Many households plan on replacing their air conditioners in the run-up to summer to keep the heat at bay, and inverter split-types are a popular choice in recent years. The Consumer Council tested 14 models of “1.5 horsepower” (HP) inverter split-type reverse cycle air conditioners (RCAC) and found 1 model to have a cooling capacity significantly lower than its claim by almost 18%. Despite the fact that the Cooling Seasonal Performance Factor (CSPF) of all models met the Energy Efficiency Grade 1 standard under the Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (MEELS), the models’ CSPF values showed a vast variance of over 55%, highlighting the disparity in their energy-saving performance. Consumers looking to cut back on their electricity bills should choose carefully before purchasing.
The Council also found that the annual renewal fee after the warranty period could vary up to 1.5 times amongst the different models. The arrangements and charges for after-sales services offered by different agents, such as maintenance checks and machine cleaning, were also found to differ notably. Oftentimes, consumers lack control over the selection of after-sales services. Costly after-sales service and annual warranty renewal fees would dampen consumers’ desire to repair their product or renew its warranty. When the appliance malfunctions and is not duly repaired, it will lower the product’s operating efficiency and lifespan, hence spurring consumers on to purchase replacements more frequently. Not only does this go against the principle of sustainable consumption, but it will also escalate the expenses for purchasing electrical appliances. The Council urges agents to offer a more affordable maintenance service with a longer warranty period, to support sustainable consumption and reduce waste.
Included in this test were 14 models of inverter split-type RCACs with rated cooling capacities between 3.2 to 3.6 kilowatts (kW), all rated Energy Efficiency Grade 1 under MEELS, including 3 models using the more eco-friendly R32 refrigerant. The pricing ranged from $5,980 to $11,980, of which 4 models included basic installation charges, while the rest required a surcharge of $1,750 or $1,900, or as specified by the trader. The test was conducted according to the international standards ISO 5151, ISO 16358-1 and IEC 60335-2-40, with test items including the cooling capacity, energy efficiency, noise level, air flow rate, dehumidifying performance, safety level and ease of use.
The cooling capacity of air conditioners is crucial as the higher the value, the faster it cools. The test found that the measured cooling capacity of the test models ranged from 2.64kW to 3.73kW. The model with the lowest measured cooling capacity (2.64kW) was 17.6% lower that its claimed value of 3.2kW, failing to meet the requirements of MEELS. The test results of the model in question have been referred to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) for follow-up.
The measured cooling capacity of 4 models was 0.5% to 2.5% lower than their claim. Although this variance fell within the acceptable tolerance range (10%) under the “Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products” and common international practice, there is still room for improvement. The measured cooling capacity of the remaining 9 models either met or exceeded their claimed value, thus received a 5-point rating for this test item.
The cooling function of air conditioners can bring dehumidifying effect in addition to lowering the temperature. In a standard environment, the dehumidifying effect of the models at a high wind speed setting vastly varied. For the model with the higher dehumidifying effect, 27% of its cooling capacity was turned out in dehumidifying, while the model with the highest air flow rate only had 5% of its cooling capacity turned out in dehumidifying, resulting in the weakest dehumidifying effect.
Besides, the CSPF of the tested models ranged from 4.69 to 7.31. A higher CSPF value represents higher energy efficiency and better energy-saving performance. Despite the fact that all models met the benchmark of MEELS’ Energy Efficiency Grade 1, their energy efficiency performance varied considerably. The 3 models with the highest CSPF values (7.31, 6.51 and 5.95) in the test performed better than all the inverter air conditioners previously tested by the Council, reflecting that manufacturers indeed have the capacity to design and provide more energy-efficient products for the marketplace.
The energy efficiency directly impacts the electricity cost. According to the Council’s estimation, based on the tariff of $1.2 per unit of electricity and the scenario where the air conditioner operates for 12 hours per day for 180 days a year, the estimated annual electricity tariff of the tested models ranged from $657 to $1,023, representing a difference of $366. This means that the models with a lower energy efficiency would incur 56% more electricity tariff than the more energy-efficient models.
When purchasing air conditioners, consumers should also pay heed to the warranty period and the annual warranty fee. 11 models only provided a full warranty period of 1 year, while only 3 models offered a 2-year warranty period. As for the warranty period of the compressor in the air conditioner, half (7) the models offered a 5-year warranty, while the remaining 7 models only offered 1 or 3 years of warranty. After the warranty period, the annual warranty renewal fee ranged from $620 to $1,500, a difference of 1.4 times. The model with the highest annual warranty renewal fee only offered an initial warranty period of 1 year, while its annual warranty renewal fee amounted to 13.8% of the cost of a new machine ($10,830), dampening consumers’ incentive to renew the warranty.
Within the warranty period, the agents of all models provided free on-site inspection service in urban areas, while a surcharge was required for customers in remote areas. After the warranty period, the on-site inspection fees in urban areas ranged from $370 to $950, a difference of over 1.5 times. Even within the warranty period, some of the service arrangements and charges also saw huge disparities. Taking for example the cleaning service of the interior and exterior air conditioner in an urban area, the charge ranged from $1,000 to $3,000, marking a 2 times difference. The cost of the most expensive cleaning service ($3,000) charged by the agent for 1 air conditioning unit was close to 40% of the original price ($7,180) of the appliance.
Aside from the actual cooling load, the cooling demand may also be escalated by various factors, such as humidity, a larger space, draughty doors and windows, the interior environment or number of people, etc., as a result impacting the energy efficiency of the air conditioner. Consumers can refer to the following tips to make their air conditioners more energy-saving:
- Allow enough space for heat dissipation and do not obstruct the air outlet. Clean the dust filter, air inlet and air outlet once every 2 weeks to prevent interrupted air flow which may impact its efficiency. Arrange for regular checks, maintenance and repair by an experienced technician;
- To save energy as well as being more eco-friendly, a fan can be used alongside the air conditioner to improve air circulation. Also, draw the curtains to prevent direct sunlight from heating up the interior, and close the windows where possible to maintain the interior temperature;
- If the air conditioner has a timer function, pre-set a switch-off time to avoid prolonged periods of use or forgetting to switch off the appliance. Power off the air conditioner when not in use;
- The wind speed greatly impacts the dehumidifying effect. If consumers wish to achieve better dehumidification, select a lower wind speed setting based on the need. However, a lower wind speed setting will hinder the full cooling capacity of the air conditioner, resulting in lower energy efficiency. Therefore, it is not recommended to use low wind speed settings frequently.
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