to an energy rating. "I suspect there may not be that much variation between the energy usage of electric ovens of the same size, which means a star-rating system isn't appropriate," says Myors.
The majority of Australian households rely on electricity for cooking, he says, however gas is better for the environment. "Gas creates fewer greenhouse emissions than electricity sourced from coal-fired power stations."
Davey says he always advises clients to check if models have a European rating. "European Class A rating is a great indication of energy efficiency."
If you're opting for an electric oven, choose a model that's fan-forced – they are 30 per cent more efficient than conventional ovens, says Sharon Hamilton of eco-friendly building and interior design service Your Abode. "Check for good insulation and door glazing because this will improve an oven's efficiency."
Like ovens, cooktops are not energy-star rated. "Gas and induction cooktops are the best choices for the environment," says Myors. "Gas, because it's a cleaner energy source than electricity, and induction, because it's a fast and efficient means of cooking."
Induction cooktops react directly with the base of ferrous (iron-based) cookware – meaning that the heat-up time is rapid. Manufacturers of gas cooktops are aware of the need to compete with induction on efficiency terms. Smeg, for example, recently released a gas cooktop with vertical flame burners, which are more energy efficient than conventional 'flower' gas burners that can lose 60 per cent of their energy in the burning process.
Why use induction?
"Induction cooktops use about half the energy of gas and 65 per cent less than electric cooktops," says Thorsten Kissel, Product Manager, Food and Beverage Preparation for Miele Australia. They're more energy efficient due to a faster heat-up time and direct application of energy, he says. "An induction cooktop will bring one litre of water to the boil twice as fast as one using electricity or gas. With induction, heat is created in the pan base, cutting out the step of warming a hot plate before heating the pot."
Beyond the stars
When appliances are rated it's easy to compare efficiencies – but there is more to consider, says Davey. "Think about the materials or refrigerants used, whether the product is earmarked for recycling, and the 'deeper green' issues of whether or not the company you're about to spend your money with is a responsible corporate citizen."
Buying the most efficient appliances you can afford is an effective way to cut your energy consumption. "It's a small but empowering means of doing your bit for the environment," adds Davey.
Another green idea
Send old mobile phones, batteries and chargers to MobileMuster for recycling before September 30 and they'll donate up to $50,000 worth of grants to Landcare and Coastcare groups.
Australia's energy rating website provides an easy way to search for and compare the energy efficiency of appliances. Australians are keen to access this information: there were 1.2 million visits to the site between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. In April 2010 the labelling program changed from a six-star to a 10-star rating system to set the benchmark higher for appliance manufacturers.