Justin Binks, managing director of Sebo UK, looks at how the next phase of EU legislation on energy labelling, brought into force of September 1, will hamper vacuum cleaner performance and lead to a mad dash of consumers wanting to snap up current, higher wattage models while they still can
For the second time in three years, the vacuum cleaner industry is tasked with meeting the requirements of new EU energy labelling that will see a reduction in the rated input power of vacuum cleaners.
Potentially this, and other requirements relating to the design and testing of vacuum cleaners, will have an impact on the performance of some machines and consequent user satisfaction.
Now, the rated input power of vacuum cleaners has been reduced from 1,600W to less than 900W. At the same time, the annual energy consumption must be less than 43kWh. Again this is a reduction, down from the 62kWh level that was set in 2014. Further requirements relate to dust pick-up on carpets and hard floors, dust re-emission, sound levels, motor lifetime and, if there is one, the durability of the hose. At the same time, A+++, A++ and A+ energy bands have been introduced to the label while the poorly performing E, F and G bands are no longer shown.
As with previous legislation, the most controversial element is how the tests are carried out to determine the relative performance of different vacuum cleaners. Unfortunately, these tests are unrealistic and do not represent real-life cleaning situations.
In introducing the latest labelling, an opportunity has been missed to revise the testing protocols to ensure end-users have the true facts. Instead, purchasers of vacuum cleaners are being misled and are unable to make the informed buying decisions necessary for them to end up with the machines they need and want.
Most vacuum cleaners are used to collect fluff, hair and fibre but, bizarrely, the pick-up tests specify that a special type of sand is employed to represent debris. In addition, the test for hard floors requires that the machine be capable of removing dirt from a 3mm wide, 10mm deep crevice. Surprisingly, there is no requirement to actually clean the surface of the floor. With this in mind, it is predictable that some manufacturers are designing vacuum cleaners that look good from a rating perspective but are hard to use and are poor at cleaning, since the head ‘sticks’ to the floor.
Seeking to make appliances more energy-efficient is obviously a good thing, but manufacturers should be allowed to use their design and manufacturing skills to produce versatile and effective machines that answer the needs of end-users in terms of performance, reliability and ease of use within prescribed levels of energy use.
To take the analogy of a car, emissions are regulated, but there is nothing to say that it has to be able to go from 0 to 60 in so many seconds or be able to traverse a 30-degree slope that has an inch of ice on it. These factors are down to the manufacturer and are among the selling points that differentiate models and marques. Vacuum cleaners may not be as sexy as cars, but it is still performance that counts.