Believe it or not, improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t require an advanced energy science degree. It’s really just a matter of being more aware of choices and recognizing whether they save or waste energy. Individually, some energy-wasting practices might not amount to much, but when you add them all together, you’ll gain a better picture of how how much you could save. To help you live Live Brighter, our “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” series will showcase ways you can lower your home energy usage and possible reduce your monthly energy bill.
Energy Efficiency in the Laundry Room
Laundry is annoying and costly. It soaks up between 15% to 40% of a home’s water usage. Both washers and dryers contribute to “wear-and-tear” on your clothing. Washing machines violently twist, wring, scrunch, and stretch your clothing, all while immersing them in a soup of detergents that can fade colors. Dryers rub clothing against each, which pulls out cloth fibers and gradually renders the garment threadbare.
All of this happens while the appliances devour large amounts of energy. So, how are you supposed to keep your clothes clean and fit to wear without spending a fortune on energy?
By being smarter about your laundry! We’re going to take a closer look at some ways for you to reduce the strain on your clothes and also reduce the amount of energy you’ll use. The best part is – they’re all real easy.
The Washing Machine: Energy Efficiency Tips with Less Agitation
Wash full loads of like fabrics. Doing lots of smaller loads uses more water, more heated water, more energy to heat that water, more detergent, more fabric softener, more everything.
Use the right amount of detergent per load. Yes, this means you need to read the manufacture’s manual. Too little detergent may not get the load clean, while too much will leave residues that will not rinse away and later attract dirt.
Wash in cold water. Most detergents are now formulated to work fine in cold water — as long as the water is not below 65°F because this is where detergents begin to cease activating. True, there are some instances when you need to wash in hot water — such as when you want to kill bacteria when washing cloth diapers or mold. Also some man-made fabrics prefer warm water, but many will also do fine in cold. Spandex, for example, which is now found in many varieties of blue jeans should be washed in cold in order to preserve the stretchiness.
Pretreat and presoak heavily stained items. This will reduce the likelihood that you’ll need to wash them a second time and also reduce the need to use hot water.
Clean your washer regularly. Not all the dirt, loose threads, and soap gets washed away. Instead, dirt and lint collect in plumbing traps, while soap scum may build up on the sides and top edges of the wash tub. Front-loading machines in particular, need routine cleaning around door gaskets to both ensure a water-tight seal and to kill mold or mildew.
Simply put, keeping your washer clean and sanitized helps it clean your clothing more effectively. For both front- and top-loading machines, if at all feasible, try leaving the lid open to allow air circulation to keep your washer dry and mildew free.
For hard water, add a cup of washing soda or borax to each load. The soda or borax will bind to the calcium ions and magnesium ions in the water and prevent it from binding to your clothing and help the detergent work more effectively. Be sure to use vinegar or bleach when you clean your washer as this will prevent limescale from building up in your washer.
Take advantage of the extra or longer spin cycle. This wrings more water out of the load and helps reduce time in the dryer — which is the REAL energy hog in the laundry room.
If your washer is more than 10 years old:
Don’t allow water to overfill the machine. Too much water in the tub causes the washer to work less efficiently. Also avoid overloading the machine by filling it past ¾ full. This leaves enough room for the clothes to move around the agitator and reduces the chance for wrinkles or damage.
Consider upgrading to an Energy Star washer. Newer washers have water-level controls that use 25% less water and can cut your electricity bill by $45 or more yearly.
The Clothes Dryer: The Load of Hot Air
Clothes dryers aren’t very complex machines. They blow hot, dry air across clothing loosely tumbling inside a metal drum. Dryers pull dry, heated air through the back of the rotating drum filled with your damp clothes and then the damp, warm air is exhausted through a lint screen just below the door assembly. The air is sucked into a blower fan (usually driven by the appliance’s main motor) and then blown out of the machine into the exhaust tubing leading outside.
While natural gas dryers are available, most homeowners use electric dryers. These rely on a 240 volt electric line: 120 volts goes to spin the motor and 120 volts to produce heat.
An average-sized 7 cubic foot capacity dryer uses about 5,600 watts. Over the course of running for one hour, that adds up to 5.6 kWh. At 10¢/kWh, one hour equals 56¢ — and that’s a cost that can add up pretty fast. Luckily, there are steps you take to reduce your reliance on your clothes dryer and also keep them running as efficiently as possible.
There are no Energy Star rated dryers available. However, newer ones equipped with moisture sensors sound an alarm when the clothes are mostly dry, and this can save you some money. By removing clothing from the dryer promptly when the alarms sounds, you can avoid letting the dryer run longer than necessary.
At night, use drying racks and fans instead of the dryer. Hang your clothing on drying racks or even doorways in a hall and set a fan to blow on them over night. Your clothing will gently dry over night, take less damage from tumbling in a dryer, and use far less energy. Doing this in the summer during the day will reduce sources of heat in your home your air conditioner must work against. In the winter, drying clothes will help keep your home’s humidity at a comfortable level. You’ll also save wear and tear on fabrics.
Clean out your dryer yearly. The dryer’s lint trap doesn’t trap everything. Finer fabric strands and dust blow through only to catch on folds of the dryer ductwork. These build up in a short time to the point where it constricts the duct or even blocks it completely. This reduces the air temperature in the dryer, traps moisture, and makes the dryer run much, much longer — costing you a lot more money. If there is a leak in the dryer exhaust duct, chances are good that lint will get sucked into the dryer’s intake where it may contact the heating element. When that happens, it could ignite and cause a fire.
So, once a year, disconnect the dryer vent hose and reach up inside to pull out as much lint and gunk as you can reach with either your hand or a vacuum cleaner. You’ll also want to clean out the duct that goes to the outside. You might be surprised at the difference this makes in your dryer’s performance.
Laundry Tips for the Summer:
- Laundry produces significant amounts of humidity and heat in your home. You might scarcely notice it, but your thermostat does. In the summer, try to do your laundry at night when the heat of the day is over and your air conditioner isn’t running as often.
- Use a clothesline and let the sun and wind dry your laundry. Not only does it cost nothing, but the solar UV rays kill a variety of germs naturally.
Tired of getting mowed down by extravagant patio, pool, and lighting costs? Stay tuned for our final installment of “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” – Energy Efficiency in the Outdoors! Our tips are simply wild!