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Test Reveals Incorrect Energy Labels on 6 Air Conditioner Models – With Claims of Grade 1 but in the Worst Case Only Grade 3

  • 2018.05.15
Summer is here.  And the search is on for the air conditioners that can deliver efficient cooling capacity and energy consumption.  A Consumer Council test on 15 models of air conditioners (1-horsepower window-type) has found all but one samples to fall short of the claimed cooling capacity by 1.7% to 7.1%.  In addition, though all models were displayed with Energy Label Grade 1,  6 models of which failed to measure up to the required energy efficiency standard  –  5 samples were actually Grade 2,  and 1 even Grade 3.  The Council calls on manufacturers to ensure the actual performance of their products matches their own claims to enable consumers with a better grasp of the product quality for making wise choices.  
In a comparison of after-sales services, a great majority of the models was found to offer a warranty period for 3 years or more, but 1 model gave only 1 year.  Upon expiry of the warranty, the annual renewal fee could vary by a double.  Even during the warranty period, some of the service charges differed considerably – for cleaning of air conditioners in the urban areas the charges could range from $440 to $1,050, a high 1.4 times variation.
Covered in the test were 15 models of the fixed-capacity cooling-only window type air conditioners, which is also the most common type installed in Hong Kong homes, priced from $2,880 to $5,280. Among them, 3 included basic installation charges while the remainders were dependent on individual retail shops charging from $350 to $480.  
The test was conducted in reference to the international standards ISO 5151 and ISO 16358-1, commonly adopted by manufacturers, on: cooling capacity, energy efficiency, noise level, air delivery capacity, dehumidifying performance, safety and convenience of use.  On a scale of 5 (the full marks), 8 models were rated in overall performance with 4 points, 6 models with 3.5 points.  Ironically, the priciest sample ($5,280) was rated most poorly with only 3 points, affirming that price not necessarily indicative of quality.  In contrast, the lowest priced sample ($2,880) was among one of the top performers with 4 points.
Crucial to the performance of air conditioners is their cooling capacity delivery.  In the test, the cooling capacity of the 15 models were measured to range from 2.45 kW to 2.62 kW, the higher the value the faster the speed in cooling delivery.   Only 1 model was measured to be higher than its claimed value while the rest 14 models were at variance with their claims falling short by 1.7% to 7.1%.  Though the discrepancy was within the acceptable limit (10%) of the Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products and international practices, the Council stresses that manufacturers bear the responsibility to disseminate accurate information in the marketplace, otherwise it is detrimental to the consumers’ right to be correctly informed.
Overall energy efficiency better than 5 years ago
On energy efficiency performance, calculated on the basis of the traditional Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), i.e. a ratio of cooling capacity to total energy consumption under specific circumstances, the results showed the air conditioner samples achieved between 2.54 and 3.01, an average of 2.9 which compares favorably with the results of a similar test 5 years ago (2.67), an increase of 8.6%, reflecting improvement in the overall energy efficiency of air conditioners.  
In relation to the Cooling Seasonal Performance Factor (CSPF), which is a ratio of the annual total heat removal to total energy consumption, the higher the value the better the energy efficiency.   Except for 1 model with a notably low CSPF value of 2.62,  the rest of the 14 models achieved between 2.93 and 3.08; a variation of 4.9% in energy savings performance, indicating similar level of performance in this aspect.
Energy efficiency impacts directly the electricity bill charges.  On a unit cost of $1.2, and the assumption of running the air conditioner for 180 days a year, 12 hours a day, the annual electricity costs of the samples were calculated to vary from $917 to $1,106, a difference of $189.
In accordance with the Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products, samples with CSPF higher than 3 will be classified Grade 1, 2.8 or above as Grade 2, and 2.6 or above as Grade 3.  Without exception all models had on display the Energy Label Grade 1. However, the test found only 9 models to comply with the actual energy efficiency requirement of Grade 1, the remainders 5 were Grade 2 while the most expensive model with the lowest CSPF (2.62) its actual energy efficiency could justify for only Grade 3.  As the discrepancy exceeded the permissible limit (10%) of Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products and international practices, the Council has referred the case to EMSD for their follow-up action.
When it comes to noise level, air conditioners were on the whole of average performance only, with rating from 2.5 to 4 points indoor, and 2 to 3 points outdoor.  
Substantial variation in after-sales service charges
Air conditioners are household electrical appliances expected to have a longer life span, in the choice of the products consumers should therefore compare their after-sales services as well.  In the majority of cases, the agents of the samples offered warranty for 3 years or above; 1 model provided only 1 year.  The annual fee for warranty renewal varied from $420 to $870, a difference of 107%.
During the initial warranty period, house inspection of the appliance in the urban areas was free; as for remote areas, charges were usually required and some agents might even require the appliance to be sent to an urban centre for the free inspection, which imposed great difficulty on the consumers.  After the expiry of the warranty period, charges for house inspection in the urban areas were found in the range of $350 to $500, a difference 43%.
The agent of 1 model offered no cleaning service of air conditioners, 12 others required charges in the urban district of $380 to $1,050, a difference of 176%, and 2 agents would raise the cleaning fees, after the warranty expiry, from $380 to $630, an increase of 66%.
As generally consumers have little or no knowledge of electrical components or parts, they are in a passive role about the choice or charges of after-sales services.  The Council hopes agents and traders to offer a much longer warranty period and lower charges for annual warranty extension and maintenance so as to encourage consumers to repair and use the products for as long as possible in the interest of sustainable consumption.
Consumers are reminded of the following in the use of air conditioners:
Avoid installing air conditioners at places where there is direct sunlight;
Never block the air ventilations (both in and out) of the machine;
In spring or early summer, try operate the air conditioner on its dehumidifying mode for both dehumidifying and cooling purposes to save energy consumption;
Preset the timer to turn off to avoid excessive prolonged use or forgetting to switch off; 
Install a rubber tube to drain condensate water overflowing from the bottom tray of the machine, to avoid the problem of air conditioner dripping; 
Clean the dust filter and air ventilations every 2 weeks during the summer season to prevent blocking air current and affecting the machine performance;
Arrange experienced mechanic for inspection, maintenance and repairs at regular intervals.
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