Even though the kitchen is laden with power-hungry appliances, it is usually laundry room that is typically responsible for the largest consumption of energy in the home. No other household activity consumes more energy and water than doing a load of laundry.
Therefore, when someone wants to be greener at home, the laundry room is usually the first room of the house to be targeted. Two energy-sucking powerhouses—the washing machine and the dryer—call the laundry room home. To make matters worse, it is generally found that the older the units are, the more inefficient they are.
Of course, the most efficient means of doing laundry would be to hand wash and line dry but, honestly, who wants to do that? Luckily, contemporary washers and dryers feature energy-efficient technology, reducing their operation costs dramatically.
While a brand new washer and dryer is a major purchase, it is still more economical in the long run to own newer units than to continue using older, inefficient units. Plus, aside from cheaper operating costs, there are income tax benefits associated with the purchase of energy efficient appliances as well. These tax benefits appear as deductions.
When you consider that every year, the American family washes more than 350 loads of laundry, you can easily deduce why an energy-efficient washing machine is a smart investment. Not to mention, anywhere from fifteen to thirty percent of the overall water consumption (about 40 gallons per load) can be attributed to the washing machine depending on how frequently it is used.
Upgrading to an energy-efficient washer can reduce the amount of water being used per load, as well as cutting down the overall energy use as well. However, a casual stroll through the appliance section of most major retailers might leave you confused. Rows and rows of washing machines, of all shapes, sizes, and price, can easily become overwhelming. What’s an agitator? Can I use regular detergent? Can this handle a King-size comforter?
For now though, let’s start with the basics—front-loading, top-loading, high-efficiency, compact, and stackable washing machines.
You can always identify a top-loading washing machine by the hatch opening, which is located on top of the machine. The tub where the clothes are placed, sits upright vertically. Compared to front-loading machines, a top-loading washer was usually much less efficient. Contemporary models though are proving to be just as efficient as front-loading models, if not more so.
Instead of the tub sitting upright, the tub of a front-loading washer lies horizontally. A load of laundry is loaded into the washer, which is followed by a cycle in which the clothing is methodically dropped into water and lifted back out, repeating for the duration of the cycle.
High-efficiency washers can be bought in both top-loading and front-loading models. The key feature with high efficiency washers is the absence of an agitator. Instead of a physical agitator, high-efficiency washers rely on what is known as a hydro wash plate, which acts as an “invisible” agitator. High-efficiency washers are just that—efficient—and this fact is further exemplified in the water consumption. Using between 15 and 25 gallons of water per load of clothes, high-efficiency washers are much more efficient than the average washer which consumes around 40 gallons of water per load of clothes.
Taking after its name, a compact washer is a smaller version of the typical washing machine, perfect for those with space issues. Generally capable of handling between ten and twelve pounds of clothing per load, a compact washer is optimal for the college student, or even a two-person household. Compact washing machines can be found in both top-loading and front-loading models, so they can fit many different spacing applications.
Following the compact trend, a stackable washing machine is also optimal for small-space living. In fact, a stackable washer typically compromises, being smaller than the regular-sized washing machines, but larger than a compact washer. Moreover, a lot of stackable washing machines are sold as a set, coupled with a dryer that sits on top (hence the term “stackable.”)
If you are contemplating the purchase of a new washer, try not to view the purchase as an expense. Instead, think of it as an investment. However, there are a few considerations you need to consider before making any final decisions:
- One of the first aspects you should consider is the overall size of the washing machine drum. Most of the newer, more efficient washing machines boast drums with sizes that can range anywhere from 1.6 cubic feet, all the way up to 4.5 cubic feet. The size you need depends on how large your loads of laundry are on average. For example, if you have a closet full of king-size comforters that you intend to wash regularly, then a larger drum size would be better suited. Naturally, a larger size drum will require more energy to spin it, so be sure to take that into account when factoring your long term costs.
- Not all washers are the same, and the same can be said for their efficiency-ratings. Look for a small, yellow tag on each unit. This is an Energy Guide tag, which is used to illustrate how much energy a particular washing machine uses. If you are seeking the most efficient unit available, look for the Energy Star logo as well. Appliances boasting the Energy Star logo meet the EPA’s strict guidelines on energy efficiency.
