Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Week Five--All About Appliances

I recently wrote a story on greening your home and saving money in the process, and I came across two appliance-related facts that stopped me in my tracks. The first was that a clothes dryer uses more electricity than any other appliance in the home (save for the refrigerator). The second was that a simple thing like washing my laundry in cold water could save a ton of energy--mostly because you don't have to heat the water. (Tide's Coldwater Challenge suggests that this switch to cold water could add up to $63 a year in savings.)

I'm telling you all of this, because this week we are focusing on how to "green" our appliances and how we use them. In a perfect world, we could all go out and buy new Energy Star-rated appliances. If one in 10 Americans did this, it would be the equivalent of planting 1.7 million acres trees, so says the Energy Star website. Sure, I'd love to pick up a new energy-efficient, front-loading washing machine from Sears, but, frankly, I haven't got about $1,000 to spend, and I'm guessing that you don't either.

So how do you change your energy usage when it comes to your appliances when you can't afford to change your appliances? By tweaking how you use those appliances, of course.

If your house is like mine, there are four appliances that are always in heavy rotation: the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the washing machine and the clothes dryer. Today, I'm going to offer you tips on how doing the laundry can become more energy efficient. Later this week, I'll focus on the refrigerator and the dishwasher.

OK, so we're in the laundry room. In my house I have to deal with a top-loading washing machine and an electric clothes dryer that were both built around the time I graduated from high school (and, um, I've already had a 20-year reunion, so these are old appliances). Appliances made back then didn't have to meet strict federal guidelines about energy efficiency (thus the Energy Star rating on newer appliances), so they use energy like nobody's business. So here's how I trick those appliances into being energy efficient.

First, just like the Tide Coldwater Challenge said, I wash everything in cold.

Second, I know that my top-loader uses a ton of water (actually, 40 gallons for each wash versus as little as 16 gallons for a front-loading machine) so I try to use as little water as the machine will let me use. To save water and energy, I fill the washer, let it agitate for a few minutes, then turn it off, and let the load soak. After a few hours, I'll turn the machine back on but on the "quick" or "light" cycle. I believe that in doing this, I use less energy and water, because the washing machine simply runs for less time.

Third, I never skip the spin cycle. Clothes dry faster if they're not saturated with water, and the best way to get as much water out of your clothes as possible is to use the spin cycle. Think of it as your laundry centrifuge that spins the water molecules right out of the fabric. (My apologies to Mr. Hamilton, my 11th grade science teacher, for this oversimplification on how a centrifuge works.)

Fourth, since the clothes dryer is such a monster energy user, I try to use it as little as possible. I don't have a clothesline but I do have space in my laundry room to hang things up. So I'll toss the clothes in the dryer for five or 10 minutes, then pull out clothes piece by piece to hang them up. I do draw the line at hanging up underwear and socks, because I'd rather not feel like I was living in a tenement. Also, by pulling out the heavier laundry items first, things like jeans and towels, it allows the lighter stuff like socks and underwear to dry faster.

The next time you need to throw in a load of laundry, try these four tips and see if they work for you. I'm sure they'll pay off in the long run, especially when you get your next water, gas or electricity bill.


GretchenX said...

I never use my dryer if I can avoid it - I only use it on towels and sheets. Partly, it's because I prefer not to shrink/abuse my clothes, and partly because it's cheaper! If you have a drying rack or two and a garment rack or a clothesline, who needs to spend the money on using a dryer?

Debbie said...

Wow, if I had a dryer, I would use it for jeans and towels because they take so long to air dry. But I would never dry anything with elastic (underwear and socks!) because heat breaks down elastic.

Hints for those who want to air-dry their clothes:
1) Before hanging clotheslines outside, check that you don't live somewhere that forbids this. If you do, it may still be okay if you have a spot that's impossible for neighbors to see.
2) Most people think hanging clothing outside makes laundry smell good. However, do watch for bird droppings when you take the laundry down. There are bags you can store clothespins in that you can hang from the laundry line and move along as you progress. If you leave them outside, they may collect leaves. Alternatively, you might like an apron with large pockets.
3) On a warm, breezy day, most of one load might actually be dry by the time the next load is washed. Seriously! But don't leave your clothes out too long or they'll fade more quickly (some people like to hang things inside out), and don't leave them out in the rain or you have to start over!
4) If you're hanging clothes indoors, keeping a ceiling fan on helps and uses very little electricity. Also, flipping the clothing over when the top is basically dry but the underside is still damp helps. If it's cold inside, it might take a full 24 hours to dry your load, so you'll have to space out your loads.
5) There are collapsible drying racks for sale in discount stores. The kind with a plastic coating on the bars won't mildew or warp. Painting the plain wood ones would probably also work.
6) If you shake out the wrinkles from your clothes before hanging them, they dry faster (and with fewer wrinkles, of course). If you can hang shirts and pants on hangers to dry, they are easy to put away. Just make sure you don't have the kind of hangers that rust.