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Who Wants Energy Efficiency (enough to pay for it)

A Whirlpool survey out this morning (Monday, February 23, 2009) shows:

  • 84% of consumers choose energy – not water or time – as most important when it comes to home appliance efficiency.
  • 72% of consumers actively look for the Energy Star label when making purchasing decisions.

When consumers were asked what elements would be a part of their dream kitchen, eco-efficient appliances were their top choice.  But consumer understanding of the benefits varies by geneder, marital statues, etc.

Married or previously married consumers seem to understand eco-efficient appliance benefits better than singles:

  • 77% of married consumers look for the Energy Star label when appliance shopping.
  • 59% of unmarried consumers look for Energy Star.

“This survey points to several gaps – be they marital, gender, or generational – in energy-efficiency awareness,” said Michael Todman, president, Whirlpool North America.

Who’s greener

  • 71% of surveyed males, aged 35-44, are “more attuned” to high efficiency (HE) laundry products.
  • 54% of females in the same age group are “more attuned” to HE laundry.
  • 61% of married and 64% of previously married consumers said they understand what HE means in terms of laundry
  • 51% of unmarrieds said they understand what HE laundry means.

Most in the 18-44 age group said they would have a high efficiency washer in their dream laundry room.
Among consumers aged 45+ the preference is for laundry appliances that are more ergonomically friendly.

Whirlpool points out that more appliances are being designed to cater to older users, which it sees as half the United States’ purchasing power. Pedestals raise the height for less bending, knobs are larger, and audible signals are louder.

The survey reports that 44% of consumers said they did not know if top-load washers use more energy than front-loaders, while 38% believe that they do. Whirlpool says this points to a need for clarity in communicating the benefits of HE machines to appliance buyers.

Even if half the consumer population still wants ease-of-use over efficiency, these results provide further evidence of a big shift in consumer attitudes about laundry appliances over the last 20 years.

A brief history…

Twenty years ago there weren’t a lot of high-efficiency washer options for American consumers. “High-efficiency” meant “horizontal-axis.”  H-axis washers were commonplace in Europe but Americans were only used to seeing them in laundromats.

Front load washers were foreign and strange! I remember reading consumers commenting that front-loading looked “inconvenient” to use. What? It’s more convenient to take wet clothes out of a top-load washer and put them in a front-load dryer than to take the clothes out of the front of one appliance and move it directly into the front of the adjoining appliances? It never made sense to me.

It was pretty well accepted in the industry that a front-load, horizontal-axis washer was going to use a lot less water and a lot less energy than a typical, top-load washing machine. But American consumers didn’t see the POINT in paying extra for energy efficiency; laundry appliances weren’t seen as big energy hogs anyway.

And a washer wasn’t something that consumers cared about. It was one the same level as a water heater: it did its job reliably and when guests came over you shut the door to the utility room.  Who cared about its energy use or, for that matter, how it looked?

Well, in fact, European consumers DID care.  They often cared how it looked (laundry appliances were more often sitting out in kitchens) and how much energy it used (being greener earlier than most Americans). As a result the European consumer WAS willing to pay extra for a washing machine.

The appliance industry in the United States needed to foster the same attitude among its consumers.  It took the industry a long time, but the effort was successful – helped by changing customer demographics and a global rise in overall environmental awareness.

It was a good thing to turn energy efficiency into a selling point for laundry appliances, but I never would have believed the industry could make American consumers care about how a washer LOOKS.  I was wrong. Consumers gravitated to fresh laundry designs as much as to the technology.

For those users who still want a top-loading machine there are now high-efficiency washers in a top-load configuration (I still don’t get it, but hey).

A high-efficiency washer no longer means, by default, a horizontal axis washer.

Now the industry can get to work making on the lowly water heater…

Posted in Appliance, Design, Energy efficiency, Government, Market research, Technology.

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7 Responses

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  1. George says

    This is fairly good information, but seems dated. I remember a lot of discussion back in the eighties regarding the efficiency of front-load vs top-load. I’d rather hear what is happenning NOW for even greater efficiency through lower water use, higher spin speeds and such. What is the actual trade-off on costs, and when does it pay?

  2. Robin Green says

    Consumers are more savvy than many in industry and government imagine. Because water and energy rates are on the rise, people are increasingly looking to appliances that are more efficient, and these days it’s pretty easy to inform yourself before you walk into the appliance store. I’m not surprised about the preference for ENERGY STAR logo washers considering washers use potentially all three major utility sources: water, gas (for hot water), and electricity (to run the machine).

  3. David Berry says

    It may seem strange for a guy to hang out at the laundrymat, but 30 years ago I was single and had to do my own laundry. I learned from the employees at the laundrymat the right way to make clothes clean. The answer was to use the front loading washer. Also, I heard they used less water to make the clothes clean, which made me think the front loader was the best in more ways than one. I’ve always been sold on frontloaders!

  4. Linda says

    You may not be old enough to remember how bad the first front loader were, those that leaked water out through the door and onto the floor, causing water damage. Since that time I have refused to take the chance on a front loader in my home. They are fine in a laundromat, but not in my upstairs laundry room, I can’t risk the water damage. The top loader is a water proof tub that more surely contains the water.

  5. Jerry says

    The appliance industry has not done an adequate job of selling high efficiency appliances. This industry underestimates the intelligence of the customer. Appliance manufacturers can easily determine their products electrical cost savings over the life of the appliance compared with a competitors product and use that information to economically justify the purchase of a more efficient (maybe more expensive) product. Make this information available and smart buyers will make the correct decision. Educate the buyer to obtain more business.

  6. Herm Harrison says

    How much are you going to pay for it is the big issue. If the recovery period is too long, people aren’t going to pay extra.

    Personally, I like the new high efficiency front loaders, but there’s no way based on energy use that I could justify the expense as long as my existing washer and dryer function.

    Even if they fail, I’d run the numbers to see if the extra expense was justified. For single or older couples without children, I doubt from a strictly economic perspective these HE machines ever make sense. It’s kind of like putting a CFL bulb in a closet. Sure it’s more efficient, but it’s also more expensive and if the bulb is used for only a few seconds every few days it’ll never pay for itself.

  7. Mary Q. Contrarie says

    The most enegy efficient is also the least expensive a good clothes drying rack takes no energy at all to “run” once it is in your home or yard. It will even save you on replacing socks and underware since it has been proven that heat of automatic dryers breaks down elastic. Money should be spent on a washer with a really good high revolution spin cycle or an external spin machine and just forget the dryer and hang dry your laundry.



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