Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Global Warming Wednesday: Dirty laundry

When Trillian and I first set foot in this house, we both felt our hearts soar--just a little. Most of the houses we had seen up to that point had been disappointments; all of them with additional pictures and tours online were quite different in person. This was the first, and only, house whose online representation matched the physical tour. As we progressed through the rooms, we allowed ourselves to let go of a little more jadedness. By the time we headed out, both of us had placed it at the top of our personal lists.

A tiny moment in the tour, not a major factor in our decision, but something we were pleased to see, was our first view of the washer and dryer. Exactly the same as the beloved pair we left in the house we sold before moving to Canada, a Kenmore front-loading washer and its mate. Now, I'm pretty sure they picked the pair because the space allotted to laundry is a closet that requires stacking if one wants both a washer and dryer in there; at least they didn't pick an "apartment-sized" unit such as we had in our condo. We had been very pleased for the four or so years that we had our front-loader in the States, and so we already had in mind replacing any traditional washer and dryer pair in any house we bought.

Let me focus on the washer.* Front-load washers do tend to be more expensive. Looking at the Sears website (since they carry Kenmore), I see a range of $599.99 to $1699.99. The cheapest model is closest to what we have--slightly different model number, but same control panel. According to the Sears website:
This ENERGY STAR qualified high efficiency washer can save you up to 45% in Energy & 35% in Water as compared to a traditional top load washer. This washer features a Tumble Action Washing System that showers water down through the clothes ensuring that 100% of the clothes are being washed 100% of the time resulting in superior stain removal and gentle clothing care. The 950 RPM final spin speed will help remove more moisture from the clothes resulting in shorter drying time.
Some of what this means:

  • The EnergyGuide says that this model uses 224 kilowatt hours per year, on a scale of 113 to 680 for similar models. The yearly operating costs are estimated at $19 for electric, $10 for gas. This reflects 2004 energy costs (vs. the 2000 costs listed on the EnergyGuide the previous owners left us--of course, our model also appears to use about 28 kWh/year less).
  • For every setting, there are options that are marked with a symbol to indicate that they are more eco-friendly. The Eco Cycle is slightly shorter than a Regular Cycle, though usually more than enough for everyday loads. There's an option for a faster final spin, which removes even more water, meaning clothes will dry faster. There's also the Auto Temp Control. Set it here, and the washer will regulate the water temperature for cold and warm settings so that the setting is what you actually expect.
  • The front-loading washer only requires half the detergent of a regular washer.
  • There's 3.1 cubic feet of space inside. And since there's no agitator in the center, you can use all of it. This thing can handle seriously large loads. Not that I kept close count of how many loads we did each week in our condo, but I suspect we've cut the number of loads by about a third.
  • It's driving me nuts that I can't find an exact figure for this model, but I think that it uses 8-12 gallons per load (this is a number that's stuck in my head), but one site I did find suggests 18-25 gallons for front-loaders, vs about 40 for regular washers.
If I go to top-loading washers, I find a price range of $319.88 to $1199.99. That's a $280 difference at the low end of both ranges, a bit more at the top. Clicking on the 3.2 cubic foot Kenmore at $349.99, here's what I find:
  • On the same EnergyGuide scale, this one uses 389 kWh/year, with a cost of $33 for electric and $17 for gas heating. That's not quite twice the front-loader. And not Energy Star compliant.
  • This is a pretty stripped down version. There are fewer cycle options, only one spin speed, no temperature regulation. There are three water level choices, but you'll only be able to use a lower water level if you're putting small loads in.
  • While there's 3.2 cubic feet inside, a chunk of this is taken up by the agitator. And you have to make sure to leave enough room and put clothes in loosely enough that they'll move around enough to get cleaned.
  • I'm not sure if the Canadian model is exactly the same as the one linked above, but if so, this one uses 38 gallons for a load at the highest level.
Some rough calculations (rougher than I'd like since I'm tired):
  • The difference between the two models being discussed is $250 (599.99-349.99)
  • We have a gas water heater, so let's say we're saving $7 (17 vs 10) on heating the water each year (probably more since we wash mostly in cold, but that's another topic).
  • The government estimates that a household does about 400 loads of laundry a year. So let's say we'd do that many loads in the top-loader. Even though I estimated 30% or so fewer loads in the front-loader, let's drop it to 15% fewer, so 340 loads per year.
  • For the top-loader, that's 15,200 gallons of water. For the front-loader, using a higher-than-I-think figure of 20 gallons per load, that's 6,800 gallons of water.
  • I'm finding a figure of $3.72 for every 1000 gallons of water on old utility bills. That would mean $56.54 for the top-loader, $25.30 for the front-loader.
  • Our favorite detergent is Ecover's Laundry Detergent. We buy it in the 100 oz bottle, which is labeled as 40 loads: 2.5 ounces per normal load. A front-loader can use half as much detergent, so that's 80 loads. I don't know how much we spend on a bottle locally, but Herb Trader has it online for $7.26 per 51 ounce bottle. For a 2.5 ounce dose, that's $0.363 per load. For the front-loader, that's $0.1815. So the cost of detergent for the top-loader is $145.20; for the front-loader $61.71.
  • Final yearly cost of energy, water, and detergent: $218.74 for the top-loader, $97.01 for the front-loader. A savings of $121.73 per year. At 2 years and 1 month, the front-loader has made up the difference!
But buying a front-loading washer is not just environmental and ecological, it also improves the cleanliness of your laundry. Truly, it washes clothes better and gets out all of the soap. Can you tell I like this machine?

*No dryer is Energy Star compliant. They just can't be made to those specifications. BUT a front-loader spins more water out of the clothes than a top-loader, so clothes coming out of a front-loader dry in less time. If you hang clothes to dry instead of using a dryer (which I really want to do, but they will freeze outside right now and all of our extra space right now is taken up by boxes. Soon.), you cut any drying energy and costs to zero.

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