Clothes Dryers – Energy Efficiency Evil or Angel?

Energy efficient clothes dryer?            VS         Clothes line is very energy efficient!

There is a lot of noise out there on the internet about the relative benefits or costs of using a clothes dryer (from an energy efficiency perspective). I thought I would add my two cents worth!
OK, we do own a clothes dryer – my parents kindly gave me their old unit after they moved to a new apartment with its own. We had a just had two very humid sticky rainy summers and our clothes often smelt a little off after drying!
We use it very infrequently but I must say it is “nice to have”.

But is a clothes dryer evil?

Am I some kind of energy-guzzling, greenhouse gas producing, anti-environmental thug who steals from small children?
Hopefully not, but what is the cost-benefit of owning and operating a clothes dryer?

Yes, they consume a lot of electricity.
Yes, there are always alternative to drying clothes – hanging them in sun, dry room, near a heater, in the breeze of a fan, etc….
Yes, they are often a lifestyle choice rather than an energy or cost efficiency choice.

However, there are some instances were you don’t appear to have a lot of choices – small apartments with no space to hang anything, humid/damp climate, etc.
There are good dryers and there are bad dryers, there are clothes that dry very quickly and those that need lots more time, etc…
Sometimes, you need something to dry fast. Or you have a big family and your clothes line is often over crowded!
I think there are too many variables to make a blanket statement as to the relative evil-ness (if that is a real word) of the humble clothes dryer.

Here is my take on the circumstances where they might be appropriate (i.e. not evil):

  1. You only use the dryer when you have no other practical choice.
  2. Before using the dryer, you consider whether you have really have no other choice!
  3. You keep the dryer in good working order (e.g. clean filter regularly etc.) to maximize efficiency.
  4. You have a modern dryer with a sensor dry feature that detects moisture level OR
  5. You monitor the operation and do not run the dryer too long and over-dry the clothes.
  6. You are sensible about when it is appropriate to break these rules!

Here is when you are evil:

  1. You use the dryer as the default method despite having other options (e.g. clothes line, etc.).
  2. You use your dryer when it is practical to use a more energy efficient method.
  3. You don’t clean the filter after each load.
  4. You have an old dryer that is not energy efficient and you can afford to upgrade.
  5. You run the dryer longer than necessary to thoroughly dry the clothes and do not attempt to monitor the progress.

If you are living in sin, I urge you to repent!!!
For those that live in apartments, here are some tips to living without a dryer: http://bit.ly/XlIMNa
For the rest of you, there is a thing called a “piece of string” – not sure who invented it but it has proven to be very effective at drying clothes in the right conditions! ;-)

 

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    Treat your air conditioners like people!

    air conditioner energy efficiencyTo maximize the energy efficiency of your air conditioner, you sometimes need to think of it as a person!

    For example, your AC unit outside does not want to spend all day in the blazing sun (just like you)!
    An AC unit positioned in the shade will use less electricity (the hotter it is forced to run, the harder it needs to work to cool the air!).
    If your air conditioner unit is in a sunny area, consider moving it, put a shade cover over it (but BEWARE – see below) or even plant a shrub or similar!
    The US DOE stated this could reduce household electricity costs by $100-250 annually…

    BUT: just like all of us on a hot day, we need lots of fresh air moving around us. AC units are no different, they need free movement of air to work efficiently.
    Don’t restrict the airflow by installing a tight fitting sun shade or similar!
    Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te7bVfLzA2s for another version of this discussion!

    A bit of common sense and your AC will run more efficiently & quietly with less maintenance headaches.

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      Window Mounted Air Conditioners

      What about window-mounted air conditioners and how to maximize their efficiency?

      Lots of homes around the world have window mounted air conditioners, especially apartment buildings. You can buy them off-the-shelf and can fit them yourself, even I have done it!
      There in lies the problem! Even if you have selected a great energy efficient unit, sized correctly and ensured the unit is in shaded position, etc… these units can be problematic if installed incorrectly.

      Obviously you need to clean the filters and do all the normal maintenance. If you live near the ocean, remember to cover the external air intake when not in use. Most people set up the unit for summer, then take it out and store again over winter. As the unit is usually only set up for a few months each year, there is a higher probability that the unit will not be installed properly and this, unfortunately, is often the case.