- Water consumption is another key factor to account for when purchasing a new washing machine. The measure of the number of gallons of water used to wash each cubic foot of laundry is known as the water factor. The more efficient washers, in terms of water consumption, will boast lower water factors. A lower water factor means that less water is used to wash a load of laundry.
Generally, a front-loading washer will be more efficient—in terms of water consumption—than its top-loading counterpart. This is because a top-loading washer must cover the entire load of laundry with enough water to literally suspend the entire load, while a front-loading machine requires only enough water to form a pool at the bottom of the drum.
According to Consumer Reports, you should replace your washer if it is eight years old or older. As the “green movement” mounted and gained momentum, more and more sustainability-advocates began pushing appliance manufacturers to develop eco-friendly appliances. The appliance manufacturers answered this call, producing more efficient washing machines every year. In fact, you might even find that washing machines made as recently as 2012 are far less efficient than a washing machine debuted this year.
The features of newer washers are nothing to take lightly either, especially if you have specific needs to satisfy:
- The spin speed, for example, is the rate at which clothes are spun during the spin cycle. The average washing machine will usually spin clothes at 1200 revolutions per minute (rpm). However, newer washing machines are typically capable of higher spin speeds, ranging anywhere from 1400 rpm, to as much as 1800 rpm. Higher spin-speeds translate to a faster rate of moisture removal, meaning that clothing is dried more quickly, using far less energy.
- Some newer-model washers even allow users to control certain key factors such as temperature and the level of water. Look for washers that have cold water or pre-soak settings. Two ways you can reduce the energy consumption of your washing machine is by using less water, or using cooler water, and these features would allow a consumer to do both.
Generally, a washing machine is accompanied by a dryer, which is used to dry wet laundry after in emerges from the washing machine. Just like the washing machine, the dryer is also responsible for consuming a considerable amount of energy. More than four percent of the overall residential energy use in the United States can be blamed on dryer according to the Energy Information Agency.
Unfortunately, when compared to older-model dryers, newer units do not vary much with regards to energy consumption. Throughout the years, the technology utilized by dryers has remained the same—clothes are tossed about as they are enveloped in hot air. However, researchers have been developing ways to incorporate microwave technology in drying apparatuses to dry clothes.
Just like the washing machine, a dryer can be bought from two main categories—electric and gas.
An electric dryer utilizes electricity to power heating coils that ultimately dry the laundry.
Instead of using electricity, a gas dryer harnesses natural gas to power a gas burner.
Before purchasing any dryer, there are a few things you should consider:
- First, you need to determine what your options are. In other words, why type of hookup is your home outfitted with. Some homes might be equipped only with a gas hookup, while others might boast the standard 240-volt electric hookup. In some cases, a home might be setup with both gas and electric hookups.
- If your home is outfitted with an electric and gas hookup, then you must now consider which price points matter the most to you. It is generally found that a gas dryer costs a bit more upfront when compared to an electric dryer. However, an electric dryer will typically cost more to operate over its lifetime. Most people tend to go for the long-term fiscal benefits of gas dryers, opting to pay a little more upfront. After all, the average difference in the upfront price of a gas dryer and electric dryer averages to be about $50.00
- When considering the purchase of a new dryer, you may hear or see the term, “Energy Factor.” The energy factor is a measure of the pounds of clothing per kilowatt-hour of electricity consumption. Before purchasing any new dryer, be sure you are getting the highest energy factor possible. Two things to keep in mind, the absolute minimum energy factor a gas dryer can have is 2.67, which the minimum for an electric dryer is 3.01.
While the technology used in dryers has not changed much for the most part, researchers are slowly starting to find ways to make dryers more efficient in terms of energy use.
- One such technological innovation found within most new model dryers is a moisture sensor. The basic function of this sensor is to detect the dryness of laundry as it is being dried. When the sensor finds that a load of clothes has been dried thoroughly, it will automatically cut the apparatus off. This can lead to huge savings compared to time-drying clothes.
- Another feature you should ideally look for when purchasing a dryer is the ability to cycle between temperatures. What that means is that the dryer will alternate between hot and cool air throughout the drying cycle. This simple, subtle feature can lead to a major decrease in energy consumption; sometimes by as much as half.
- While some dryers shift from hot and cool temperatures throughout the cycle, some dryers will only change to a cooler air temperature during the last few minutes of the drying process. Sometimes this feature is referred to as Perma-Press.