Image Source: Mia
Dear Pablo: I want to do what's right for the planet but is it really cost-effective to buy a new washing machine? It seems like it would take a long time to pay off.
Of course the balance between environmental impact and personal finances varies from person to person. We all do have something in common, we want to reduce our environmental impact and we want to save money. These can be measured in both a simple ROI (return on investment) and an environmental ROI. I have been sitting on this reader-submitted question for a few months because I really wanted to use direct measurements and real life costs to provide my answer. I am finally getting a new washer so this question's time has come.How Does The Old Washer Measure Up?
The washer that came with my house is a top-loading Whirlpool LSR6332KQO. It's not an ancient machine but it also doesn't seem very efficient. To provide a comparison between the old and the new washers I had to decide on a load of laundry to run in both. Since the industry standard measure of capacity seems to be either the number of jeans or bath towels that a machine can hold I decided that it would be one of these. Now my jeans might be twice as heavy as yours and I don't have more than two pairs but everyone has a couple of bath towels. I began by loading bath towels into my old washer. By the count of eight it was stuffed to the gills. The total weight of the dry towels was 14.5 pounds.
Since all washers plug into a conventional 110 Volt outlet I was able to plug my washer into a Kill-a-Watt meter that measures a product's electricity use over time. I was surprised to find that the machine was using 1 Watt. I didn't think that a washing machine, with no circuit boards would have a "vampire load" but apparently it does. Each Watt represents 8.76 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year so the machine is already costing me $1.40 per year, even if I don't use it. I ran the washing machine and it ran for about 20 minutes, almost shaking the house apart during the spin cycle. The total energy use for this load was 0.30 kWh, equivalent to leaving a 15 Watt CFL on for 9 hours. Assuming three loads per week, this machine uses 46.8 kWh per year, or $7.50.
Of course, this isn't the only cost involved. The old machine uses a lot of water, about 40 gallons per load. If you run your wash with hot water, you need to factor in your cost to heat that water. Another major factor is the water content of your finished load. Unless you are line-drying, this moisture needs to be removed by your dryer. Despite my wall-shaking spin cycle, the finished load weighed 24 Pounds and needed about an hour in the dryer. The minimum energy factor (like MPG for cars) for a standard capacity electric dryer is 3.01 meaning that it uses one kWh for every three pounds of laundry. My load is 24 pounds, so it will use 8 kWh per load, or 832 kWh per year, costing me $133.
Bring In The New Washer!
A Federally-funded program, similar to Cash For Clunkers is currently in effect in California. The available $36 million will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis until it is all gone. The state will pay you $200 to replace an old refrigerator or $100 for your old washer. On top of this my electric utility, PG&E; (Pacific Gas and Electric) is offering a $50 rebate and my water district is providing an additional $75. Finally, the store I bought it from was offering 30% off on all Energy Star-rated appliances (if you live in Marin County, or nearby, go see Laura in the appliance department at the Sears in Terra Linda, she will take good car of you).
My new washer was just delivered and the old one was taken away for recycling. The new washer is a front-loading Whirlpool Duet. The Energy Star Energy Guide stated that this unit will use 138 kWh each year, but this is based on 8 loads per week. At my three loads per week I am looking at 52 kWh per year. I loaded my eight towels and sent it on its maiden voyage. The machine required half as much laundry detergent, was very quiet and used only 0.18 kWh.
The towels came out drier and weighed only 21.5 pounds. This means that the dryer will use about 7.1 kWh, or about 1 kWh less than with the old washer. These towels are almost dry enough that I could hang them on the towel bar and have dry towels by morning.
So What's The Verdict On Washing Machines?
While the new washing machine is great you can achieve a much greater ROI by simply washing with cold water and line drying. Based on my expected energy savings of $27.95 per year, this investment has a payback period of almost 25 years, and that is including the discounts and rebates. If my household did more like 8 loads of laundry per week and if we used hot water instead of cold, then we would certainly see much larger gains by switching machines and switching to cold water. Most importantly, if we were to switch to line drying, we could save over $200 per year, giving us a payback period of less than 4 years. Of course, if your old machine is broken and you are considering a new washing machine there is no question that Energy Star is the way to go.
Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com, an experienced greenhouse gas engineer and the Senior Environmental Program Manager at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
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