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Super-efficient clothes dryers: two reasons builders will love them

Image of Samsung DV457 dryer
The Samsung DV457 cuts energy use through better controls, modulating the heat to optimize the drying cycle and stopping the machine at the best point when the clothes are dry.

ENERGY STARĀ® works with manufacturers to increase efficiency by at least 15%

There are ENERGY STAR dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators and air conditioners. (The label makes it easy for consumers to identify and purchase energy efficient products.) And soon, there will be ENERGY STAR-labeled clothes dryers too.

A whole new way of drying clothes is arriving in the North American market. And that's good news for home builders, both during construction and when marketing a home.

Energy use by clothes dryers finally coming down

"Over the last two decades, clothes washers have reduced their energy use from 1,200 kWh per year to around 200," says Gary Hamer, a specialist engineer in Power Smart. "But clothes dryers haven't kept up."

The result is that clothes dryers are now one of the biggest energy hogs in the average home, using 900 kWh per year. That's about twice what a new refrigerator uses or four times what a dishwasher needs.

In the U.S., clothes dryers account for six per cent of all residential electricity consumption, consuming more energy per year than the state of Massachusetts uses for all purposes.

Hamer acknowledges that manufacturers have made energy efficiency gains using temperature or moisture controls to automatically stop the machine when the clothes are dry. However, testing procedures didn't previously take that into account. Now that testing processes have improved, manufacturers are encouraged to make sure that clothes aren't over-dried and that energy is not wasted in the drying cycle.

To help promote efficient clothes dryers, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the ENERGY STAR Emerging Technology Award for advanced clothes dryers. Last year, Samsung won this award for its DV457 model, which uses 36 per cent less energy than conventional clothes dryers.

The Samsung DV457 cuts energy use through better controls, modulating the heat to optimize the drying cycle and stopping the machine at the best point when the clothes are dry. The dryer is pricey now, but Hamer says the price will drop as its popularity increases.

Several other manufacturers have promised to meet the 2014 Emerging Technology Award criteria. Plus, by the end of 2014, the ENERGY STAR for Clothes Dryer criteria will be released. Then, buyers will only need to look for the label to know that they will enjoy at least 15 per cent in energy savings.

Meanwhile, even bigger news in efficient dryers is coming from Europe.

Super-efficient dryers mean no holes in a building's envelope

Europe has pioneered dryers that use a heat pump to draw moisture out of clothes. In head-to-head tests with North American electric-resistance dryers, the heat pump models won hands down, consuming just half the energy used by the U.S. models.

The good news for home builders is that the heat pump dryers are not vented outside. Rather than blowing moist air outdoors through a vent, these dryers condense the water and send it to a drain.

Hamer says for builders, this will make a big difference as new homes are built tighter to reduce air leakage. "In tight homes, clothes dryers create a dilemma for builders," he says. "Where do we get makeup air, and how do we exhaust the moist air? There's big value in not having to put a hole through the wall, or run dryer vents to an outside wall.

"When you eliminate the need to vent, the installation is greatly simplified."

It's expected super-efficient dryers will appear soon on the North American market. That means more choices for builders who are working to improve the air tightness and energy efficiency of their offerings.

Not only is it a valuable perk to offer to buyers, it means one less hole to cut and seal through the envelope. Those are two good reasons to consider super efficient dryers when planning your next build.