/ Home & Energy

10 eco gadgets you don’t need

Gift wrapped in recycled paper

With rising energy bills, there’s never been a better time to save energy. There’s a plethora of eco products that promise to slash your power, heating or water bills, but our tests reveal that not all of them deliver.

Have you ever bought an ‘eco gadget’ that was supposed to save you energy or water but just didn’t stand up to its claim or is still in its box because you haven’t got round to installing it yet…

‘Standby savers’, eco shower heads, ‘Radiator boosters’ and hippo bags for your toilet cistern are just a few of the products on offer, but which ones will really help you save water and energy?

Are all eco products worth their money and do you really need to spend money fitting your house with all these gadgets? Is it not just easier and cheaper to change our behaviour and rectify some ‘bad habits’ we all have in wasting energy and water, or is a combination of both the best way?

Not worth the money

We set about finding the answer to some of these questions this month, revealing the 10 eco products that are not worth buying. Why? Because our tests showed they either don’t live up to their energy-saving claims or because there are cheaper ways of achieving the same saving.

During our tests we found that one product, the Ecotek Energy Wizard, actually did the opposite of what it claims to do – it increased the power used by a plasma TV or stereo. And we found that two disposable battery chargers didn’t do the job effectively – but they could cost you up to £35.

One user whose home didn’t have high water pressure found that the water-saving shower head they tried only provided a disappointing trickle of water to wash under.

Good (and cheap) alternatives

As well as revealing the eco products that we think you’re better off avoiding, we’ve also featured 10 good alternatives and money-saving ideas. Some of them won’t even cost you a penny.

1. The Ecobutton. Savings: variable
The Ecobutton (£15) plugs into your computer. When pressed, it puts it into energy-saving mode and tells you how much you have saved.
2. Energy monitors. Savings: £25 to £75 a year
Energy monitors will show you how you use electricity in your home and help you cut your electricity bill.
3. Energy saving light bulbs. Savings: around £45 a year
These have improved a lot over the years and are an easy way to save. Their payback time is quite fast too.
4. Rechargeable batteries. Savings: about £500 over 100 charges
A smart battery charger and some good hybrid rechargeable batteries could save you lots over the years.
5. Radiator Booster. Savings: variable
Sits on top of your radiator and draws up the heat lost behind the radiator to distribute it in the room.
6. Insulation. Savings: up to £145 a year
The best longer-term way to save by stopping the heat escaping. Loft and wall insulation can even be free!
7. Double glazing. Savings: about £140 a year
Replacing old draughty windows for double glazing is not so cheap initially but will save on your heating bills for years.
8. Free water saving gadgets. Savings: variable
Check with your water companies for free water-saving gadgets and devices like Hippo bags and flow-reducers.
9. Fix it. Savings: around £18 a year
Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth and fixing dripping taps can save you water and money.
10. Turn it down. Savings: up to £50 a year
Turning your thermostat down by one degree in winter can save you up to £50 a year.

Your eco-saving experiences

There are still effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint along with your energy bills. Have you got an eco product that really helps you to save money or a simple action we can all take that can save energy?

Or maybe you’ve had disappointing results with a product that should be added to our ‘not worth buying’ list?

Comments
Guest
Fat Sam, Glos says:
18 July 2011

I’m surprised you’re plugging the Ecobutton – most computers and laptops since about XP have power-saving features built-in – like putting the computer to sleep/hibernation or turning of the screen or slowing down the processor/lowering screen brightness if you’re running on battery only. Better to use these than waste money on a product designed to do this (a waste of energy in itself).

I’m always that major manufacturers still don’t incorporate an Off button – how long have we known about the effects of leaving appliances in stand-by – admittedly, the savings aren’t huge. Sometimes, however, you don’t get a choice of say, a Sky or Virgin Media box. My Virgin Media box is terrible in stand-by (over 20W) but the only way to switch it Off off is pulling the plug behind the TV – not practical every night or when you have programs to record.

Are manufacturers just totally dim or are we, as a nation, not too bothered and don’t demand these standards enough?

Guest

Absolutely agree Fat Sam Glos – and I have said on a different convo earlier this year that I think Which? (and others) should be campaigning for a law to make it illegal to sell any appliance without a “hard off” switch.

I’m not going to get on my soap box about LG washing Machines, the Energy Saving Trust or Condensing Boilers, but if anyone wants proof of how spending huge sums on supposedly eco-friendly appliances is a dead loss, see earlier convo’s on similar topics where I have posted at length (or if you are desperate post a request on here and I’ll re-post the lot if anyone really wants me to).

