Dyer: You-are-stuck-at-home energy audit

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

This is the final article in the COVID-19 you-are-stuck-at-home energy audit.

In the last column we covered issues with refrigerators. Let’s talk now about clothes dryers, clothes washers and dishwashers. (Water heaters demand a column all to themselves.)

5. Clothes dryers. Dryers (and toasters) are an interesting challenge. Using an electric or gas element to create heat doesn’t leave much room for energy efficiency. Here, however, you do have a high tech answer. All heating and cooling is moving toward heat pumps — air heat pumps, ground heat pumps (geoexchange), and if you own a pool or lakefront property, open-loop heat pumps. Modern heat-pump clothes dryers work at a fraction of the energy. They also have the bonus of being better for your clothes — rather than baking your clothes to evaporate the water, they dehumidify. They don’t need a vent to the outdoors, but the extracted water does need someplace to drain and they can’t do their job if you lock them up in a tiny utility closet. The other alternative is the laundry line, or as a friend said to me “We let God dry”. Let me know when you figure out how to get God to make toast.

4. Clothes washers. Appliances have changed a lot over the last few decades. Modern clothes washers and detergents can effectively clean clothes in cold water. Save the hot only for mildew or bodily fluids. Because manufacturers put no effort into energy efficiency until the government mandated changes, your appliances have a use-by date. For clothes washers, that date is 2005.

To leverage you great new appliances you need to stop doing two things:

  1. Stop rinsing your dishes.
  2. Stop washing clothes in warm or hot water.

3. Dishwashers. I love how Consumer Reports dates your dishwasher: “A big clue that your dishwasher is decades old is if it is olive, yellow or almond colored”. The reason you need a new dishwasher is not due to energy (although they have dropped from 1.5 kWh to 0.2 kWh per load) but water. There’s a handful of places on the earth where water shortages are going to hurt us long before we get slapped by climate change and unfortunately the Okanagan is on that list. You should replace your dishwasher if it was made in 2003 or earlier.

2. Furnace filter. If you have a forced air system, get the air filter out of your heater — go to the hardware store and buy six of them and mark the change date on your calendar. Normal people need to change furnace filters twice a year. If you have smokers, wildfires, pet hair, or construction dust change them quarterly. Cleaning out the “filter” is just plain good mechanical advice. It applies to your clothes dryer, humidifier, refrigerator (clean the exposed coils), and vacuum cleaner.

1. Vampire Appliances. The last thing on my list is finding vampire appliances — appliances that don’t actually turn off, or draw a lot of current when they are in standby mode. Your appliances (mostly electronics) have gotten much better so I suggest you go at it intelligently and worry only about the items listed at SaveOnEnergy.

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped insulation entirely.

The trouble is that random houses, of random ages, built by random builders, have insulation holes in random places. It’s not necessarily the builders fault. A water leak can compress insulation, leaving holes at the top of the framing. The only effective way to find insulation holes is to use a thermal camera. You can buy a FLIR on Amazon.ca for $587.

In Kelowna a program started in February 2020 called See The Heat allows you to borrow a thermal camera on via the Okanagan Regional Libraray (the program is currently on hold due to COVID 19). Finally, the best tool for insulation holes is Certified Energy Advisor, who comes with experience, a blower door, and a thermal camera.

Missed last week’s column?

Dyer: DIY energy audit with solar bonus material

About Kristy Dyer:

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com

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