Like many folks these days, I’m really in no financial position to be adding to my list of home projects. Still, it’s hard for me not to daydream a little bit—especially about gadgets that would save water, energy, and space in the home.
Consider, for example, a wonder-appliance that’s used widely overseas: a super-efficient clothes washer and dryer in a single unit. Yes, such things do exist, even in the US, but they’re far more common in boats and RVs than in people’s homes.
Combining two major appliances into one saves manufacturing energy, and is a perfect space-saving solution for apartments and smaller homes. But for some of these combos, the coolest feature is a super-fast spin cycle that extracts most of the water from wet clothes through centrifugal force, not heat. The super-spin is a great idea: clothes dryers use more electricity in US homes than any other appliance except for fridges; and converting electricity into heat is ridiculously inefficient. (Yuck.) It’s much better to squeeze your clothes dry than to heat them.
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Of course, if I wanted to go super-duper efficient, I’d take another idea from RVs and boats—the hand-cranked washer and counter-top spin-dryer. I’ve never seen them in action, but they sound nifty—the washer in particular uses water and detergent so sparingly that it’s marketed to folks with low-capacity septic systems. The only drawback is that you can only do a bit of laundry at a time, so it may not be the most convenient solution for a big family. Still, if you’re looking to cut back on your water and power bills, this combo is hard to beat.
Or consider the nifty gadget to the left: a combined toilet-handbasin that reuses water from the sink to fill the tank for the next flush. (The model in the picture is the Caroma Profile Smart, and is currently only available in Australia. Sigh.) The water savings are impressive: according to this video at the Popular Mechanics website, the Caroma toilet uses 17 percent less water than a dual flush toilet with a separate handbasin, and 70 percent less than a standard toilet + handbasin. But as with the combo washer-dryer, perhaps the biggest potential benefit is that it saves space and installation costs—allowing new homes to be a bit smaller and for a bit less money, without losing an iota of modern convenience.
The real point of all this meandering is this: there are TONS of off the shelf products that can save families money, water and energy. They’re not exotic, they’re not complicated, they’re not that expensive. They’re just uncommon…so far, at least.
Just as importantly, there are plenty of super-efficient product ideas that are just over the horizon, and wouldn’t be that hard to implement. (Take, for example, this concept for a recycling washer-dryer combo that uses rinse water from one load to wash the next.)
There’s simply no reason we can’t make these sorts of appliances the norm, rather than the exceptions. And now that both money and energy are at a premium, there’s no reason to dawdle, either.
No fair! What’s the 411 on the washer/dryer combo pictured?!:)
We had one of those washer/dryer combos when we lived in Ireland for a couple of years. They are SLOW. Perhaps this is just the spoiled North American talking, but it took like 3 hours to dry a load of laundry. We ended up hanging lots of our clothes instead, so it helped us save even more energy!
Sorry Clark, but I usually get excited about cool appliances that can save energy and water, but I had one of those washing machines in England. It was worthless. We ended up buying a really cool clothes rack instead. (I have never found one as handy as that here in the US and shipping it back was cost prohibitive. Sigh… But I digress)I’m sure the technology today is better. However, combining two fundamentally different processes (washing clothes with water and removing the water from those clothes) seems silly to me. Kind of like having a fridge with a built in Microwave maybe?
My most recent appliance purchase is a hanging bag to hold clothes pins. It affixes to my clothes line and cost me less than $3. True confessions: I have an inordinate amount of love for it.
Matt the Engineer
I had access to a washer-dryer combo while renting a room, and there’s one more energy and water saving feature: you never forget to change loads. I admit my particular forgetfulness and lack of follow-through may be of a larger scale than most, but occasionally (ok, a bit more than occasionally) I walk to the basement and find a washer load that I’d neglected to move to the dryer several days ago. This requires a re-wash (usually with a bit of bleach) to get rid of the mildew smell. Not with an all-in-one, since every load is automatically a dryer load.Other washer-related efficiencies:Horizontal axis washer. These, like the washer-dryer, ring water out much better than a vertical axis (top loading) washer. I recently bought one and found I have to dry my clothes about half as long. These also require much less soap and water compared to a vertical axis washer.Condensing dryer. These are great. What it does is pre-heats air it pulls from the room by pulling heat from the exhaust. This causes steam in the exhaust to condense, and the water is dumped down a drain. The main reason people have these is to avoid needing to vent their dryers, but they’re wonderfully efficient because you aren’t dumping all of that heat energy outside your house – you’re using it to warm up air you were about to warm up anyway. These can dump heat to the laundry room as well, but we live in a heating climate so that usually isn’t a bad thing.Clothes line. Ok, not always an option with our climate. But when it’s not raining this is a great energy-free dryer. I’ve seen clotheslines on buildings throughout the world, but they’re strangely lacking here.
Silus -Sorry! You’re right, that was a mistake—hopefully corrected now. It’s a Panasonic dryer with a heat pump feature—I found it at Gizmodo. More here: “Panasonic incorporated a heat-pump dryer for the first time in the world, so that no heater [sic] or water is used during the dry cycle.
Matt the Engineer
Oooh, a heat pump dryer. Now that’s some serious washing efficiency. I assume it’s used like a condensing dryer, only using a heat pump to harvest waste heat more efficiently. They could even pull heat from the rinse cycle, at least to start up the process.
Although the Caroma Profile is not yet available in the US, you should consider a “regular” Caroma Dual Flush toilet. They use 0.8 gallons of water for liquid and paper waste and 1.6 gpf for solids. See http://www.caromausa.com for details. You save 40% compared to a regular 1.6 gpf toilet.
(pssst…)Hey Clark,I think you actually posted the picture of the Caroma Profile Smart “nifty gadget” toilet-handbasin to the left…Maybe you were thinking about Australia where they seem to do everything “backwards”?…;-)
Thanks, mvp. I thought I fixed that.
Joe just Joe
A little late to the party but I thought I’d share my experiences. I have a LG 3677 washer/dryer combo, it wasn’t cheap at just over $2000 about 4 years ago but it’s been one of the best purchases ever. (I’m sure it’s cheaper now). It doesn’t use much water and detergent only needs 120v power and it does vent. These things should be standard in all new condos as they would actually save the developers time and money, plus more space is left for storage. Anyways it takes from 2.5-3.5hrs per load and the best part is you can program the start time, you can throw in a load have it start up a few hours later and it’ll be done when you get home from work. heck if you get stuck at work late it automatically spins every 5 minutes so your clothes don’t wrinkle.
Linda Shepard Salzer
The toilet/sink combo sounds like a good idea at first but the water in the tank is usually very cold…
Seattle City Light is evaluating home electricity monitors right now. It’s a low-profile evaluation testing three different types in a dozen homes each. We were lucky to be selected to be randomly selected. In July they installed a “Cent-a-meter” monitor on our electical panel that wirelessly broadcasts usage to the remote display device. Apparently, they’re between $100 and $200 + installation costs. The companies state that people can save 20% on their electricity bill by monitoring usage.http://www.smarthomeusa.com/Shop/Smart-Energy/http://www.centameter.com.au/
Gaiam.com has a toilet lid sink you can just put on your existing toilet. http://www.gaiam.com/product/eco-home-outdoor/bathroom/accessories/toilet+lid+sink.doI have one and it works well. I don’t mind the cold water. It might not fit odd toilet designs.
That’s cool, Sue! Such a smart, simple idea.
Matt the Engineer
[David], one nice thing about those devices is that in theory it makes the job of meter reading much easier. You just have a truck that drives up and down the street once a month wirelessly collecting meter data. This should easily pay back for that $200 a device for the power company.