Energy Adviser: Washer, dryer technology update

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Ever wonder how many loads of laundry the average American family washes in a year? Try 300. That’s the estimate from www.energystar.gov, a website maintained by the U.S. Department of Energy that gives consumers energy cost information on appliances and products.

Heating water for bathing and washing clothes represents about 14 percent of overall energy use in a home. So if you are in the market for a new clothes washer and a dryer, check out machines with the latest energy-saving technology. Even if they cost more to buy, you could save significantly on energy down the road.

“Generally, the higher-tech units use less energy, but not always,” said Bob West, an energy adviser at Clark Public Utilities. “Look into ratings from Consumer Reports, read up on performance durability and compare energy-saving trade-offs before buying.”

Most Energy Star-qualified clothes washers do not have a central agitator. Front-loaders tumble clothes through a small amount of water instead of rubbing clothes against an agitator in a full tub. Advanced top loaders flip or spin clothes through a reduced stream of water. Both designs reduce the amount of hot water used in the wash cycle and the amount of energy used to heat it.

Efficient motors spin clothes two to three times faster during the washer’s spin cycle to extract more water. Less moisture in the clothes means less time and energy in the dryer.

Prices have increased as more sophisticated technology has gone into washers. A few years ago, a new washer cost $275 to $350. They now range from $398 for a Maytag 4-cubic-foot model to $799 for larger machines with more features.

Clothes washers that have earned the Energy Star rating have a greater tub capacity, which means it takes fewer loads to clean the same amount of laundry. A full-sized clothes washer uses 14 gallons of water per load, compared to the 27 gallons used by a standard machine. That’s 50 percent less water per load. Over the machine’s lifetime, that’s a savings of 43,000 gallons of water. On average, a new qualified clothes washer uses 270 kilowatt-hours of electricity and costs $60 to run each year.

Using cold water rather than hot water also can make a big difference. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that water heating consumes about 90 percent of the energy it takes to operate a clothes washer. Unless you’re dealing with oily stains, cold water will generally do a good job of cleaning. Switching from using the warm/warm or hot/cold setting to cold/cold could save you up to $117 a year in electrical power costs and $80 a year in natural gas costs.

No ratings for dryers

Energy Star does not label clothes dryers because most use similar amounts of energy — there is little to compare. Neither does the Federal Trade Commission require clothes dryers to have a yellow EnergyGuide label.

Consumers can reduce the amount of energy their clothes dryer uses by buying one with a moisture sensor, which allows a dryer to automatically shut off when clothes are dry. Air dry clothes whenever possible.

Energy facts: An estimated 84 million top-loading washers with agitators, 24 million of which are at least 10 years old, are in use across the country. Washers manufactured before 1998 are significantly less efficient than newer models, and cost consumers $2.6 billion each year in energy and water, according to Energystar.gov.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities with input from utility energy counselors, who provide conservation and energy use information to utility customers. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, in care of Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA. 98668. Past topics are available at www.clarkpublicutilities.com