Bottom line: if it’s not in use, switch it off at the wall (or pull the plug out); never replace a working older appliance with a new one in the hope of saving energy – you won’t (and even “The Experts” admit this under pressure) and don’t waste energy by trying to live in a tropical climate rather than waring seasonally suitable clothes. I’ve saved far more by these three rules than anyone I know who has bought “eco gadgets”.

Guest

Well said Dave.

Guest

Technologically, how difficult can it be to have a real ‘Off’ button your remote control?

I accept that you can’t then have an ‘On’ button on the remote (because the appliance has to be in some kind of ‘On’ mode in order to be able to receive the signal from the remote) but it’s hardly any effort to switch something back on with a hard ‘on’ button on the appliance.

Guest

erm, please excuse my unfortunate choice of words!

(blush!)

Guest

In the 1970s we had some TVs with remote controls that controlled the volume and channel, and had an off button that made the on/off button on the TV pop out. To switch on again, you had to stand up, walk to the TV and press the button. That would be unthinkable in the 21st century (but might be a jolly good idea).

The TVs I’m referring to were, I believe, made in Britain by British companies. How quaint.

Guest
John says:
20 July 2011

its not hard to do this. you can buy power sockets which do this for you and turn off everything else connected to this plug – games console, DVD player etc… or standby other devices such as sky box or pvr.
So, it wouldn’t be hard for TV manufactures to do this for you…

Guest

I’m surprised you haven’t joined in our Conversation on this very issue Fat Sam! https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/tvs-on-standby-without-an-on-off-switch/

Guest

@wavechange – that is exactly what I meant, yes!

@patrick – I will investigate 🙂

Guest
Rose says:
19 July 2011

Our washing machine has an “eco sensor” for the amount of water to put in when it rinses. The result is frothy clothes/towels etc that I then have to rinse in the washing machine one or two more times to get them even moderately froth-free (and that’s with us putting in detergent that’s just a fraction of the amount the container tells us to put in!). A good test is to fill up the sink then rinse a newly washed flannel in it. Then continue for about 10 mins until it’s sufficiently froth-free to use (especially if you have sensitive skin!).
I’m also not convinced about condenser boilers (one of which we had installed on recommendations from just about everyone when our previous boiler “died”). We have to run our hot water taps for so long to get the hot water through (which is then scalding hot as we don’t have mixer taps!), that we were wasting huge amounts of water and now just use the cold tap instead!
I agree re turning down the thermostat. We’ve had ours at about 18 degrees for years and it’s reflected in our gas usage when compared with other local houses’ averages. We always tell our visitors to bring something warm when they come round in the winter (we’re quite comfortable in autumn/spring clothing, not even needing thick jumpers) but our friends have their thermostats set at about 25 degrees and sit around in sleeveless (summer type!) tops and t shirts in the depths of winter so it’s no wonder they feel cold in our house!

Guest
John says:
20 July 2011

Your right about a combi boiler (of which your condensing boiler is a type of). However, most new houses (last 5 years or so) use a condensing boiler to heat a tank of water which is then used for your hot taps, resulting in much quicker hot water than a standard combi boiler. The boiler also heats the radiators, so you can set it to heat the tank at the same time as the radiators come on in the winter. This is basically a new version of what boilers used to be like before combi boilers came along.

Also, most new toilet flushes have a double flush – with two buttons on the top, one inside the other. Pressing the larger button just does a small flush – suitable for the yellow stuff. Pressing the smaller button (inside the big one) results in a larger flush which will flush away anything. Much better than a standard water saving cistern or putting a brick in the cistern.

Guest

Agree with John – especially on his point about boilers: combi’s have always been and will doubtless continue to be utter rubbish. If they were marketed as the 20th/21st century equivalent of the Ascot over-sink heater (which is essentially what they are) no one would have ever touched them.

As for toilets, I know I am incredibly the “odd one out” but I still have a high level flush toilet with a chain hanging down – it uses less than a gallon of water (around 4 litres) for a flush but the force of water due to the height of the cistern means that nothing is ever left in the pan.

We can’t expect everyone to install a high level cistern (most modern houses wouldn’t be able to fit them in) but I’m just making the point that actually water saving is not a new thing at all – technologically or economically.

Guest
Rose says:
19 July 2011

Forgot to mention the water-saving loo cistern, too, that we have to flush twice if we want whatever’s in the loo to disappear!

Guest

whatever happened to good old common sense in saving water?
we used to put a brick in our toilet tank and still do share baths

Guest
John says:
20 July 2011

Aren’t showers much better for water usage?

Guest
Matt Cody says:
20 July 2011

It has come to our attention that the VPhase product has been mentioned in a recent Which? test. We have been in communication with Which? as regards the tests carried out by Which? and whether these were fair and appropriate.

