A warm, green towel, served medium-well
A friend of mine stopped by yesterday on his way home from shopping for a heated towel rail. He had been fretting for years at his wife’s extravagant use of the tumble dryer simply to warm and dry a single towel before bathing. He worries that tumble dryers use vast amounts of electricity. I used to have a similar affliction, until my tumble dryer broke down last year. I simply didn’t bother to repair it, and I have been a happy man ever since.
The towel rail my friend wants to buy, he told me, uses about as much electricity as a single light bulb, or 100 watts. Though my friend is a former maths teacher, I wasn’t convinced that he had done his calculations.
Heated towel rails are designed to run constantly; they generally don’t come with timers or thermostats, other than a safety shut-off to prevent overheating. If he runs this towel rail constantly for a year it will consume 876 kilowatt hours of electricity and add nearly a ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In my house, that would mean a 10 percent jump in total consumption most months. And at the rates just proposed by the Johannesburg municipality for the coming year, the towel rail would increase his annual electricity bill more than R350. If rates triple over the next several years, as predicted by some experts, the annual cost would approach R1000.
Tumble dryers use roughly 2000 to 3000 watts. That’s terrible. But presuming that his wife doesn’t leave the tumble dryer running all day to keep her towel warm and dry, it might use less electricity than the towel rail. Run a 2500 watt tumble drier for a 30 minutes a day and it will use less than half the electricity—and contribute half the carbon dioxide—of a round-the-clock towel rail.
That’s still not good for the environment, however. The almost-environmentally-friendly solution is to have an electrician install the towel rail with a switch and a timer and then use it a few hours a day in the winter and turn it off entirely in the summer. The hundreds of rand you will save each year will easily pay for the timer. The problem with this solution is that it contributes to load-shedding because it will add to your electricity consumption at the exact morning and evening peak hours when Eskom has no spare capacity.
If you really can’t see a way to keep your spouse happy without warm towels—and I am very conscious that sometimes we must compromise to avoid marital misery—I suggest trying the microwave oven. WARNING: YOU CAN BURN YOUR SKIN OR EVEN START A FIRE IF YOU HEAT A TOWEL IN THE MICROWAVE FOR TOO LONG. I would not even attempt this in a microwave without a digital timer, and children should not be allowed to try this unsupervised. For my 750-watt microwave oven, 30 seconds warms a small towel nicely and 45 seconds heats a large bath-sheet towel to perfection. Thirty seconds at 750 watts is a mere 2 percent of the electricity used by a 100-watt towel rail in 3 hours. If you don’t have a doting lover on hand to run the warm towel from the kitchen, warm two towels for 30 seconds each and wrap one inside the other to keep warm while you bath or shower. Just because I’m opposed to global warming doesn’t mean that I don’t support wet-body warming.