With politicians, industry leaders, and lobbyists engaged in a heated debate over the EPA’s recently released carbon emissions proposal for power plants, it’s good to take a step back to consider the relatively simple actions that can be made at a personal level to address energy and environmental issues. A new report released Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows how U.S. homes are wasting up to $4 billion worth of electricity annually — and emitting roughly 16 million tons of carbon dioxide — just because they are drying their clothes inefficiently.
The report states that a typical clothes dryer can consume as much energy as a new energy efficient refrigerator, clothes washer, and dishwasher combined — and that Americans could save billions of dollars and millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions simply by switching to the type of efficient models currently used in other countries. It also calls on a strong federal energy efficiency standard to promote long-term energy savings.
“U.S. appliance makers have focused their attention on making the washer more efficient while dryer efficiency has taken a back seat,” Noah Horowitz, author of the report, told ThinkProgress. “With the exception of making the outside of the dryer more attractive the guts of a dryer remain unchanged.”
Horowitz thinks that utilities can play a key role in helping consumers switch to more efficient clothes dryers that incorporate some of the technologies available overseas. He also thinks that the availability of these better dryers at outlets like Home Depot and Sears will help pave the way for Department of Energy to dramatically tighten its dryer efficiency standards.
The EPA seems ready to help make the transition. About a week before announcing their big guidelines to cut emissions from existing power plants, the agency made a much lower-profile decision: they added clothes dryers to their ENERGY STAR Program.
“Now that we finally have the ENERGY STAR label to help consumers identify the more efficient models we need the FTC to create an Energy Guide label that tells consumers how a particular model’s energy use and operating cost compares to similar sized models,” said Horowitz. “This way consumers can avoid the energy hogs.”
The new specifications will recognize a selection of highly efficient electric, gas, and compact dryers that use about one-fifth less energy than what is required by the minimum efficiency standards. According to the EPA, this could prevent 22 billion pounds of annual GHGs. There are 89 million residential clothes dryers in the United States in about 80 percent of U.S. households. Dryers account for about two percent of the country’s entire electricity consumption and around six percent of all residential electrical use. Around three-quarters of these dryers are electric and the other quarter is run by natural gas.
Many dryer models already have auto termination sensors that end the drying cycle once clothes are dry. New models will have other new technology such as heat pump dryers that reuse hot air, making the drying process more efficient by recycling heat that would otherwise go wasted. Dryers will also be part of the smart grid movement for appliances, which can help consumers determine the cheapest time to use the dryer or work with utilities toward other cost-saving measures.
There are also some old-fashioned techniques to utilize. Washing clothes in cold water and using maximum spin speed reduces the time clothes need in the dryer. Also using a lower temperature setting saves energy even if it adds time, and doing consecutive loads keeps the drum warm. Also stopping the dryer before clothes are dead dry saves time as well as reducing wrinkles and maintaining clothing quality, according to the NRDC. And then there’s the most efficient method of all: line drying.
“As clothes dryers consume six percent of residential electricity, switching when possible to drying your clothes with a clothes line is a great money saving way to reduce your carbon footprint,” said Horowitz.