the appliance from hell: the lowly clothes dryer

One thing thats neat about passivhaus is the unholy fixation practitioners have on heat sources and sinks. Stuff you (or at least I) dont think about. Like the thermal impact of flushing a toilet. While that impact is (presumably?) minor, some thermal impacts are not. The one impact that has kept me up at night sweating and shivering in the corner is the appliance from hell, the lowly clothes dryer.

Before considering the lowly clothes dryer in the context of passivhaus, I thought of that white jiggly box in our house as something to (ahem) dry our clothes. You put clothes in, you turn it on, you come back later: dry clothes! Instead, I now see it for what it is: A well camouflaged thiefan embezzler, reallywho skims off the top and steals your money.

The crime the dryer commits is multi-faceted. First, it pilfers your cool air. Just plumb takes it. I was enjoying that cool air, fer cry eye! And I paid to cool it! That's right, the dryer pulls air from its surroundings to do its deed. Second, it then uses valuable electricity to warm that cool air to drying temperature. Begin sobbing here. And third, it ejects that air to the outdoors, creating a negative pressure in the house through which hot air seeps back in as make-up air from Gawd knows where, which I then have to cool so the dryer can warm it up again. Its a miracle Ive gotten any sleep at all lately!

Amazingly, there isnt a dryer on the market (that I am aware of) that uses outdoor air to dry your clothes unless your dryer is already outdoors such as in the garage or on an unconditioned back porch. The dryer in our current house is on our back porch. I figured we were low-rent: turns out we are passivhaus pioneers! Tellingly, the local passivhaus dude plans to put his dryer on a back porch.

There are options. Such as the helpful suggestion by the passivhaus creator, Dr. Wolfgang Feist, to dry your clothes on a clothesline. And while I find drying clothes on a clothesline vaguely romantic (we indeed do it from time to time), its not a good all-the-time option. There is also something called a drying closet which is essentially an enhanced indoor clothesline in a rather large box. There are also condensing dryers, built for cases where there is no place for an exhaust. However, reviews of these critters are mixed with none other than the Canadian government advising against them.

Our current dryer had to get serviced recently, and I took the opportunity to gaze at its innards to see if I could connect hosing to supply it outside air. The repairman thought I was nuts (Dude: It doesnt use that much air! But, dude, have you seen that sucker blow! Its 200 cfm!!!). Im thinking well chose our next dryer based on whether or not we can make this modification.

Given that it seems to be getting hotter around here (two days of record-setting temps at 105 degrees), Im hoping that manufacturers will start making appliances for different climates. For example, having a fridge with a condenser that could be placed outside (we dont put our AC condensers in the house, now do we?). Until that time, it appears youll see me stumbling about town with dark bags under my eyes (and higher electric bills).

1 comment:

  1. Facsinating! I've never thought about dryers that way. I've thought about the refrigerator compressor (good in the winter, bad in the summer), but you're right -- the dryer is worse. (And with a hose to the outside, it seems like it would be easy to add an inlet....)

    Something we did give a lot of thought to was GE's then-new (air source) heat pump water heater, which would actually have cooled the air around it. We thought it would be neat if we could have directed that cool air inside in the summer (but how do you turn the flow off and cover/insulate the hole for winter?).

    I have wanted to get a clothesline going. Maybe I'll get back on that. Shouldn't take longer than, oh, five minutes to dry clothes outside right now.