      The most common problem is poorly fitted units in the window frame. This will cause the unit to vibrate which is unpleasant and may cause mechanical damage to the seals, the frame itself or the unit itself. Even if there are not excessive vibrations, check the seal between the AC unit and the frame of the window. These seals do degrade over time (due to moisture, excessive movement/looseness of the unit, etc.) and should be checked at the start and in the  middle of summer at least. Also check the condensate drainage line to ensure the moisture is correctly flowing away from the window frame to an appropriate drainage point.

      See http://bit.ly/YG1e3Z for more info on how to install these type of units yourself.

      For more on home energy efficiency, check out our Facebook page – and don’t forget to “Like” us!
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      P.S.  Here is a good example of how not to install it!!!

      window mounted air conditioner fail!

      source: http://cheezburger.com/3874844928

       

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        Dehumidifiers and Home Energy Efficiency

        What is a dehumidifier and how do they impact home energy efficiency? These appliances can be purchased at any electrical retailer and are used to reduce the humidity in the air – useful in hot humid places.  Usually price start around $100 for a simple unit with questionable life and efficiency, but obviously you can pay a lot more…

        Check out Wikipedia to get all the technical details (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehumidifier).
        The following discussion could equally apply to AC units also they dehumidify the air but it is not their primary purpose.

        Are dehumidifiers good for energy efficiency?
        It is true that reducing the humidity in a room(s) inside the house on a hot day will feel more comfortable. However, I personally prefer a simple fan which has a more dramatic impact on feeling comfortable on a hot sticky day (our house has only ceiling fans, no AC or dehumidifiers!). For AC and dehumidifier units to work efficiently, you must close up the area of the house you are occupying to stop the warm humid air entering. Of course there are people who switch them on with the doors and windows open and just sit in the jet stream coming out of the unit! May I kindly suggest these people are throwing away a lot of money in power bills, and not getting a good outcome comfort-wise!

        I am not a big fan of dehumidifiers (please pardon the pun) as you can see. I don’t like closing up everything and am happy to have the ceiling fans on a little stronger if it starts to get really uncomfortable! However, I generally prefer passive cooling strategies (like shading, allowing natural air flow thru the house, good insulation, etc.) to active strategies that depend on external energy sources that cost me money.
        That said, dehumidifiers do have their place if you need to have a dry space in the house (e.g. to dry the laundry) and it is persistently humid and damp. We once lived in a large apartment complex with dehumidifiers in the clothes drying room which was a god-send on sticky summer days when it seemed nothing would dry! However, if you can dry them in the sun or at least in a breezy place that would save the hassle.

        In summary, if you need them for a specific task (e.g. laundry room) then they might be useful but I would not bother unless you satisfy the following criteria:

        1. You live in a place with a persistent hot humid climate (at least a few months a year, not just a couple of weeks);
        2. You cannot effectively cool the living areas of the house with passive methods;
        3. You need to remove the moisture in the air actively (e.g. to dry clothes, prevent mold or mildew, etc.);
        4. You can effectively seal off the areas to be dehumidified/cooled (to prevent leakage of warm humid air back inside);
        5. Fans or other less energy intensive methods do not work for you for some other reason;
        6. Your AC unit (if installed) is too small and cannot handle the load.

        Which unit would I buy if I needed one? I did a little research for a decent sized unit that is energy-star rated and has quiet operation with great reviews. The best one I found was the Sunpentown 65-Pint Dehumidifier. Check it out:  http://amzn.to/YC1WiG

        Remember, if you have both AC and dehumidifiers in the same space, make sure the AC is set to “recycled air” (the AC will use the dehumidified air and be more efficient anyway) and make sure the living area being cooled is properly sealed off (e.g. no doors or windows open to the outside, etc.).

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          Installing a solar PV system at home?

          Energy efficient solar PV systems for housesHave you considered installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on your home rooftop to produce electricity, either to offset your power bills, or eliminate them completely and sell your excess power to the grid for a profit? Making money off the sun! The more energy efficient your house, the better the returns! Sounds great but what is involved?

          I am in the process of installing a 5kW solar PV system on my roof (as well as a new hot water system). As prices for solar PV keep dropping and my electricity supply company is still paying reasonably well for any excess power I would produce, this makes a lot of financial sense for me. The dollars must stack up, that is always my first criteria in deciding to do any big home improvements – for energy efficiency or otherwise.