It is our position that Which? failed to test the VPhase against the appliances in the home that not only use the most electricity, but also that can save the most from having their voltage optimised, such as fridges, freezers, central heating pumps, TVs and computers.

The test also seems to have failed to take into account that the product is hard-wired into the fabric of the building and therefore does not require any change in lifestyle or behaviour by the home owner.

With the extensive testing we have conducted with Ofgem and other organisations we remain very confident about our savings claims. The VPhase is designed for a life of at least 25 years, and we consider a period of 3 to 5 years for the product to pay for itself to be reasonable, particularly in light of current increases in electricity prices.

The product comes with a 5 year warranty so that there is no risk to the home owner of the product not working within this 3 to 5 year period.

In the context of other energy saving technologies, such as solar PV systems, loft insulation, or heat pumps – the payback periods and energy savings are very competitive.

As a company we are committed to providing to home owners what we believe is one of the greenest energy saving devices on the market at this price point.

[Personal details removed by mods – we don’t encourage personal phone numbers to be left, however if you want to contact VPhase you can do it by visiting their own website]

Guest
Longley Shopper says:
20 July 2011

As a point of interest my place of work has a device under a different brand name which claims to save energy by the same method as the VPhase.

In the two year’s we’ve had it it doesn’t appear to have saved any energy as far as we can tell, but we have had endless problems with refrigeration systems failing, till systems crashing and computer UPS (uninterruptible Power Supplies) shutting down. IN all cases there has been a recommendation from the relevant service bodies that the equipment concerned be supplied by a separate power supply which does not come through that equipment. We are now planning the removal of the equipment which will involve the temporary shut down of the whole building as our equipment is fitted at the supply source in our sub-station.

It may well be that Matt’s VPhase device is much better than the device we have and it may also be that savings are possible on domestic supplies but harder or impossible to achieve on commercial supplies, but I have to say that I would not be willing to try VPhase or anything similar in my own home now.

Guest

Hello

A point of clarification about our testing of the VPhase for our reader: we have been in communication with VPahse as Matt mentioned in his post above and do remain of the view that we think the VPhase does not provide value for money.

We tested the Vphase in a lab with a range of electrical equipment, including lighting, a plasma TV and a vacuum cleaner in order to quantify the savings that can be achieved with various electrical loads. We found that the device helped saved some energy but at £300 would take a long time to pay back for an average household electrical consumption. There are alternative cheaper ways to save electricity in the home.

Guest
Matt Cody says:
20 July 2011

The primary point of contention here is that you have tested the VPhase in an environment in which it is not designed to be used. The VPhase, unlike the other products in the test, is designed to be hard-wired into the fabric of a building by a professional electrician and will optimise the voltage for the entire house (excluding the resistive heating circuits, as outlined in the installation instructions). In the context of other similar energy saving measures that are integrated into the fabric of the building, such as solar PV systems or heat pumps – not only is the VPhase voltage optimisation device significantly cheaper, but it offers a much quicker payback period and is more effective in terms of “£ saved per £ spent”. As already outlined in our earlier response – the VPhase is expected to have a payback period of between 3-5 years; and with a 25+ year life, we consider this payback period to be more than reasonable. Finally, we don’t think your testing environment is representative of a typical energy profile of a home and is therefore not a good indication for consumers to base their decisions on. The various, independently verified results that have considered whole-house applications are much more relevant and accurate, and can stand up to technical scrutiny.

Guest

Hi Matt, thanks for posting your comments, we’re always glad to welcome companies to the discussion, however we have responded to all your concerns directly and feel this is taking the discussion off-topic.

So, back on-track, what are people’s ideas and tips to save energy and water in the home? Have you used a good product we haven’t thought of?

Guest
energyman says:
21 July 2011

Would it please be possible for you to post how Much is “some” when describing the energy savings of the vphase unit, when it isn’t used with heating devices..? Does it save the 5-15% as suggested?

Tw

Guest

Hi

In our testing, the savings from the VPhase varied between 4% and 20% depending what it was connected to. The total saving on your bill will depend on the voltage coming into your house and what electrical devices you have in your house.
The VPhase website has quite a long list of elecrical savings that can be achieved for various products in the homes.
And look at your electricity bill. How much does 10% of it represent? And therefore how long would it take you to pay back the Vphase?
Average electricity bill (Ofgem data) are £424 per year. 10% would therefore be £42.40. And the VPhase sells at £300.
We think there are other ways you could easily save £40 a year on your electricity bill without spending £300.
For example: have you fitted energy-saving light bulbs everywhere possible in your home? Do you switch things off at the mains and do not leave chargers on when not in use? Do you use your appliances efficiently?

