on My Mind
a simple line can make a big difference. Especially, if it’s
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 I’d replaced some of its parts over
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 I’ve 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 I’d 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
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. It’s a bit hard
to beat that level of energy efficiency, though you do have
to pay more attention to weather reports when planning for
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 don’t 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.
It’s 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 “energy factor” for measuring
dryer energy efficiency. The measure is based on the pounds
of clothes dried per kilowatt-hour. According to the DOE,
“the minimum energy factor for a standard capacity electric
dryer is 3.01.” 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 it’s 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 you’re
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