The Regency and Victorian households of Cheltenham managed quite well without washing machines, televisions, fridges and tumble dryers. Today, however, most of us manage quite well without domestic servants. Modern appliances have played an important role in transforming our lives and our society and few of us are willing to go without them altogether.

Happily, a great deal of effort has been spent improving the energy efficiency of the appliances we use in our homes. For example, an energy-efficient fridge bought today will use less than a quarter of the electricity of a fridge of the same size bought 20 years ago. Unhappily, our collective domestic energy consumption has not declined because we keep buying more (and bigger) appliances. If we are to genuinely reduce the energy our appliances consume, we need to consider the size and range of the appliances we use as well as their energy labels. However energy labels are a good place to start.

Energy labels

The European Union’s ‘A to G’ energy label is displayed on all fridges and freezers, washing machines, electric tumble dryers, dishwashers, electric ovens, air conditioners, lamps and light bulbs. However, despite appearances, an A-rating is no longer the most energy efficient choice for some appliances. For fridges, freezers, washing machines and dishwashers, the A to G scale has been replaced by a scale which runs from A+++ to D. So an ‘A’ rating is actually a middle rating.

Cold appliances

Cold appliances have replaced cool rooms – larders – as our principal means of preserving food. However many traditional homes in Cheltenham still boast such cool spaces including cellars and vaults. Although these spaces are not always convenient as everyday food stores, they can help keep the size of fridges to a minimum if used as supplementary storage spaces.

The size of your fridge or freezer is just as important (if not more so) than its energy rating. This is because the energy rating takes no account of size. A big A++ rated fridge may be more efficient than a small A rated fridge but it will probably use more electricity simply because it has more volume to cool. Greater energy efficiency means little if you end up consuming more energy. The most important comparison to make when shopping for fridges or freezers is between the annual power consumption of the appliances. This is included on the energy label and is given in units of energy (kWh). For a low energy fridge, look for an annual consumption of less than 150kWh.


Wet appliances

Hand-operated washing machines and modern mangles are available but they are for the dedicated few. Most of us are happy to replace wash day with a modern washing machine. However this dependence can quickly lead to overuse. How many of the garments pushed every week without a thought into the washing machines are genuinely dirty? Reducing the energy consumption of washing machines involves not only buying an ‘energy efficiency recommended’ machine and running cool washes (a wash at 30 C will use less than half the energy of a 60 C wash) but also using the machine less.

The principal energy demand of the modern wash day is not the washing machine but the tumble dryer. The typical energy consumption of an A-rated washing machine is about 0.6 kWh per cycle at 40 C. By comparison, an A-rated tumble dryer will use 2kWh per cycle or more.  Fortunately, there are still viable traditional alternatives to this energy-hungry machine: washing lines and clothes airers.A Victorian clothes airer helps to keep the energy-guzzling tumble dryer turned off.  There are few houses in Cheltenham which do not have room for a ceiling mounted clothes airer.

When it comes to washing dishes, a modern efficient dishwasher used fully loaded uses less water than washing by hand, and if you have solar panels and put it on during the day, it will probably be more energy efficient all round than washing dishes in the sink. However there are so many dish-washing habits that it’s impossible to be definite about which method is more efficient.

Tips for using dishwashers:

1. run only full loads

2. scrape your plates first – but don’t be tempted to rinse them under the tap

3. choose an eco-setting if available so long as it doesn’t take hours to complete

4. if you’ve got solar panels use your dishwasher during the day, and

5. when it comes to buying a new dishwasher look for the most energy-efficient model available.

There are also traditional alternatives to dishwashers that remain viable. However, if you do stick to hand washing, take care not to waste hot water. If you run every dish under a hot tap, you will probably use more energy than a modern water-efficient dishwasher. If you do use a dishwasher, scrape off the worst food but don’t rinse before the wash as this is the most energy hungry option of all.

Electronic equipment

Our enthusiasm for electronic devices is eating up all the savings that have been made from the improved energy efficiency of fridges and other white goods. Our homes are filling up with televisions, computers, games consoles, audio equipment, mobile phones, tablets and other electronic kit. Some of this kit now uses less energy than it used to. Lightweight laptop computers, for example, use a great deal less energy than desk-top computers. But in other areas, the change has been for the worse. In particular, televisions keep getting bigger and bigger, so although their energy efficiency has improved, the amount of energy they burn keeps increasing. Disregarding size, the most efficient television technology is a flat screen backlit with LEDs.

Some electronic appliances are eligible for the blue ‘energy efficiency recommended’ label (see above). However, as with fridges, the key issue is the size of the appliance and its power rating (in Watts). The power rating – the rate of energy consumption – provides the best point of comparison when making choices between electronic goods.

Compared to the growth in the range and size of electronic appliances, the stand-by issue is relatively minor. Nonetheless, it is worth addressing. Bear in mind that many appliances will only stop burning electricity when they are turned off at the wall socket, even if the little red light has faded. Phone chargers left plugged in but not switched off at the wall will also continue to burn energy even when the phone itself is not attached. Basically, anything that requires a transformer to turn mains voltage into low voltage will continue to consume power if the transformer itself is not isolated from the mains.