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Vacuum energy efficiency: After the dust settles…

Media coverage of the EU’s Ecodesign Directive might have had you believe that an end to the manufacture and sale of vacuum cleaners over 1,600W is the end of civilization as we know it. CNN seemed perplexed about the vacuum furore across the pond, and rightly so. What the new legislation,which came into practice on 1 September, actually means is a push towards better vacuuming for less electricity used.

Dyson, a firm rightly regarded as a leader in design has no models over the 1600W threshold, and the reason is simple: more wattage does not equal more suction power. As well as improving energy efficiency, the new rules also tightened quality control around noise levels, dust re-emission, and most importantly of all, dust pick-up i.e. exactly what a vacuum cleaner is supposed to do. Eventually things calmed down and a more reasoned debate played out, culminating in the rare sight of The Guardian and Christopher Booker in The Telegraph being in total agreement that this was a storm in a vacuum bag. 

There aren’t even many vacuums over 1,600W out there. Of 29 available models tested in European studies, only two were over that level. And they were far from stand out performers. While an £11 annual household saving may seem modest (though 11 quid is eleven quid, we say) this is all about the impact of change in large numbers. With 54 million vacuums sold in the EU every year, we’re talking an electricity saving equivalent to that of the total consumption of 11 million residents. There is nothing small fry about that.

As for suggestions that more small appliances like kettles and toasters were going to be ‘banned’, this was a huge case of jumping the gun. The EU’s Ecodesign Directive is looking at further areas of work, but more research is needed on this at the moment. There will be a long-list of 27 product groups, narrowed down to 20, narrowed down eventually to between 5 and 10. If any new rules around energy consumption for other products come in, they will certainly be after some seriously considered debate. Shame it took a little while for this style of debate to take hold in our media, but better late than never.

Tom Lock is Certification Manager at the Energy Saving Trust. He is an internationally recognised expert in the fields of environmental product standards and standard setting, labelling, energy use, monitoring and testing.

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