the appliance from hell: the lowly clothes dryer
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One thing that’s neat about passivhaus is the unholy fixation practitioners have on heat sources and sinks. Stuff you (or at least I…) don’t 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 thief—an embezzler, really—who 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. It’s a miracle I’ve gotten any sleep at all lately!
Amazingly, there isn’t 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), it’s 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 doesn’t use that much air!” “But, dude, have you seen that sucker blow! It‘s 200 cfm!!!”). I’m thinking we’ll 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…), I’m hoping that manufacturers will start making appliances for different climates. For example, having a fridge with a condenser that could be placed outside (we don’t put our AC condensers in the house, now do we?). Until that time, it appears you’ll see me stumbling about town with dark bags under my eyes (and higher electric bills).