          A good friend of mine installed a 7kW system two years ago (at much greater expense than I am prepared to commit!), and is now making even more money than they planned simply because the payments FROM the electric company kept getting bigger. This was not due to any increase prices; they were simply using less power to maximize their returns! Reducing their energy use as a money-making exercise has changed their behavior for the better!

          So now it is my turn… and the financial conditions are right for me.
          But, before I spend $10,000 to $15,000 for a contractor to do the work, I wanted to know:
          (a) what exactly am I buying, and
          (b) is there a cheaper way?

          The engineer in me wants to know more than what you see in the sales brochure! And the need to tinker in my garage must be satisfied! So I have been doing lots of research, talking to lots of people and reading lots of things. I was particularly interested in reading about people who had installed their own systems and what was their experience.
          I must say, there is a lot of rubbish out there on the internet. Especially in the make-your-own solar cells space! Apart from being illegal in a lot of places, I assume the reliability, lifetime and cost of these systems make them unviable – especially when I am so time-poor!

          However, one excellent book I read was “5 Solar Years” where the author explained in detail exactly how he installed his own off-grid solar PV system. I found this an excellent example of a “real” system that obviously has been done right, without all the hype that seems to be common-place these days. Check it out for yourself here!

          I will keep up updated on the progress on my roof!

          I would love to hear from anyone who is considering or has already installed such PV systems at home; drop me a line on Facebook – and don’t forget to “Like” the page!
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            Insulating Paint – is it worth it?

            Insulating Paint for HousesSomeone told me they painted their house (at great expense) with a fancy “insulating paint“. So, how effective are insulating paints on houses (in terms of energy efficiency) and are they worth the expense?

            I had to be honest and told him I generally do not believe they are worth the money in most cases, as most of the benefit comes from reflecting sunlight away rather than actually blocking heat transmission through the surface (which is what insulation really is about). The guy thought I was some sort of enviro-vandal and I did not know what I was on about!

            I caught up with them recently and, unfortunately, two hot summers later they have had to install additional insulation as the insulating paint did not appear to provide much benefit.

            If you are thinking of using “insulating paint”, I would recommend the following criteria:
            1.   You live in a hot, dry climate where the summer sun is the biggest issue.
            2.   You do not have space (inside or outside the roof/wall) to install more traditional insulation sheeting.
            3.   And the aesthetic appeal justifies the additional cost.
            I would not bother if you need insulation for a cold or a humid location.

            Check out this article if you want to read more or still don’t believe me ;-)
            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=benefits-of-insulating-paint

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            Keep cool this summer!

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              Scam Alert – magic devices that “reduce power bills”

              Scam Alert - reducing electricity billsI just saw a very cute animated video for a product you can install yourself for a few bucks and it will “dramatically reduce your electricity bills”. Little Johnny or Jane will never be cold again at winter as power will be super cheap…

              Sounds awesome but, sorry to say, this sounded a lot like the old “power factor correction” device scam that has been around for years.
              I checked it out and saw some reviews of the same product and the feedback was less than encouraging.

              I will spare you the techie discussion as to what this actually means (just Google it – there is more than enough written about it), but this stuff will not work on residential homes although they may provide marginal improvements for larger scale consumers (think industrial/commercial facilities).
              The animation was very slick and they made it sound easy as pie for any smuck with three left thumbs to do on the weekend. There was even some bonus products on building your own solar cells and wind turbines (I will do another post on those subjects!).

              Enough airtime on this – if you see any ads (animated or otherwise) for a magic box that claims to “dramatically reduce your utility bills”, I suggest you treat them with healthy skepticism and PLEASE check by doing a simple Google search before paying anything!

              If you know of any other dubious schemes, let us know on Facebook – and don’t forget to “Like” the page!
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              P.S.  if you know any good stuff, also let me know!!! ;-)

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                Window Blinds and Energy Efficiency – Blind to your Blinds?

                Window Blinds and Energy EfficiencyWhat are the best type of window blinds for maximizing energy efficiency?

                Blinds are a great way to regulate the light and heat that can enter your home. They are usually selected for their aesthetics: color, style and general feeling they give. We installed some great vertical blinds recently that really gave our living room a fresh, clean, bright look. What most people don’t realize (except the cool people reading this) is that the primary benefits are thermal comfort and contribution to energy efficiency.

