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9:50 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Column: Answer to saving energy, money is in owner's manual

I learn a lot from owner's and installation manuals, which are pretty boring reading for "normal" folks. If I find the manual for a gas fireplace, tankless water heater, etc., in a home I'm inspecting, I will read it during my breaks. I also ask contractors questions whenever I can. (This is a clever lead-in for this week's column.)

About a month ago, our gas clothes dryer stopped working. It would spin, but the flame would not come on. I told my wife the dryer was 15 years old and probably not worth fixing. We checked the local ads and found a used gas dryer in Chino Valley, so off we went.

The used dryer was at Adobe Appliance, and the owners Paul and Carole were tending the store. They had several used gas dryers. I told them what was wrong with our dryer, and Paul immediately said, "Oh, that's the magnum flux capacitor." He opened a nearby dryer and showed me where it goes and how to install it. This took about three minutes and, by that time, Carole had procured the part and my wife had paid for it. I was impressed with their honesty, since they knew we had come in to look at used dryers. They could have easily told us our dryer was too old to bother fixing, but instead they sold us an inexpensive part and even showed me how to install it. (I checked the manufacturer's website when I got home, and the part cost almost double from the manufacturer!)

Paul said he's been servicing appliances for more than 20 years. I saw an opportunity to learn something. I told him I had heard that front-loading washers and dryers were more efficient. Boy, did I ever learn things! The first thing he explained that was that top-loaders spin at 400 rpm, but front-loaders spin at 27,000 rpm. So they get the clothes much dryer. Carol said front-loaders don't have agitators, so there is less lint and they don't "beat up" your clothes. Drier clothes and less lint means less time in the dryer, saving energy costs.

I asked about detergent, and leaned even more. They only use powder detergent, and never too much. You should never see suds; if you see suds, you're using too much detergent. They recommend 1/8 cup for front-loaders and 1/4 cup for top-loaders, but you can use more for a really dirty load. Carole said always read the owner's manual and the label on your detergent - they may recommend less or more detergent. You should do this even if you're using the same detergent you've used for years. Last year, phosphates were banned in detergents in some states, including Arizona, so your detergent may have different directions.

Carol said there are many people that waste energy because they don't read the manual and use the appliance properly. For example, some washers have a filter that requires occasional cleaning.

I told Carole I'm one of those weird people who always reads directions and manuals. She said she's a little too literal sometimes. She said she was reading her shampoo bottle in the shower the other day. It said "lather, rinse, repeat." She said if she followed those directions exactly she would never get out of the shower.

Carole said her cousin suffers from the same afflictions (reading labels and being too literal). She said her cousin was reading her shampoo bottle and it said it will make you "fuller." She realized that that shampoo running down her body when she rinsed may be the cause of her larger pant size. So now, she washes her hair with Dawn detergent, because the label says it "dissolves fat."

I asked why powdered detergent was better. Carole explained that liquid detergent (and fabric softener) doesn't dissolve well and will build up on the outer tub, where you can't see it - but Paul will when he's called out to fix your washer. She said dirt will stick to this build-up of sticky residue, and this is also a great breeding place for bacteria. I asked if leaving the washer door open would help - they recommend it. I asked if running an occasional empty load with hot water and bleach would help. Carole said yes, but even better is running an empty load with Cascade dishwasher granules. Cascade has bleach in it, and the granules will chip away at the build-up between the tubs.

Carole said front-loading washers and dryers often pay for themselves within a few years. Washers save energy (money) by using less water and soap, and spinning the clothes drier so the dryer takes less time. And it means longer life for your clothes.

We got sidetracked onto freezers. I knew that side-by-side refrigerators are less efficient than freezer above or below models. One reason is cold air falls, so with a side-by-side, every time you open a door, the cold air will spill out the bottom. I had never considered freezers. Carole said chest freezers are much more efficient. With a chest freezer, no cold air spills out when you open the door. And a chest freezer has fewer moving parts - an upright has a different evaporator, a blower/fan and an occasional defrost cycle. Carol said these use more energy than a chest type freezer with a static evaporator. Don't ask me to explain what this means - I'm not even sure I got the terms right.

I never thought I could write an entire column about clothes washers and dryers, since I don't even operate or inspect them during a home inspection. We may need to replace our refrigerator soon. I'll be calling Paul and Carole, and may have enough for another column.