Posts Tagged ‘home appliances’

With refrigerators, bigger is better in more ways than you think

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

High end: a 603-liter refrigerator with a five-star rating and 244 percent energy efficiency that uses ¥5,500 of electricity a year

High end: a 603-liter refrigerator with a five-star rating and 244 percent energy efficiency that uses ¥5,500 of electricity a year

Over the past decade or so our diet has changed slightly. We almost never eat meat at home and have gradually eliminated most dairy products. Consequently, the volume of food in our refrigerator has decreased over time, and since we bought it in 2002 it is already considered obsolete, inefficient even. Refrigeration technology has improved markedly in the past 10 years to the point that devices made now use as little as one-fourth the amount of energy used by an equivalent sized refrigerator made in the ’80s or ’90s. And since we are contemplating moving sometime in the future we decided it might be a good idea to buy a new, smaller model when we do in order to take advantage of this greater efficiency.

So we went to our local discount electronics store and looked at all the models. Of course, smaller refrigerators cost less than larger ones, but when we looked at the energy consumption specifications we became confused. The bigger the volume of the refrigerator, the less energy it used. In some comparisons the difference was startling. If you look on the inside of the main compartment door of a refrigerator there is a sticker with the pertinent specifications, one of which is the average amount of kilowatts the appliance uses in a given year when operating continuously. We saw one 500-liter model that used only 40 percent of the energy that a 350-liter model used. The manufacturers make the comparison even easier by printing the average amount of money you will pay in electricity for a year on the outside of a given model. Moreover, there are star ratings, from one to five, that indicate energy efficiency in relative terms, with five stars indicating the most efficient.

We asked a salesman if there was a smaller refrigerator that was as efficient as a large one and he quickly said there wasn’t. The difference he said was that larger refrigerators used inverters to control the operation of the compressors in a smoother fashion, while smaller refrigerators used conventional compressors that simply went on and off to control interior temperatures. The inverter, however, also makes the refrigerator itself more expensive. When we said our present refrigerator was 415 liters and that we wanted something smaller, he said rather presumptuously, “I can tell you which size you need.”

Since we aren’t newlyweds and found his manner condescending we decided to look into the matter ourselves. The star system is administered by the Energy Conservation Center of Japan, a government organ, and is based on the energy savings achievement rate (sho-ene taseiritsu) established by the 2006 Energy Conservation Law. The unit used for comparison’s sake is Annual Performance Factor, a means of measuring energy efficiency. In order to come up with an efficiency rating, the ECCJ currently uses “the most efficient product” on the market in terms of energy consumption in 2010. The efficiency percentages on the store sticker are based on APF and thus only indicate relative values. For instance, an energy efficiency finding of 110 percent means that the model is 10 percent more efficient than the 2010 model chosen by the ECCJ as the standard, and which is not publicly disclosed. The stars are more or less a means of making these comparisons even easier. However, comparing refrigerator prices against money saved on electricity bills may require a certain algebraic capability that most consumers don’t possess or, if they do, probably don’t want to bother with.

Conventional compressors, which use electricity and chemicals to cool the interior of the refrigerator, turn off when the desired temperature is reached and then turn on again when the temperature rises above that level. It takes a lot of energy to turn a compressor on. The inverter works on a kind of fuzzy logic principle. It keeps the compressor working all the time but at variable levels, using less energy in the process. It also produces much less noise since conventional compressors tend to get loud when they start up again. That’s why an older refrigerator, or a smaller new one, suddenly kicks into high gear whenever you open the door. An inverter will add at least ¥20,000 to the price of a refrigerator, and according to one website we saw electronics manufacturers don’t think people will buy smaller refrigerators if the price is above a certain threshold, so they don’t bother putting inverters in them.

Of course, some people simply think that the small-big energy-saving paradox is a scheme by these manufacturers to compel consumers to buy refrigerators that may be too big for their homes or their needs, since profit margins rise almost exponentially with the price of the unit. If that’s the case then it seems to be working. Last year, the only household appliances whose recycling rates increased were air conditioners (up 0.8 percent) and refrigerators (2.7 percent).

Automatic dishwashers: the square peg in the round hole of Japanese kitchens

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Redundant? Dish dryers that also disinfect

A Japanese non-profit organization called the Housekeeping Association recently conducted a survey of “married women” about the appliances they have purchased over the years. Among the association’s findings was a ranking of appliances in terms of effective usage. They asked the 3,900 respondents to rate appliances in terms of what they expected of them and then whether or not those expectations were met. The greatest degree of “disappointment” was registered for automatic dishwashers, followed by clothes dryers and bread-making machines.

