Star ratings for vacuum cleaners?
Now that energy efficiency ratings are standard for major appliances, such as air conditioners and fridges, the concept is moving on to other appliances. Vacuum cleaners are the latest target in Europe; a new law banning vacuum cleaners rated above 1600 watts came into effect there last September, and from 2017, vacuum cleaners there will be further limited to a maximum of 900 watts.
Below, CHOICE takes a look at the scheme and any implications for Australia.
European vacuum labels
Vacuum cleaners sold in Europe now carry energy-efficiency and cleaning performance labels, as shown here on a new Miele model in Germany. The European label includes several ratings on a scale from A to G, with A being the best and G the worst:
- Energy efficiency rating. This factors in not just the model's average power consumption, but also its lifespan, manufacturing processes and how recyclable the product is.
- Performance rating on carpet
- Performance rating on hard floor
- Dust emission (showing how well dust is filtered from the exhaust air).
The label also shows the model's sound level in decibels (measured on carpet) and the average annual energy consumption (based on an average household with 87 square metres of living space and vacuumed 50 times per year).
The data needed to put together such ratings is significant. There's also been debate about how realistic the label is and whether it will really help reduce household energy usage. For example, the label is self-regulated, so there's no guarantee the data has been independently verified, and the test method for calculating dirt pick-up performance is based on an empty bin or bag, which is not how vacuums are typically used. CHOICE vacuum cleaner tests, by contrast, are done with the bin or bag partly filled, to simulate typical household use.
So what does this mean for Australia?
There's no intent at this stage to introduce similar rules here. Energy efficiency schemes in Australia focus on the appliances that account for most household power consumption, such as fridges, air conditioners, hot water systems,washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, TVs and lighting.
Apart from energy and water efficiency, Australian regulators don't generally go in for appliance performance ratings, such as how well a washing machine or vacuum cleaner actually cleans. It's problematic and costly to design and implement an effective national scheme of that type – and as mentioned above, it's not always clear whether such schemes add real value for consumers.
The typical power consumption running cost for a vacuum cleaner, based on one hour of vacuuming each week, is only about $20 per year, compared to the hundreds of dollars that major appliances often rack up. So we're not too concerned about vacuum cleaner energy efficiency. Nevertheless, as manufacturers release their new lower-wattage European models, these are also appearing in the Australian market, and it's good to see some focus on aspects such as dust emission, recyclability and manufacturing processes.
But does a less powerful motor mean poorer dirt pick-up? Not at all – after all, a V8 engine in a car doesn't guarantee the car will win races; the engine is just one factor. Several recommended models in our review are rated at 1600W or less and there are other good performers that use 1000W or less. But if you prefer a model with more power, don't worry; they are not likely to disappear from our market any time soon.