                We used to have dark wooden “plantation” shutters which were great to block the light in summer and looked nice, but generally sucked in winter as they did not let much light in. Also, dark blinds may block the light in summer but they do not reflect it away – hence the blinds get hot and they are in the room so the room still gets warmer. So now we have white blinds which let lots more light in in winter, and REFLECT much more light away in summer. The most obvious benefit we notice is at night, the room is much brighter as more of the light is reflected off the white blinds back into the room. This means we don’t need to have more lights on or higher wattage lights installed.

                In summary, the “optimal” type of blinds I would install for maximum energy efficiency are white or light colored that can reflect light (to reflect inside room in winter and at night, and reflect light away in summer) and are not translucent as these let some light through in summer and do not reflect as much light.

                For more enlightening stories (forgive the pun), check out our Facebook page – just “Like” us to join the community!
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                  Are Energy Efficient Homes Worth More?

                  Are Energy Efficient Homes Worth More?If you need/want to sell your house, what can you expect as the “energy efficiency premium“?
                  On this subject, I could write for ages… Short answer is YES if it has been done right!

                  If the aesthetics are OK, then the reduced operating costs should make the home more valuable. Also keep in mind, if the home has all the appropriate energy saving features, then the new owner will not incur that expense in future. Just don’t spend too much (we are big on that here!) to avoid losing out.

                  The most important thing is to EDUCATE your prospective buyers (and your realtor agent!) – have it clearly and simply stated what the energy efficient features of your property are, what they cost to install (i.e. what would the new owner have to pay to do it themselves) and some idea of the cost saving so far. Be specific and transparent – I suggest a simple one page brochure left in the house if you have good features. Get your agent to fully understand and make sure they are highlighting this to the potential buyers.

                  Unfortunately, lenders may not see this additional value as they may not take reduced operating costs into account for loan serviceability… maybe give the same information brochure the lender?
                  This article shows the difficulties observed in valuations of energy efficient homes:  http://bit.ly/12tUcP8

                  I would also argue that some people do not place value on energy efficiency anyway; e.g. if the economy is improving, energy prices low, etc. some people may think there is an unnecessary premium to pay. Some buyers may like to idea of renovating the home themselves so would rather not pay more if some or all is done for them. My experience is most people out there, unfortunately, do not have  “energy efficiency” high on their priority list when shopping around for a house. They are more interested in affordability, proximity to schools, work, transport, number of room, color of the bathroom tiles, etc.
                  Hopefully, as awareness of these issues increase they will turn to the light! (and it should be an LED ;-) )

                  With that “bad news” in mind, I believe it is vital to not over-spend on home improvements. Keep it simple & effective – fix the big ticket items (like we talk about all over this site!)

                  I suspect that buyers who appreciate the energy efficient features will realize their value and be prepared to pay for them, the rest may not.
                  At the end of the day, the right price for a house is what the market is willing to pay – so educate your market!

                  I would love to get other people’s opinion on this… just go to our Facebook page – and don’t forget to “Like” us!
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                    Energy Audit of Your Attic and Fireplace

                    Home Energy AuditA home energy audit is designed to check the physical aspects of your home to find potential improvements in energy efficiency and reduce your energy costs, and obviously save money! One of the most important and often underestimated areas are fireplaces and attics (or lofts).

                    The loft or attic (whichever you prefer) is a great place for junk – and often valuable, priceless items – but how energy efficient is it? You’ve got insulation? Great! But that isn’t everything that you need. These areas must have open-air vents to make sure air can circulate and the roofing isn’t destroyed by moisture etc.

                    That wouldn’t usually be a problem since the ceiling has enough insulation to prevent too much heat escaping. The place that many people struggle with is the entrance way to the room and this may be difficult to seal easily. Even if you just have a small man-hole to get into this roof space, just think of the heat that escapes and the amount of money you waste! You can quickly save energy at home by placing tape around those edges or even buying temporary seals to put in place. Your home energy efficiency could increase up to 25%!

                    Moving onto the fireplace – another area that makes having an easy sustainable home a challenge. The fireplace has one job: to remove all the smoke out of the home through the use of the rising heat. When the fireplace isn’t being used, it will still offer somewhere for your heat to escape – remember that warm air rises naturally!

                    So, you need to make your home more energy efficient by closing the flue whenever the fireplace isn’t used; just remember to open it the next time you use your fireplace! This is the easiest way to make some easy energy savings, but one that is often forgotten.

                    Fight the costs of your utilities by performing an audit on your home energy efficiency today. Check the basics in the attic and fireplace to keep a cap on heating costs.

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