Doing the Laundry in 2021

December 22nd way back in 2020

You’d think I’d want the first post of 2021 to be something compelling, but I want to talk about laundry.

This is the story of how we stopped buying washers and dryers from craigslist and got ourselves a brand new high efficiency washer and a heat pump condensing dryer that doesn’t need an exterior vent.

Before I describe our new dryer, would you like our old dryer? It works just fine. I bought it on craigslist two or three years ago and it still works just the way it was intended to. You can pick it up anytime for free.

Nice simple Kenmore electric clothes dryer

Suspicious? Don’t be. I’m giving this dryer away for the reason that I always look for when I buy stuff on craigslist. That is, another appliance broke (our washer) and I decided to buy a matching pair, so I don’t need this one. It’s a little too old for me to feel okay about taking your money for it, but it works fine. (It’s the washing machines you have to look out for.)

Heats up air, blasts it through your tumbling clothes, and pushes it right out of your house
Lint is captured in this filter so you can see how much clothing your clothing has lost by using this machine


Way back when I started this blog I was inspired by the Now House Project in Windsor, Ontario. I learned there are a few key elements to achieving near net zero energy use when you’re retrofitting a home. Off the top of my head they are insulation, alternative sources of power, and conserving energy.

Our progress so far:

Insulation: check

Alternative power: nope
(No solar panels yet, but we have switched to 100% electric power)

Conserving energy: we try, but we’re mostly still buying the most efficient appliances Craigslist has to offer and hoping that saving them from being recycled offsets their ongoing carbon footprint.

When I talk about laundry, it’s in the context of conserving energy. Now House made a point of updating project houses with highly efficient washers and dryers among the other appliances. It must have been so satisfying to replace them all and see an immediate reduction in energy use.

Unfortunately, doing this ourselves was problematic. 1. New appliances are expensive. 2. What about our existing appliances? Isn’t it wasteful to chuck them when they still work? 3. See 1 and 2.

These challenges (especially the money thing) led me to an official policy of waiting until an appliance was completely worn out and then buying the most efficient used one I could find on Craigslist.

That works pretty well. Extending the life of anything is a good way to fight climate change. The efficiency of the appliances steadily increased, and I don’t think I spent more than $200 on any one appliance.

However, used appliances, especially washing machines, tend to die faster than brand new ones (go figure!). It’s a little depressing to replace appliances when we haven’t even finished our renovation since installing the last one.

As for money, I started to ask myself: how many times can I pay $200 for an appliance before it adds up to the cost of a new one? Also, how much money can I save with a more energy efficient machine? Too busy and stressed out to do the math, I let it fester in the part of my brain where I keep my eco-anxiety until about two months ago when our Craigslist-bought, high-efficiency washing machine started spinning itself to death.

Scott’s Appliance Service who helpfully told me our machine’s drum was coming loose and it was time to chuck it. Sigh.So was it time to finally calculate the bottom line of the new vs. used debate?

Nah! Still too stressed. It was time to support local business and buy new! 

Being one of the fortunate households to still have two incomes coming in during the COVID-19 pandemic, tired of re-installing washers, and doubtful that I would find a really really high quality super-efficient washer with lots of life left in it, I went shopping.

I learned from our last washer that the main thing that makes a washer “high-efficiency” is how fast it can spin. The faster it spins, the dryer the clothes get before you put them in the dryer. Then the dryer uses a lot less power to dry them.

Of the pair, it’s the dryer that sucks more power—which is why most need a big 240 volt plug. As I said in a photo caption above, most clothes dryers in North America simply heat up and blow air through your clothes and then blow the hot humid air straight out into the neighbourhood.

We have talked about how to keep that heat in the house with long ducts or short ones with heat exchangers but never found a good solution. A long duct means the air cools a bit before it gets outside, but it wouldn’t make much difference and the dryer would have to work harder and burn out sooner. If you blow the air inside you deal with the humidity and lint dust.

Passive House Designers talk about this stuff a lot but, as this site says, the answer is no, you don’t want a dryer with a vent in a passive house.

I remembered that our friend Walter bought a condensing dryer for their super efficient house, so I asked Haney Appliance and Sound about them. Apparently these units are popular in Europe because old stone buildings don’t have a lot of space for laundry and putting a duct through a stone wall is not so easy. I imagine they may take the climate crisis a little more seriously, too.

This local Maple Ridge store had washer/dryer sets with condensing dryers and heat-pump dryers but only in the compact size. I had to consult with Leanne and do some online research before I decided we really wanted a full-sized heat-pump dryer and matching washer.

The only one I could find was this one from Whirlpool. I asked them to order it for me and boom: $2900 easily spent. (Boy do I feel lucky to have good credit.) That’s something I really like about Haney Appliance & Sound–and you may find this with your local independent store, too–and that it is if I ask them about something, even if they don’t normally carry it, they can usually get it for me and cheaper than the listed price. Whirlpool lists the dryer at CAD$1900 plus tax but I paid about $2900 for washer and dryer, tax included.

