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Drying on My Mind

Sometimes a simple line can make a big difference. Especially, if itís a clothesline.

It was back in late March when the electric clothes dryer down in my basement clicked off into a breakdown. It was a good 20 years old and Iíd replaced some of its parts over the years.

A few years back I put in a new heating element and got to see firsthand how the dryer heats up air by passing electricity through wire coils. It looked very similar to the coils that heat up in a toaster. Overall, not a very efficient means to generate hot air.

Dryers use a substantial amount of energy in comparison to other household appliances. The electricity demand of clothes dryers is second only to that of refrigerators in most American homes. It has been estimated that the annual cost of operating these contraptions is $85, with a lifetime cost for powering the appliance hovering around $1,100 (assuming relatively stable energy costs).

OK, so Iíve got a broken-down clothes dryer and a washer full of wet clothes, what do I do? Well, it just so happened that a couple of summers ago I had installed a retractable clothesline out in the backyard. I grabbed my bag of wooden clothespins, pulled out the line and hung my clothes out to dry.

I had mounted the clothesline on the outside of one of the 4-by-4-inch wooden posts that make up a swing set Iíd built for my kids decades ago. From there, I tied the line to a cherry tree across the yard. Needing more line, I tied a rope to the other side of the swing set and ran it across the yard to another 4-by-4 that makes up part of a shed I use as a bike garage.

Despite the cool temperatures of early spring, the bright sunny day did a quick job of drying my clothes. It seems to me that clotheslines should be more appropriately called solar clothes dryers. This device allows the sunlight and the wind passing through my yard to evaporate the water from my clothes without using a single watt of electricity. Itís a bit hard to beat that level of energy efficiency, though you do have to pay more attention to weather reports when planning for solar drying.

Unfortunately, our Northeast climate makes outdoor clothes drying a seasonal affair. As temperatures drop down to freezing and the hours of light during the day diminish, solar clothes dryers lose their efficiency.

After giving the broken dryer a checkup, I decided that it was time for a replacement. This would involve a little research. My solar dryer allowed me to take a little time to look into the state of dryer technology and the current selection of dryers on the market.

In the course of my dryer investigation, I visited a few large appliance stores and cruised the Internet for information on options. Energy efficiency was a big factor for me as I looked over the field of options. But, there was a problem.

While you can find washers that have Energy Star ratings indicating the more energy efficient appliances, such ratings do not exist for dryers. Considering that the dryer is such a hefty household- energy demander, I was astounded to find that I could not get energy-efficiency ratings on these appliances. They just donít exist for the consumer.

Dryer manufacturers are not even required to provide the Energy Guide labels that you find on many other large household appliances. Itís been a good 20 years since my last electric dryer purchase, and there still are no comparable measures of energy efficiency for consumers who want to figure energy efficiency and operating costs into their purchasing decisions. No wonder this country continues to waste so much energy!

I investigated a little further and found that the Department of Energy does have a computed ďenergy factorĒ for measuring dryer energy efficiency. The measure is based on the pounds of clothes dried per kilowatt-hour. According to the DOE, ďthe minimum energy factor for a standard capacity electric dryer is 3.01.Ē While the DOE has this minimum standard, there is no posting available that the consumer can use to compare energy factors in making their dryer choice. We can only have faith that the DOE is enforcing at least its minimum standard.

While comparative energy efficiency data are lacking for the consumer in the dryer market, I did find that there is at least one new energy-related feature available in some dryers that is well worth considering: the moisture sensor.

With my old dryer, I learned through experience how long it took to dry a load of wash. I had no way of telling that the wash was actually dry, I could just turn the setting to a range of times. I felt the clothes to see if they were dry. Moisture sensors keep check on the water in the air inside the dryer, and turn off the heat when itís low enough to indicate the wash is dry. This prevents over-drying, which is bad for your energy use and costs, as well as for the items youíre drying. Dryers using these sensors can save consumers up to 15 percent when compared to timed drying.

While energy information on clothes dryers is lacking, there are some things you can do to decrease the energy used to dry your clothes:

Dry full loads and clean the lint filter with each use. If you have more than one load, dry them in quick succession to take advantage of residual heat. Make sure the appliance is properly vented, and check the duct to the vent for lint build-up each year. Make sure that the vent to the outside closes properly to prevent cold air from entering and chilling down your machine and the rest of the house.

And, of course, use a solar clothes dryer when the weather permits.

óTom Nattell 

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