The next time your washing machine or tumble dryer gives up the ghost and you go on search for a replacement, why not find a machine that will help you reduce your utility bills and conserve water and natural resources at the same time? Here’s what you should know to get started with finding a new green machine.
How do you tell if a washing machine is energy efficient? It’s easy – that’s if it carries the EU energy label. We don’t have any legally mandated energy or eco-efficiency labelling requirements in South Africa. But most reputable brands represented on the local shop floor will carry the same energy labelling that they are required to display in Europe. Even if you can’t find a label, a quick web search should provide what you need (if the machine you are looking at has no traceable label we would issue a word of caution as far as eco-credentials go).
The EU energy label is based on a cotton 60ºC program cycle and provides a standard measure by which energy efficiency, washing and spin-drying performance levels are rated. The energy label for washing machines comprises of three classifications: energy efficiency, washing, and spin-drying performance. So if a machine has an AAA rating this means it has an A for energy, A for wash quality and A for spin. The highest rating possible is A++ and the lowest is G. If you want green, you want an A-rated machine or better.
Depending on the machine manufacturer and location of manufacture, you might on rare occasion also find an Energy Star label. This is the US energy rating system and is a voluntary program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce pollution. To be Energy Star qualified, washing machines must use 20-30% less energy and water than ‘standard’ washers without sacrificing the features and quality.
And a tumble dryer? There is a difference between condensation and the common vented dryers, with condensation dryers having a lower energy efficiency due to a higher energy usage. But the energy label for tumble-dryers is essentially the same as the one used for washing machines.
When it comes to washing machines there are a number of advances in technology that are important to look out for when it comes to eco-efficiency.
Central agitators, for example, were used in traditional top loaders to agitate clothes in a full tub of water. Advanced top loaders do not have a central agitator but rather use sophisticated wash systems to flip or spin clothes through a reduced stream of water. This dramatically reduces the amount of hot water used in the wash cycle, and the energy used to heat it.
High spin speeds are another important feature to look for in a washing machine. Efficient motors spin clothes two to three times faster during the spin cycle to extract more water. Less moisture in clothes means less time and energy in the dryer.
There are, of course, also a number of manufacture specific design innovations that improve overall perfoemance, including energy and water efficiency, such as sophisticated control systems that optimise wash and spin cycles.
Unlike most other types of appliances, clothes dryers don’t vary massively in the amount of energy used from model to model. But that doesn’t mean that the amount of energy used by clothes is not important. A dryer is typically the second-biggest electricity-using appliance after the refrigerator.
Right now, all dryers on the market work the same – they tumble clothes through heated air to remove moisture. Engineers are working to develop dryers that use microwaves to dry clothes, but these haven’t reached the market yet. One problem still to be overcome is metal rivets and metal zippers, which, of course, don’t microwave well.
There are a few features to look out for when buying an efficient clothes dryer. Look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only does this save energy, it reduces wear and tear on clothes caused by over-drying. The best dryers have moisture sensors in the drum, while most only estimate dryness by sensing the temperature of the exhaust air. Compared with timed drying, you can save about 10% with a temperature sensing control, and 15% with a moisture sensor.
Also look out for dryers with a cycle that includes a cool-down period, sometimes known as a ‘perma-press’ cycle. In the last few minutes of the cycle, cool air, rather than heated air, is blown through the tumbling clothes to complete the drying process.
Finally, and very importantly, one of the keys to long-term energy, water and money savings from washing machines, dryers, or any appliance for that matter, is to buy the right size for your needs. Which is really about matching the size of your household. If your washing machine is too small for your family, then you need to do more loads and end up using more resources. If it is too large then you can wait a few days until you can fill a load to avoid wasting water and energy.
Source: Simply Green Sept/Oct 2010
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