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Timely Advice on Window-type Air Conditioners and Wall-mounted Electric Fans ahead of Summer Heat - CHOICE # 451

  • 2014.05.15

What do you look for when buying an air conditioner or electric fan?

Get yourself well informed - with timely advice from the Consumer Council. And don't wait until rising unbearable heat drives you into that panic buy you may regret later.

In two separate test reports, the Council has evaluated the safety of 15 window-type room air conditioners and 10 wall-mounted electric fans respectively. The air conditioner samples were also tested for their performance and energy efficiency.

The findings are as revealing as they are helpful for reference in your choice of the products.

In the test on air conditioners, the samples were measured against their cooling capacity as claimed by their manufacturers from 2.0 to 2.2 kW (commonly referred to as 3/4 horsepower). The measured cooling capacity of most of the samples is consistent with their claims.

Discrepancy was detected in 5 samples with cooling capacity less than their claims by up to some 3.8%. This margin of discrepancy is, however, within the tolerance of the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (MEELS) of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) and overseas practices.

Air conditioners are heavy users of energy that drive up your electricity bills in the summer months. Energy efficiency is clearly an important factor in the choice and use of the appliance.

Although all samples are qualified for the top Grade 1 rating under the MEELS, there are differences in their energy efficiency performance - the difference between the samples of the highest and the lowest energy efficiency is around 7.6%.

Translated into electricity running cost, the samples varied from an estimate of $1,031 to $1,115 - or a difference and hence saving of $84 per year between the most and least energy efficient samples. The savings depend on the actual cooling load and running hours, etc; and if more than one unit is in use the savings would multiply by as many folds.

As air conditioners of cooling capacity of 2.0 to 2.2 kW are usually used in relatively small area, e.g. bedrooms, their indoor noise level may be of importance especially to the light sleepers. 2 samples stood out among the others in quietness.

As far as safety is concerned, all samples passed a series of basic safety tests (with reference to the standard IEC 60335-2-40) that include, amongst others, leakage current and earthing continuity.

The air conditioners in the test were rated for overall performance based on: energy efficiency (50%), noise level (25%), cooling capacity i.e. how close it is to its claimed value (10%), ease of use (10%), enclosure sweat and condensate disposal (5%).

On a 5-point scale, 2 samples scored 4.5 points, 8 samples 4 points, and 5 samples 3.5 points. The 2 samples with the highest overall scores were both priced at the lower end of the price scale - at $2,288 (inclusive of basic installation) and $2,700 (exclusive of installation).

The samples in the test ranged in price from $2,288 to $3,780, but as some do not include installation, consumers will do well to find out beforehand.

The electric fan, on the other hand, offers an ideal alternative in cooling the stifling heat of summer. It has the distinct advantage of operating at just a small fraction of the running cost of an air conditioner, and is obviously environmentally friendly.

The fan can be used jointly with an air con since it can help effectively to spread the cool air to cool down the room, and the air conditioner can be set at a slightly higher temperature to save energy. It can also be used independently when the weather is not too hot.

In collaboration with the EMSD, the Council has put to a safety test 10 wall-mounted electric fans. The results were less than satisfactory with 4 out of the 10 failed to pass all the items in the safety test.

Safety was found lacking in these areas: the test probe could touch the parts protected with basic insulation only (2 samples); insufficient insulation distance (2 samples); inappropriate wiring connection methods and inadequate material resistance to flames (1 sample).

One failed model has since then been voluntarily recalled from sales and consumers who bought the fan are advised to return to the agent for inspection and maintenance.

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