A condensing dryer doesn’t blow the humid air outside. Instead, it condenses the moisture out of the air in the dryer and either collects it or pumps it down the same drain your washing machine uses. A heat pump dryer adds a heat pump which makes the whole thing more energy efficient. When you think of a heat pump, think of your refrigerator which “pumps” heat out from the inside. Now reverse that and you get a dryer. Here’s an Australian website that seems to explain the difference pretty well.

Just think. Not only were we heating up air to blow through our clothes and then wasting it by blowing it out the vent, but the air that was blown out of the house created a vacuum inside and all of the nice warm air inside was lost. We’d heated the air inside our house and then blown it all outside so we had to heat it all over again.

It was definitely bittersweet to seal up the duct that I had carefully installed nestled into the siding as I finished the south side of the house. However, sealing up holes in this house is exactly what I’ve been trying to do for over 13 years.

I was unreasonably happy the first time I ran this dryer. It heated the room. For some reason that made me cry.

We call this room the sunroom because of its windows. The windows are original to whenever the small back porch was originally walled in (probably before 1930). When I re-built this room, I could not find reasonably-priced triple-paned windows that would maintain their heritage character so I re-installed the old ones. They are single-paned and the result is the sunroom is the coldest room in the house in the winter. With the new dryer running, the room warms up quickly and only a little extra humidity is evidenced by slightly foggy windows.

The house’s central Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) system is drawing air from this room which means the humidity is reduced in the room and the heat is distributed throughout the house (a little bit, anyway.)

I love it when a plan comes together.

Plug Your House Into Your Car

DSC03942If you free your mind to explore the possibilities for your home, you can come up with some pretty cool ideas. Start with the facts and then free-associate.

Fact 1. The garage of Hammond Forever House is located at the edge of the property, separate from the house. It depends on an electrical line from the house for power.

Fact 2. We disconnected the overhead electrical line to the garage when we lifted the house. We need to replace it.

Fact 3. We own a 2001 Toyota Prius (1st generation gas-electric hybrid car) and plan for our future cars to be 100% electric.

Fact 4. The garage roof slopes toward the south, making it the best roof on the property for installing Photo-Voltaic Solar Panels (the kind that produce electricity).

Fact 5. Dave the Father-in-Law knows a thing or two about electricity and electric cars.

What conclusion do these facts lead to?

Using the car in the garage as a back-up generator of course!

Dave and I at Earth Day Maple Ridge with our display
Dave and I at Earth Day Maple Ridge with our display

If you’re like me, you didn’t come to that conclusion on your own. I needed Dave to think of it because he is a retired electrician and member of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. He knows that as soon as you banish fossil fuels and go 100% electric in your home and transportation, there are a lot of options for making stuff work together.

Having dug up the yard already, it wasn’t a big deal for us to dig another little trench from the house to the garage to bury some electrical conduit. It will be nice to have electricity in the garage without having the overhead wire in the way.

For some reason, Leanne and I were not around that day so Dave and our electrician, Jim from Golden Ears Electric helped the excavator get the trench right. It’s a bit painful paying an electrician to dig a ditch at the rate he charges. Dave, on the other hand, has agreed to put his fee on a lay-away plan. It’s a little vague. Someday, perhaps, like the Godfather, he will ask a favour.

With the trench dug, it was not too much trouble (or money) to run an extra conduit or two so that not only can the garage be powered by the house, but the house can also be powered by the garage! Continue reading Plug Your House Into Your Car

Additions

There are a lot of ways to put an addition on your house.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, If my Dad hadn’t connected us to an architect and we had been able to get a building permit, we might have asked a contractor to go ahead and do a quick and cheap ‘pimple’ on the side of the house. That pimple would have contained a nice new bathroom and master closet and resolved the foundation issues in the basement.

It wouldn’t be too expensive so we could have financed it by re-negotiating our mortgage.

It could have been completed in a conservative 6 months.

Tempting.

It might have looked something like these additions you can find around our Hammond neighbourhood. I don’t have any criticism to offer these homeowners. I don’t know who lives in these houses but they are my neighbours and “friends I haven’t met yet.”

Shed addition on the side. Our addition would have been trickier because the roofline runs the other way.
Shed addition on the side. Our addition would have been trickier because the roofline runs the other way.

Two additions: one shed addition on the right side and another addition at the back.
Two additions: one shed addition on the right side and another addition at the back.

Continue reading Additions

6 year-old son helps planning

Son: “Once we finish the basement, we’ll have things like a swimming pool and a ball pit!”


Leanne: “Well, I don’t think we’re going to have a swimming pool down there.”

Son nobly takes one for the team.

Son: “OK. Just the ball pit then.”

Thank you son, that’s very reasonable of you!

The kids also want a trap door and slide like this. [I used this image without permission!]
The kids also want a trap door and slide like this. [I used this image without permission!]

“Write on me.”

You know when your kids write on the wall? Isn’t it awesome?

Hoo-boy this bathroom has a lot of issues–foundation, ants, rotting wood, probably mold–and it’s the only one in the house! We put a lot of work into the other rooms when we first moved in so we could, you know, live here, but the bathroom was too big a job. It had to wait. It’s still waiting.

This is the bathroom as it is. Pushing the north wall out to line up with the rest of the house was all we wanted to do when we started this journey.

Continue reading “Write on me.”