Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Energy efficiency in your dryer is like dating the nerd

Renewable energy is sexy; energy efficiency is not. Everybody knows. Everybody's got an opinion about why that is. I like the way another blog at Renewable Energy World puts it: "[I]f renewable energy is the girl that everyone wants to be photographed near, energy efficiency is her nerdy tag-along little brother."

I was thinking about this when I started testing dryer balls.

LADWP has an energy efficiency handout; Top 10 Energy Using Appliances in Your Home. I don't have #1 (central air) or #3 (pool pumps). I have #2 (window air conditioner) but it's really a backup system. It's a highly-rated EnergyStar version of the smallest window unit I could find; I don't know if I could use it any more efficiently. #4 is your washer/dryer.

Most of the good efficiencies in your washer are in the buttons. No hot rinse; cold water works great for washing; use the smallest water setting you can. Some people line dry after that and forgo the dryer entirely. I can't pull that off. There's a squirrel race war (black on brown on grey violence) in the tree overhanging my house and I can't leave anything on a line without finding it on the ground with tiny evil prints all over it.

A friend in New Orleans told me about dryer balls. (Get ready to forgive my green ignorance often, people.) You can buy commercial ones that look like asteroids or land mines. I like the wool ones because they hold moisture longer than just about anything else in the dryer, so your clothes get dry, but not too dry (a leading cause of the cling). You can make 'em yourself. Four to six of them inside a regular dryer (my landlord has given us a combo up-and-down washer/dryer) have cut my drying time a good 20-25% so far. It's the easiest efficiency I've started since getting a shower timer.

So why isn't THIS the trend? It's probably the fact that commodifying efficiency is hard. It's not naturally a consumptive act. You can throw money at solar panels on a rooftop, or get a car that plugs in. But the key ingredient of being an energy miser is thinking differently about your energy, not buying stuff. True, I did buy dryer balls (I didn't have any wool sweaters lying around to unwind). Still: everything else is about less.

I'm not a natural for this green living business. I'm busy, and lazy, and while I don't tend to have money to throw at a problem, chances are I'll try to if I can. But I can get on board with this nerd. He's not pretty to look at, but he's lower-maintenance than his big sister. He's a cheaper date.