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Water Heaters: 5 Tips for Saving Energy

Published: November 5, 2010
Your hot water heater eats energy: We want to reduce its appetite. Here are inexpensive things you can do to increase efficiency and cut energy bills.

Clothes Dryer
Essentially a box with a heater and fan, a clothes dryers is a surprisingly uncomplicated machine. But that doesn’t mean that purchasing one is equally straightforward. Despite the fact that every dryer sold today reliably dries clothes, there’s great range in terms of price, design, and features. The good news is that there’s often little difference in terms of performance.

Because there isn’t much disparity in energy consumption among dryers, these appliances aren’t required to bear Energy Guide labels, nor are they included in the Energy Star program.

Cost range: $280-$1,200 and up

Likely additional costs: Delivery, installation, haul away, gas line hookup, or 220-volt electrical outlet installation if none exists

Average life span: 12-18 years

Gas or electric: The heat that dryers generate to dry clothes comes either from an electrical heating element or a gas-fired burner. As is the case with ranges and cooktops, home setups often dictate which to purchase. Although roughly $80 more than identical electric models, gas dryers can trim as much as 50% off operating costs, depending on the price of natural gas in your area, according to the Consumer Energy Center.

In addition to a gas line, gas dryers require a standard 110-volt electrical outlet. An electric dryer, however, requires a dedicated 220-volt outlet.

Appearance: Most customers select a particular model clothes dryer not for its performance, but for its appearance, says Lenny Kaminski, sales manager at B & B Appliances, an 85-year-old retail outlet in Cleveland. Simply put, many homeowners want their dryer to match their washer.

To match the shape and style of a modern energy-efficient front load washer, expect to pay at least $650. Designer colors have reached the laundry room, with vivid reds, blues, and metallic finishes available as options. To purchase a dryer in shades other than white, beige or bisque, plan on spending $600 and up.

Size and capacity: The standard width of a clothes dryer is 27 to 29 inches. Trimmer models are available for compact spaces. Drum capacity is measured in cubic feet, with most models ranging from 5.5 to 7. Higher-end models stretch up to 8 cubic feet, but experts say that much of that room is wasted. Look for one with about twice the capacity of your clothes washer.

Variable settings for time and temperature: Shoppers need not pay extra for a machine with multiple temperature settings—even the most basic models have low, medium, and high. The same is true for timed dry sessions. As shoppers move up the product ladder (starting around $350), additional options such as no-heat “air fluff” for delicates and heavy duty for jeans start to appear.
The same is true for models with “wrinkle shield,” a feature that intermittently tumbles the clothes following a dry cycle to prevent wrinkles. Pricier machines have double the settings, but most are rarely used.

Moisture sensor: A dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the house, a fact made worse when these appliances run longer than necessary. Dryers with moisture sensors in the drum automatically shut off when the clothing is dry, trimming about 15% in operating costs, according to the Consumer Energy Center. The good news is that this feature is pretty much standard on all modern machines. Make sure to look for it.

Removable dryer rack: Dryer racks protect hats, sneakers, and other delicate items from getting knocked about by suspending them above the drum for tumble-free drying. The feature typically is unavailable on machines under $450. Says Kaminski: “People don’t wind up using them as much as they thought they would.”

Noise dampening: Depending on where the dryer sits in the house, this feature can be quite valuable. For dryers positioned near living areas and bedrooms, the extra money spent for noise reduction is easily justified. Quiet dryers, which start around $600, contain special sound-dampening materials on the top and sides of the appliance.

Steam: Shoppers comfortable spending at least $900 on a clothes dryer can opt for one with steam technology, a feature designed to remove wrinkles and odors. Some steam-equipped dryers require a water hookup, while others rely on a reservoir that the homeowner fills manually. Cost-conscious consumers claim to achieve similar results by adding a damp washcloth to a wrinkled load.

Stainless steel drum: Unlike ceramic-coated steel drums, stainless steel ones stay free of nicks and scratches caused by metal zippers, buttons, and rivets. Additionally, stainless drums will remain rust-free, preventing wet clothes from becoming stained. Clothes dryers with stainless drums start appearing in the $500 range.

Expected maintenance/repairs: Lint trays should be cleaned before every load. Vent hoses and exhaust lines should be cleaned and inspected once a year. The drive belt that turns the drum may wear out and snap, necessitating replacement. The electric heating element can burn out, requiring a $125 replacement part plus labor. Digital control panels, while reasonably reliable, can cost up to $250 plus labor to repair.

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