Consumer protection in Hong Kong

New Consumer Council study shows Hong Kong shoppers are wasting their money on most expensive air conditioners

Costliest model gets lowest score in council’s study, while cheapest option ranks among best on the market

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2018, 9:31pm

A Hong Kong summer can make you hot under the collar so the decision to blow some extra cash on a good air conditioning unit may seem like a cool idea.

However, it might be that the HK$1,000 or more you paid was a waste of money – especially if you bought one of the HK$5,280 (US$670) models out there.

A new Consumer Council study, released on Tuesday, ranked 15 of the most popular units on the market, and found the city’s shoppers are not always getting what they pay for.

The test focused on fixed-capacity, cooling-only, window-type air conditioners, the most common type installed in Hong Kong homes, priced from HK$2,880 to HK$5,280.

Looking at cooling capacity, energy efficiency, noise level, air delivery capacity, dehumidifying performance, safety and convenience of use, the study awarded marks out of five. The results were surprising.

Of the 15, eight models got 4 points for overall performance, six managed 3.5, while Hitachi’s unit, the most expensive in the study, was given a dismal 3 points. In contrast, Frostar’s HK$2,880 model ranked among those at the top end of the scale.

“[The result] affirms that price is not necessarily indicative of quality,” the council said in a press release.

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Au Yeung Yiu-nam, a senior lecturer in the department of real estate and facilities management at the Institute of Vocational Education (Morrison Hill), noted that in deciding what air conditioner to buy, consumers should consider several factors, such as the size of the room and what direction the windows face.

“If you get an air conditioner with too high a capacity, it is not good either, as the thermostat will end up switching on and off more when the temperature reaches a suitable range,” he said. 

Experts generally recommend a 0.75 horsepower unit for a 6 square metre room, while 7.4 square metres requires 1hp.

Au Yeung noted the amount of heat that needs to be removed from a space to maintain an acceptable temperature is higher if the windows face west.

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The study also found that all but one model fell short of its claimed cooling capacity by 1.7 to 7.1 per cent.

The discrepancy was within the internationally acceptable limit of 10 per cent, provided in the Code of Practice on Energy Labelling of Products.

However, Clement Chan Kam-wing, chairman of the council’s publicity and community relations committee, said manufactures should provide accurate information to consumers.

While all models were displayed with the Grade 1 energy label, six models failed to measure up the required energy efficiency standard, with five samples actually Grade 2 and one even Grade 3.

Chan also noted that while in most cases retailers offered a three-year warranty or longer, two models only came with a one-year warranty. The annual fee for warranty renewal varied from HK$420 to HK$870.

Hong Kong’s obsession with air conditioning is bad for us all

During the initial warranty period, house inspection of the appliance was free in urban areas. But charges were applied for remote areas. Some businesses even required that the appliance be sent to an urban centre for free inspection which, Chan said, imposed great difficulty on consumers. 

After a warranty expires, charges for house inspection in urban areas was between HK$350 and HK$500.

“Generally, consumers have little or no knowledge about electric components or parts. They are in a passive role about the choice or charges of after-sales services,” Chan said.

“The council hopes agents and traders can offer a much longer warranty period, and lower charges, for annual warranty extension and maintenance, so as to encourage consumers to repair and use the products for as long as possible in the interest of sustainable consumption.” 

Consumer Council tips on air conditioner use

Avoid installing air conditioners in places where there is direct sunlight;

Do not block the air flow in our out of the machines;

In spring or early summer, try to operate the air conditioner on its dehumidifying mode for both dehumidifying and cooling purposes, to save energy

Clean the dust filter and air vent every two weeks during summer to prevent blockages, which affect performance;

Hire an experienced mechanic for inspection, maintenance and repairs at regular intervals