Low-cost laundry day

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Old-fashioned rack offers no-carbon drying for cheap

With four sporty kids in her home, St. Albert’s Melanie Smith has a lot of clothes to clean.

It’s laundry day pretty much every day, she says, as she pulls a load of colours out of the washing machine.

But instead of throwing them in the dryer next to it, Smith, a Queen of Green coach with the David Suzuki Foundation, hangs the clothes on a drying rack.

“These things are super-durable,” she says, noting how this one has lasted through multiple moves, and super-easy to use – you hang clothes on it, come back in a few hours and it’s done. You can even put it out on your porch when the weather’s warm and have dry clothes in about 20 minutes.

“It works great.”

It also costs nothing to run and produces near-zero greenhouse gas emissions –technically it sucks in heat from the room, which was produced in part from natural gas.

Washing and drying your clothes can account for a big slice of your energy and carbon bill. A typical dryer will suck up about six per cent of your home’s electricity use, says Epcor’s Michelle St-Amand.

But unlike grass stains, it’s remarkably easy to get these costs out.

Cheap washing

Unless you want to hand-wash, your best bet for saving money on clothes washing is to get the latest Energy Star-rated appliance.

Any washing machine built prior to 2003 is significantly less efficient than any on the market today, reports the U.S. Energy Star program. If you have a 10-year-old washer, it’s sucking about US$180 a year out of your pocket in water and energy waste.

Energy Star washing machines use 25 per cent less energy and 40 per cent less water than regular ones, which works out to about US$40 less on your utility bill. If every washing machine bought in the U.S. were Energy Star certified, that nation would save about US$4 billion a year and prevent about 19 billion pounds (1.8 million cars worth) of greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Resources Canada’s Simple Energy Calculator says that you can get a new Energy Star-compliant washer for about $150 extra. The machine will save you about $49 a year in water and electricity and prevent about 176 kg of emissions per year. You’ll earn your $150 back in about three years.

Smith’s washing machine is pretty old and uses about 253 kWh/yr, according to NRCAN. The most efficient washers available today use anywhere from 85 to 150 kWh/yr – and they’re bigger.

Cheaper drying

Dryers are now covered under Energy Star as of last year, which makes finding an efficient one much easier. Through use of moisture sensors that cut off the heat when the clothes are dry instead of after a specific time, Energy Star dryers can use about 20 per cent less energy than regular dryers, which typically use about 769 kWh/yr.

Heat pump models are even more efficient, using up to 60 per cent less power than normal, Energy Star reports. These models use a condenser to remove moisture from exhaust air instead of venting it, keeping the heat in the dryer for longer. But they also cost around $1,500, which makes them a steep investment.

But Energy Star only takes you so far. If you really want to save money and the environment, get a drying rack.

Smith’s drying rack folds up to the size of a sandwich board when not in use, though it’s about the size of an armchair unfolded. It’s big enough to hold a full load of clothes, and she uses it daily. She guesses she spent about $20 on it –Walmart carries similar racks for $17 to $30.

Smith’s dryer uses about 945 kWh/y of electricity, NRCAN reports.

Even if she only uses it for every other laundry load, Smith’s drying rack will pay for itself in saved energy in four months (at a power cost of $0.11/kWh) and prevent some 302 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year. She actually uses it for almost every load, so she saves much more.

“Hang what you can to dry,” she suggests, and use the moisture sensor features on your dryer. You can also toss balls of wool into your dryer to enhance air circulation and cut drying time by a quarter.

There’s no real trick to the dryer rack beyond remembering to use it, Smith says – hers sat next to the dryer for years before she pulled it out.

“Once you have it, use it.”

Carbon Tracker

Step: Dry half your clothes using a drying rack.
Difficulty: Easy.
Cost: $17 to $30 at Walmart for the rack.
Payback Period: Assuming $0.11/kWh and a 945 kWh/yr dryer not used for half a year (i.e. 472.5 kWh saved), four to seven months.
Carbon Saved: 302 kg/yr.

The Carbon Challenge

The Carbon Challenge will profile different ways you can shrink your carbon footprint and (usually) save money every second week.
Got a carbon question? Drop me a line at kma@stalbert.greatwest.ca.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.