Cooling Capacity of 65% “3/4 Horsepower” Window-type Air Conditioners were Lower than Claimed High After-sales Service Charges Hinder Warranty Renewal and Environmental Protection

14 May 2020
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With summer just around the corner, an efficient and energy-saving air conditioner is a useful tool for keeping the home cool. The Consumer Council tested 15 models of commonly known as “3/4 horsepower” window-type air conditioners, and found the cooling capacity of 10 models slightly lower than what were claimed, ranging from 0.1% to 2.2%. Even though all models have reached the energy efficiency grading requirements of Grade 1 as indicated, they would fall into Grade 4 of the new grading standard to be implemented by the end of the year with 12 months grace period.

Moreover, when choosing an air conditioner, consumers tend to focus on the purchase price, and ignore the renewal fees for warranty and other after-sales service charges. The Council compared the charges for after-sales service during the warranty period, such as on-site inspection and air conditioner cleaning provided by various agents, and found a discrepancy of as high as 80%. The fees of annual renewal after the warranty period also varied, with a discrepancy of more than onefold. The Council reminds the traders that high fees for after-sales service and annual warranty renewal would indirectly dampen consumers’ desire to properly maintain the products and renew the warranty. Once mechanical problems arise and consumers fail to obtain timely repair service, not only would the operating efficiency and ‘life-span’ of the products be reduced, but consumers’ frequency of getting new replacement would also be accelerated. This is inconsistent with the principle of sustainable consumption, and also increases consumers’ spending on electrical appliances. The Council appeals to agents to prolong the warranty period with more economical maintenance charges and warranty renewal fees so as to encourage consumers to maintain and continue using the products for promoting sustainable consumption.

The rated cooling capacity of the 15 models of window-type air conditioners ranged from 2.0 to 2.2 kilowatts (kW). For the first time, it covered 2 models of air conditioners using the more environmentally friendly R32 refrigerant. The marked prices of the models ranged from $2,580 to $3,780 of which 7 models included basic installation charges, while the rest required a surcharge of between $390 and $490, or subjected to the charges of individual stores. The test was conducted with reference to the international standards ISO5151, ISO16358-1 and IEC60335-2-40 commonly adopted by the manufacturers. The models were tested for their cooling capacity, energy efficiency, noise level, air flow rate, dehumidifying performance, safety level and ease of use. The results showed that their performances were on par with each other, achieving the overall ratings of 4 or 4.5 points.

The cooling capacity of air conditioners is vital as the higher in cooling capacity represents the faster in the cooling rate. The test revealed that the measured cooling capacity of the test models varied from 2.01 to 2.23kW, of which the measured cooling capacity of 10 models was 0.1% to 2.2% lower than their respective rated cooling capacity. Even though the disparity remained within the acceptable discrepancy range (10%) under the “Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products” and international practice, cooling capacity of an air conditioner is the most essential index of product information and therefore there is still room for manufacturers to enhance the accuracy of such product information. 

The energy efficiency label of all models was indicated as Grade 1. According to the test results, the models’ cooling seasonal performance factor (CSPF) ranged from 3.02 to 3.14, which were in compliance with the current Grade 1 criteria set by the “Mandatory Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme” (MEELS). However, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department is about to upgrade the energy efficiency standard for window-type air conditioners. The new standard is expected to be implemented by the end of this year (exact date to be confirmed) with 12 months grace period so as to further encourage suppliers to introduce products with high energy efficiency. By then, the measurement of the energy efficiency level of window-type air conditioners would be the same as that of the split-type. According to the revised “Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products 2020”, the test models would only be classified as Grade 4 under the new rating standard. The Council urges manufacturers to get ready for the new rating standard in order to maintain the competitiveness of the products in support of environmental protection.

As for the fan speed adjustment, 3 models could produce the highest air flow rate at either the highest or lowest fan speed, which in turn could contribute to better indoor ventilation. 2 other models had a wider range of air flow rate adjustment of 32%, whereas the one with the least adjustment had a range of only 12%.

Apart from lowering the room temperature, the cooling capacity of air conditioners can also induce dehumidifying effect. Operating in a standard environment, the dehumidifying performance of different models varied. For the one with faster dehumidification, 29% of cooling capacity was utilized for dehumidification while the 3 models with the highest air flow rate only utilized about 20%, resulting in slower dehumidifying effect.

The safety test was conducted with reference to the international standard IEC60335-2-40. All models passed the test on items, including leakage current, earth continuity, internal wiring, electrical insulation and power cable fixing devices.

 Another crucial expenditure for air conditioners was warranty and maintenance fee. The Council found that most of the models offered a full warranty period of 3 years or above, with the exception of 2 which only provided 2 years. As for the warranty period for the compressor, all models were guaranteed for 5 years or more, with 2 providing permanent warranty. However, after the warranty period, the annual renewal fee ranged from $420 to $870, a difference of more than onefold. The model costs the most to renew only had a warranty period of 2 years, with the renewal fee ($870) equal to 27% of the price of a new product, this may affect consumers’ desire to renew the warranty.

For all models under warranty, the agents offered free on-site inspection service in the urban areas, but a surcharge may be imposed for users living in remote areas. However, after the warranty period expired, the on-site inspection fees ranged from $300 to $550 in the urban areas, representing a difference of 80%. Even within the warranty period, the service arrangement and charges varied widely. Taking air conditioner cleaning as an example, apart from the agent of 1 model which did not cover such service while another agent did not offer such service for clients in remote areas, all agents would provide cleaning service for urban users at a cost ranging from $380 to $1,200 – a vast disparity of more than twofold. The highest charging cleaning services ($1,200) took up 34% to 46% of original sale prices of the air conditioners. The agent of 1 model would even significantly double the service charge for cleaning after the warranty period.

Cleaning air conditioners regularly, such as engaging the agents or professional air conditioner cleaning companies to thoroughly clean the machine’s body and its internal parts every year, can ensure their highest performance. However, when hiring a cleaning company other than the agent, consumers should take due attention to the professional qualification of the company or technical personnel involved. Some companies would offer free warranty of 7 days to 3 months if the air conditioner still fails to perform its cooling function satisfactorily or has water dripping after cleaning.

It normally takes an hour to clean an air conditioner. It is worth noting that the outdoor unit of the split-type air conditioner is usually mounted on the outer wall of the building. If there is a need to clean this outdoor part, an application to the building management office is required, and it may even be necessary to set up scaffolding or effect road closure. Therefore, only the indoor unit of the air conditioner would generally be cleaned. As for the need to remove the body of the window-type air conditioner and convey it to the cleaning center for thorough clean-up, it will depend on the practice of different companies or the availability of space for cleaning at home. Consumers should consult the company concerned beforehand.

Consumers may refer to the following tips to make their air conditioners more durable and energy-saving:

-     The dust filter should be cleaned once or twice a month so as to effectively block the dust particles in the air and keep the air indoors fresh;

-     The cooling evaporator for the air conditioner should be free from obstruction with the air flow outlet kept clear of miscellaneous household items;

-     The temperature should be set at 25.5°C. The operation of an air conditioner should go with a running fan so as to increase air circulation, which can also save electricity and protect the environment;

-  The power switch should be turned off when the air conditioner is not in use;

-     If the air conditioner would not be used for a long time, remove the moisture inside with the fan function and then cover it with a wrapper.

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