Eurosceptic media have had a field day blasting the EU for taking away citizens’ right to…clean their carpets. But they too will benefit from quieter and more efficient vacuum cleaners that will save consumers money with no loss of performance.
From 1 September, loud and inefficient vacuum cleaners that use more than 900 watts and exceed 80 decibels will no longer be allowed on the EU market. The most efficient models will display an A+++ rating, based on power and dust-busting efficiency.
Environmental groups and consumer associations have welcomed the new EU rules that are designed to boost energy efficiency in order to cut carbon emissions and energy bills.
The 2013 rules, which also include a 2014 ban on vacuum cleaners that are more powerful than 1600 watts, will save about 20 terawatt-hour per year by 2020. This is equivalent to the annual household electricity consumption of Belgium. As a result, the European Commission estimated that EU consumers can save up to €70 on energy bills over the lifetime of a more efficient product.
Consumers will also be able to benefit from new durability requirements on motor and hose, which will make vacuum cleaners last longer.
But there’s more to it than that. By removing models that exceed 80 decibels from the market, the ban will also address adverse health effects relating to noise pollution and dust re-emission.
According to experts, repeated exposure to high levels of noise in the order of 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss and other problems.
Despite this – and years of extensive consultation involving national representatives, market experts and civil society – Eurosceptic media have once again attacked the rules which they regard as a tyrannical move by the EU aimed at interfering with national legislation.
They fear that the ban will “[…] make it harder to clean your carpets”. They advise the public to “act quickly if they’re in the market for a vacuum cleaner”. But they also ignore some basic facts.
How will this actually affect consumers?
Power does not always equal performance, though the misconception has become widespread.
Following the first introduction of the new requirements in 2014, the British consumers association Which? tested different models and found that some of these “were able to maintain high standards of dust and debris removal while using significantly less energy, largely thanks to innovations in floorhead design”.
This is hardly surprising, as motor size alone does not necessarily reflect the effectiveness of vacuum cleaners. Even the most powerful motors may perform poorly if the design of the vacuum cleaner is outdated and has leaks. Efficiency is the most important parameter, not pure power.
This is why some manufacturers have been producing motors smaller than 900 watts for years.
Despite having previously been critical of some aspects of the energy label, Which? concluded that “it’s difficult not to be impressed by the positive impact it has had on the industry’s carbon footprint“.
That being said, you are likely to have already bought a more efficient and quiet vacuum cleaner anyway due to improving technological standards and recent market developments.
In the UK, the Guardian reports that, among the top-selling models in John Lewis, a popular chain of department stores, is the Míele Classic C1 Edition Powerline which emits 79 decibels.
In the EU, only one year after the entry into force of the new standards, a market assessment showed that more energy-efficient products are quickly replacing inefficient models. In 2015, energy-efficient A class products already accounted for 39% of sales.
What could be improved?
Despite the benefits for consumers and the environment, environmental campaigners and some manufacturers have warned that test methodologies need to better reflect real-life conditions.
The problem is that laboratory tests are currently run exclusively with empty dust bags, albeit the dust can affect the energy efficiency of a vacuum cleaner, and therefore result in a poorer performance as the bags fill up.
It is also regrettable that, due to a lengthy consultation process, the new energy labels for vacuum cleaners will still display confusing pluses (A+, A++, A+++), whereas the most recent EU legislation on energy labelling reverted to the original, more straightforward A-G closed scale.
Energy efficiency matters
Energy efficiency requirements are the kind of plain, common sense tool that the EU can be proud of.
By introducing better and more efficient home appliances, these policies can prevent wasteful and environmentally damaging products from being sold in Europe.
And they save consumers money with no loss of performance. The average appliance now does the same job for about a fifth less energy.
To put this into perspective, new research in the UK finds that, should the government scrap such requirements in the aftermath of the country leaving the EU, households could end up paying an extra €100 on their annual electricity bill. This would mostly be due to less efficient home appliances being imported from China.
All in all, energy efficiency standards are there to protect and benefit people, even Eurosceptics.
If you want to buy an efficient and powerful vacuum cleaner, the energy label will guide you in the right direction. You can also consult specialised websites that will help you make the right choice based on your needs and the latest technology available. But there should be nothing political about the way you clean your carpets.
Stephane Arditi, European Environmental Bureau, firstname.lastname@example.org, +33 6 40639772
Chloe Fayole, ECOS, email@example.com, +43 660 22 94 164
Nerea Ruiz, ECOS, firstname.lastname@example.org, +32 2894 4683