Energy Adviser: Washer, dryer lighten energy load

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If we wanted to be 100 percent energy efficient doing our laundry, we'd still be using scrub boards and clotheslines. Yet, few do. Both are too labor intensive and time consuming. They just don't deliver the convenience we like. And, in the Pacific Northwest, our portion of sunshine is a bit unpredictable.

About a hundred years ago, electric washers and dryers lightened the laundry load. But using electricity shifted the laundry equation. Electric models decreased the time and labor to do laundry, but increased the energy used. They also increased the amount of laundry we could wash and dry.

Today our nation's washers and dryers tend to use more energy than other countries that more recently moved their laundry effort indoors. Our appliances also hold the world's biggest loads.

Since 1992, the Energy Star voluntary labeling program has helped manufacturers assist consumers in identifying more energy-efficient appliances. On average, washers today touting the Energy Star label cost $85 a year to run and consume just 15 gallons of water per load.

Clark Public Utilities offers a $50 rebate on energy-efficient clothes washers purchased from participating retailers in Clark County and labeled with a 2.2 modified energy factor or above Energy Star rating. Find the listing of these retailers by searching for "clothes washer" on the utility's website and then clicking on the rebate listing.

"If customers have questions about energy-efficient washer rebates, or any of the rebates the utility offers, they should consult the Energy Counselor of the Day at 360-992-3355. Then when shopping, the retailer will be able to point out which models qualify for the rebate," said DuWayne Dunham, energy counselor for the utility.

Dryers

"All dryers sold in the U.S. use about the same design and consume nearly the same amount of energy," said Mark Rehley, senior manager of emerging technology at the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. "Only one European dryer has an Energy Star rating and it uses heat pump technology. It's about 50 percent efficient, but dries clothes slower than those purchased in this country." No dryer is Energy Star certified in this country.

European consumers are buying ventless dryers with new heat pump or condenser technologies, because their older buildings lack the ductwork found here, Rehley said. With no output vent, these dryers recycle the moist air rather than blowing it outside. Recycling the air makes both designs bulkier than U.S. dryers. Their load capacity also tends to shrink a bit and their drying time is longer. As far as energy consumption goes, heat pump dryers use about half the energy per load of condenser or conventional dryers.

But is there a market for ventless dryers here? You'll have to wait and see. Last year Energy Star released criteria for an emerging technology award for advanced clothes dryers. It wants to offer U.S. manufacturers incentives for designing more efficient dryers. As yet, the award goes unclaimed. The Environmental Protection Agency also is exploring whether there is a U.S. market for compact heat pump dryers.

If you don't plan on purchasing an Energy Star-qualifying washer in the near future, try saving energy on laundry day other ways. Wash only full loads in cold water. Dry full loads too. Clean the dryer filter often and check to see the venting tube isn't clogged with lint. When the sun shines, consider drying your clothes outdoors.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.