EPA Finally Adds Clothes Dryers to Energy Star Program

At last, the clothes dryer is entering the age of energy efficiency.

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We’ve covered the fact that refrigerators are one of the most energy-guzzling appliances in a typical household—so much so that they use almost 10 times more energy in a year than the average Ethiopian.

That said, the impact on your utility bill is fairly negligible; most of the products we review are estimated to cost you between $25-$50 per year, at a rate of $0.09 per kWh. New energy standards aim to improve refrigeration technology by about 10%, or roughly $6 per year. It seems we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns in this category.

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[Image: Todd Moss, Center for Global Development]

But dryers are another matter entirely. They're the second biggest drain on energy, and thus far they've been largely ignored by America's biggest driver of energy efficiency—Energy Star. According to Energy Star itself, that's because dryers don’t really vary that much from product to product. That’s also why we’ve never included an efficiency test in our own dryer reviews.

By the EPA's reckoning, if all dryers met Energy Star's standards, we'd save more than $1.5 billion and 22 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

But according to a press release by the EPA, that's all set to change. Heat pump technology and smart grid connectivity are leading the way to a more efficient laundry room, and that means Energy Star is ready to start awarding badges to clothes dryers.

To meet the brand-new Energy Star guidelines, dryers will have to use 20% less electricity than machines that meet the 2015 federal efficiency minimums. By the EPA's reckoning, if all U.S. dryers met Energy Star's more stringent standards, we'd collectively save more than $1.5 billion each year and more than 22 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Heat Pumps & Smart Grids

Heat pump dryers are already fairly common in Europe, land of high energy costs. LG is taking steps to bring this more effective drying technology to the U.S. market: The company is releasing the first American heat pump dryer, expected to hit stores some time this summer.

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The LG DLHX4072V heat pump dryer (right) and matching washer, the WM4070HVA. The dryer is meant to hit US markets this summer, and is expected to cost about $1,500. View Larger

At about $1,500, it’s definitely more expensive than a standard dryer. Heat pump dryers cycle hot air throughout the machine, collecting moisture that then cools, condenses back into water, and is drained out through a hose. It doesn’t require vents, only needs to heat a small amount of air to get going, and could even cut down on drying times.

With estimated energy savings of 30-50%, it’s definitely a long-term investment.

The other big change is the growing prevalence of smart grid connectivity.

Most people already know that energy companies charge you less during off-peak hours, which is why so many people—myself included—do laundry or run the dishwasher overnight. Smart grid appliances take the guesswork out of getting energy at its cheapest. Everyone loves machines that make life simpler and more affordable, and with the wave of connected appliances hitting the market today, smart grid is an obvious step towards improving the efficiency of not just dryers, but every cycle-based appliance.

For more information, be sure to check out the EPA press release. Energy efficiency is one of the largest issues of our time, and incorporating improvements into commonplace technology—like dryers and other appliances—will only make life better for everyone.

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