September 2010

Appliances30 Sep 2010 02:19 pm

Lights out for cold

When the water began pouring out the door of our ancient washing machine onto the kitchen floor, I finally accepted that it was time to buy a new one. During a previous, failed round of shopping for a washing machine, I was put off by all of the conflicting claims about the efficiency of different washing machines and the confusing range of options. Did I want steam cleaning? Would a hot-water inlet save electricity? But I relaxed when I realized that none of these complications really matter. Any washing machine with an A rating from the EU will be relatively efficient in its use of water. And if you wash in cold water, electricity consumption is practically a non-issue.

I discovered to my surprise, however, that this revelation does not suddenly make choosing a washing machine simple. At the first appliance store I visited, the basic Bosch washing machine that I wanted to buy did not have a cold-water option. The lowest temperature allowed was a warm 30 degrees. To buy a Bosch machine with a cold-water option, I would have to pay R2,700 more. The basic machine is efficient, with an A rating, but even at the lowest temperature setting, I would at least double my energy consumption compared to my old, inefficient machine on cold.

I also encountered a lot of resistance from salespeople about cold-water washing. The usual line is that the washing powders work better in warm water. This may be technically true but practically irrelevant. What I know is that in any line-up at school, my children’s white socks and white shirts look brighter than most of the others. My theory is that any advantage warm or hot water may have in removing grime is countered by the grey tinge that the whites pick up from colours that bleed, even if the wash is largely separated into light and dark loads. Besides, the latest Skip packaging says “works just as well in cold water.” The fact that our washing dries in the Highveld sun also makes it brighter than tumble-dried laundry.

At another store I did find LG and Samsung machines that allowed independent temperature settings, including cold. Both LG and Samsung get top marks for their washers in recent quality ratings by J.D. Powers. I chose the Samsung because its dimensions fit better under our kitchen counter.

I wish I could say that my new Samsung washer (model WF8500NHW) is the ultimate choice for cold-water washing, but I have encountered two disappointments in using it. The first is that each time I turn the appliance on, it resets to 60 degrees. I must remember to change it to cold before each wash. The second is that on one useful wash cycle, synthetics, it refuses to go to any temperature other than 40 degrees.

These obstacles are surmountable. We have become accustomed to washing on the longer, cotton cycle and resetting the temperature each time. My Watts Up meter tells me that I’m using less than 0.2 kilowatt hours per wash, which is a fraction of the consumption for a hot wash in the most efficient machine available. But I would advise anyone in the market for a cold-water washing machine to ask a lot of questions or watch a machine in action before handing over your money.

Global Warming &Heating and Cooling04 Sep 2010 05:09 pm

The new view from my lounge

Regular GreenerHouse readers know that I believe a closed-combustion wood stove is one of the greenest ways to heat your home. (And that burning wood in an open fireplace is perhaps the worst.) Early this year, I finally decided to put my funds where my flue is. I kept quiet about this at first, because I thought I should experience a winter’s worth of cold weather before reporting on the results.

First, the numbers: I already had a fireplace with an inefficient Jetmaster in it, so rather than a stove that juts out into the room, I opted for a fireplace insert. The Danish-built Scan 3-5 insert I purchased from Cosy Heating cost a steep R27,000. There are less costly stoves and inserts out there, but these high-tech wood-burners are never cheap. Running costs are a different story. A cubic meter of wood cost me R600 and lasted the winter, though we did escape Gauteng for three of the coldest weeks. Since buying that first load of wood, however, I have suddenly become aware of all the free firewood suburban homeowners leave on the roadside. My kids tease me about this freeloading, but I’m only saving my neighbours the cost of hauling the wood to the dump. Long before the next heating season begins, I have at least a year’s worth of wood that didn’t cost a cent. Since we used our Rinnai LPG heater much less, mostly in the morning, our gas consumption fell from about 2½ 48kg bottles for a winter to less than one bottle, saving me about R2300. A rough calculation, ignoring the cost of capital, suggests that it will take me about 16 years to recoup the R27,000 outlay. If I had been relying primarily on the gas-guzzling Jetmaster to warm my lounge, I would be confident of a relatively quick payback.

But my reasons for switching to wood were more psychological than financial, and I’m happy to report that the emotional payback was instantaneous. The romance, beauty and warmth of the fire drew my family out of their rooms to congregate in the lounge. The children repeatedly asked to eat supper in front of the fire. I usually found the 15 minute task of preparing and lighting the fire to be an earthy pleasure that carried me back to my childhood. Knowing that all of these benefits were fossil-fuel free heightened my enjoyment immensely. Since the burning wood is close to carbon neutral, my reduction in LPG consumption cut my household annual carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 300 kilograms. If I had been heating with electricity the figure would be even higher.

At times I was tempted to kick myself for not installing a wood stove years ago, but one blistery burn on my hand reminded me that little children and wood burning devices require careful thought on safety issues. My burn was a result of hastily ignoring the cardinal rule to have both hands gloved when restocking the stove. A small child could be burned just by touching the glass, which reaches hundreds of degrees. Still if I had to start from scratch, I would have a wood stove and a Rinnai gas heater, using the wood stove sporadically and only when I felt comfortable about safety while our children were young and relying on it more heavily as they became old enough to understand the risks.

Even as the heat of summer approaches, I take comfort every time I walk past my woodpile, knowing that I have evenings in front of the fire to look forward to when winter returns.