High Efficiency Washers: Better Results, Less Energy

Brett Freeman

So what's really the most energy efficient way to get your laundry clean? That's easy. Take your clothes down to the river, beat them against a rock until they're clean, rinse, wring, and hang them in a tree to dry. Total energy consumption--zero (unless you cheated and drove to the river). But if you're one of those people who want to get your clothes clean without risk of injury or hypothermia, a high efficiency (HE) washer is probably the way to go.

What Makes an HE Washer Highly Efficient?
HE washers do several things differently than conventional washers, which result in energy savings. Front loading HE washers use a rotating drum that continuously tumbles clothes through water and detergent so that all of your clothes get soapy and saturated using about half the water of conventional models.

Top loading HE models accomplish the same thing by using wheels or plates to tumble clothes, and sprayers that recirculate water to the top of the pile. Using less water is good news for the environment, but less water also means less water needs to be heated for warm and hot water wash and rinse cycles. This is where most of the energy savings is realized, because heating water accounts for 90 percent of the energy used by conventional washers.

At the end the cycle, HE washers spin about twice as fast as conventional washers, getting an added boost from gravity because they drain out the bottom, not out the sides. This removes more water from laundry, reducing the amount of energy needed to get it dry. (Note: the matching driers sold as companions to HE washers are not notably more efficient than their predecessors, so if you don't care about having a matching set, you can save a few hundred dollars by purchasing an "old-fashioned" drier that works just as well.)

But Are They Worth the Money?
HE washers can cost twice as much as conventional washers of comparable quality. Before you reject buying an HE washer based on price, consider the following. First and foremost is energy savings. The U.S. Department of Energy, which is notoriously conservative in projections of this type, estimates an annual savings of at least $50. This means, at worst, the difference in cost is covered by lower utility bills over the life of the washer. Most estimates put the savings closer to $100 a year or more, especially as energy costs remain high.

In some states, you may also be eligible for a tax rebate or a cash rebate from your utility company if you buy an HE washer. Finally, there is the less quantifiable but very real savings from towels, linens and clothes that last longer because HE washers are gentler on fabrics than conventional models. Lower energy costs are one thing, but can you really put a price on being able to wear your favorite jeans for an extra year or two?


About the Author
Brett Freeman is a freelance journalist. He also owns a landscaping and irrigation company in North Carolina. Previously he has worked as a beat reporter, a teacher, and for a home improvement company, and he used to own a bar/live music venue.


 

About the Author
Brett Freeman is a freelance journalist. He also owns a landscaping and irrigation company in North Carolina. Previously he has worked as a beat reporter, a teacher, and for a home improvement company, and he used to own a bar/live music venue.


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