Guest

Can you explain why creating a double glazed window using “Stormguard Window Insulation Kit ” a plastic film for £8 apparently doesnt save energy or money but creating a double glazed window by using another sheet of glass as in normal double glazing for £100’s does save energy and money .

Guest

Hello

The proporties of glass versus a thin film of plastic are quite different when it comes to heat transfer and heat loss. In addition the thickness of that material (a sheet of glass is much thicker) will also play a role. This is why 2 sheets of glass (with air trapped in between) will work better at stopping heat escaping than a sheet of glass and of thin plastic.

Guest

Double glazing works by using the insulating properties of the layer of still air trapped between the two surfaces . The heat conducting properties of the surfaces have little impact -also plastic has a lower conductivity than glass .
I’m not suggesting that glass double glazing is not better but that dismissing the use of plastic film all together is flawed – can you provide the actual test results and conditions used ?

Guest
Phil says:
22 July 2011

We are happy with our Mira Eco Shower Head. When we needed a replacement shower head for our Mira shower, buying it didn’t cost much more than buying a conventional Mira Shower Head. Although it is a bit noisy that doesn’t bother us. We were more concerned to reduce our oil bill than our water bill. The saving in hot water should reduce our oil bill significantly and reduce our carbon footprint.

Guest

I am alarmed that the energyEGG did not undergo the testing one would expect from Which and which your readers would have expected to be carried out. Rather, its functions are inaccurately described and the product rubbished, causing a small start-up company potentially irreparable damage.

I note the following:
1. The online content has been changed twice since you were alerted to this problem. This demonstrates that post-publication you still did not appreciate the core function of the product you were reviewing but still made damaging and untrue comments.

2. The revised ‘shock’ comment now does not make sense. It is the operation the product is designed to do. Why, therefore, would your tester get a shock. Surely if they had read the instructions or had the most rudimentary understanding of the energyegg they would expect this to happen?

3. The second view regarding the payback also demonstrates a lack of understanding about the product. It is intended to switch products off when they have been left ON. The fact that it will handle standby is a secondary benefit. Surely, you can appreciate there is a lot to be saved from appliances that are accidentally left ON

There are many other features to our product that will save the consumer money. In short you have published extremely damaging and erroneous comments in a publication which for many is the epitome for credibility and integrity as far consumer journalism goes.

Guest

Hello Pete

thanks for posting your comments, we’re always glad to welcome companies to the discussion. We are responding to all your concerns directly and have added clarification to our online content and will clarify in our next issue of the magazine also.

Yes, the energyEgg switched things off completeley as well as from standby. Consumers should calculate, depending on what they connect to the energyEgg socket, how long it will take them to pay back the £40. The alternative of course is to switch things off manually before leaving the room, and that would cost nothing.

Consumers can use the calculator provided on the energyEgg website to evaluate the payback time before making a decision. It is worth notning also that the energyEgg comes with one socket only and to connect more than appliance, consumers would have to use multi sockets or purchase additional sockets.

Sylvia

Guest

Sylvia

Once again your reporting is bias and only looking in one direction. The energyEgg is used when people accidently forget to switch the appliance off.. Even I’ve been known to fall asleep in front of the TV, wasting valuable energy with TV, DVD or SKY box consuming at full rate. Possibly for hours.. The Egg works by detecting movement in the room..

Most consumers will have a multi block socket which they can plug into the adapter so multiple items can be controled at the sametime.. They can also purchase a 2nd adapter for £6.99

You should really try the product yourself in your home and see how much you waste before putting this scottish product down

Pete

Guest

How about making smart meters number eleven on the list?
They won’t actually save you a penny but they will collectively cost us all £11 billion.
Yet “Which” supports they roll out, but I’ve yet to hear a plausible justification for that support.
I think (as I believe do many others) “which” has got it wrong this time. However I invite “which” to comment, justify this support and convince me I’m wrong.
How about it?

Guest

Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. Just to let you know that we have another thread running about smart meters at the moment – do leave your comment there as it will be more on-topic! Thanks

Guest

It is amazing how much water we have saved by my husband installing a large oil tank to collect rain water to flush the loo. Water rates dropped from £22 pm to £5 pm and there are only 2 of us in our bungalow. I know the tank was pricey but it has paid for itself now (2 years on). We also have solar panels – admittedly not on a feed in tariff but as one of us is always here in the day we make the most of it. Next step is solar thermal if they will put them on the rear of the property where we get the hottest afternoon sun.

Guest
Adam says:
18 January 2012

Did come looking to see if you had any radiator reflector comparisons as I’m about to buy some for the cold weather. Could be an article for you in teh future?