One of the reasons dishwashing machines fared poorly in the survey is that dishwashing itself was deemed by 78.8 percent of the respondents to be one of the “most important housekeeping chores.” In addition, 75.4 percent of the women who owned dishwashers said they found it “stressful” when a load of dishes did not seem to be clean after using the appliance. Consequently, they would have to clean each dish, glass or piece of flatware by hand, rendering the appliance virtually useless. And since as an appliance the dishwasher also used lots of energy and water, it became even more of a wasteful piece of equipment. After all, the reason these women bought the dishwasher was to save time.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, only 26.9 percent of Japanese households have dishwashers, as opposed to about 62 percent of American households (as of 2007). The reason is mainly space, which Japanese kitchens have less of, but also the running expense, since, as implied by the responses to the above-mentioned survey, they require a lot of energy and water. This is also one of the reasons clothes dryers are not so common in Japanese homes — the electricity costs — but, of course, the main reason clothes dryers aren’t popular is that Japanese prefer hang drying clothes, as evidenced by the fact that almost every residence in Japan incorporates some sort of facility for a drying pole, such as a veranda. The belief is that sun drying disinfects clothing and heat drying does not.

Similarly, many Japanese belief that it is healthier to allow dishes to dry naturally, which is why in addition to table-top dishwashers there are also table-top dish-dryers, an appliance that Americans, at least, would probably find redundant. Many Japanese homemakers do not like to towel dry dishes, believing it to be unsanitary, so they either leave them out to dry naturally, or they dry them in dish-dryers.

Nevertheless, appliance makers, always on the lookout for something new to market, have made a concerted effort to sell electric dishwashers to the Japanese. In America, new homes come with dishwashers, usually as a standard built-in feature. Very few in Japan do, and in almost all cases they are an expensive option. Most dishwasher owners have the table-top type, which takes up a lot of room and requires unsightly hoses and electrical cables, which most likely compound the feeling of dissatisfaction.

Another aspect of Japanese living that makes dishwashers expensive is that, unlike in the U.S. where users do not run the dishwasher until it is full, Japanese homemakers prefer to clean up after every meal. That means the dishwasher could be used as much as twice or even three times a day.

Recycling rackets poised to make a killing at New Year’s

Friday, December 24th, 2010

With the danshari fad peaking, the custom of New Years housecleaning (osoji) becomes more urgent, which could mean bigger piles of garbage at the curb and more calls to local government offices for “oversized refuse” (sodaigomi) pickups. It should also mean a higher than usual spike in business for independent haikibutsu shori (waste disposal) companies, and it seems the authorities are keeping an eye on the situation. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, over the past several months police in four prefectures have arrested representatives of 13 waste disposal companies for collecting refuse without the proper licenses.

Bring out your dead!

These companies are rackets. They slowly patrol residential areas in small pickup trucks equipped with loudspeaker systems, offering to cart away broken or unused household appliances. What often happens is that someone flags down the truck and says he has some things he wishes to dispose of. The driver picks up the items and places them in the back of the truck and then demands a fee that is much higher than the owner of the items expected; if, in fact, he expected to pay a fee at all. Sometimes, the recorded announcements vaguely imply that there is no charge, though they are careful not to actually use the word “muryo” (free). This practice is known as “sakizumi,” or “pre-loading,” meaning the removal fee is quoted after the item is put on the truck. According to police, the fee is sometimes as much as ¥30,000 or even ¥50,000 per item. Of course, the person could simply refuse to pay and remove the item from the back of the truck, but that might be very difficult if the item is a washing machine or some other heavy appliance. In any case, most of these victims are embarrassed and intimidated (the drivers are often described as being rough in appearance and manner) and just pay. The companies seem to purposely target older residents. (It should be pointed out that not all recycling companies that patrol neighborhoods in small trucks are rackets, but it should also be pointed out that few of them, despite what they say in their flyers, will take your stuff for free.)

Continue reading about recycling scams →

Electronics retailers likely to phase out point systems

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Yamada's Nabi store in Shibuya

Yamada's Labi store in Shibuya

Thanks to the eco-point campaign implemented by the government to spur consumption and encourage the use of “green” appliances, electronics retailers have enjoyed a banner year. Almost every one has seen record sales. The upstart Yamada leads the pack, with ¥1.14 trillion in revenues for the first half of the fiscal year (April-September), the first time any electronics retailer has broken the trillion-yen mark for a six-month period. That translates as ¥47 billion in business profits, an 87 percent increase over 2009, and ¥28 billion in net profits, a 72 percent increase over the same period last year.

The eco-point system, which rewards consumers who buy certain energy-saving goods with points that can be redeemed for other goods later on, is the reason for this windfall, but retailers are worried that sales will drop considerably after Dec. 1, when the number of points allowed per purchase will be cut in half. Retailers are making a big push before then, and competition is fierce. The real fear is not so much the loss of the eco-point incentive, which is scheduled to end altogether in March, but that the incentive itself has been so successful people won’t want or need to buy anything after it’s finished.

Continue reading about the phasing out of point systems →

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