Thursday, October 23, 2008

When is an A-Rated Appliance Not?

broken tumble dryerWhen is an A-rated appliance not an A-rated appliance? When it only last 2 years before irreparably breaking down. Five years ago we bought a White Knight A-rated tumble dryer. As far as I know it was and still is the only A-rated dryer available. We really liked it. It has some nifty features like reverse tumble - it changes the direction it tumbles every few minutes, so your clothes don't end up in a tight sausage, bone dry and hot on the outside and wet in the middle. It has a sensor, so it goes until the clothes are dry then it stops automatically. I used this feature to test the tumble dryer balls a couple of years ago. You can set it to full-eco-mode where it takes all day to get your clothes dry but uses very little energy in doing so (this is the A-rated mode), or you can set it to murder-death-kill-mode where it blasts your clothes dry in an hour or so. But even in this mode it seems very gentle and I have stopped being fussy about what I tumble-dry and what I air-dry because nothing has ever shrunk in this dryer.

But just over two-and-a-half years after we bought it the drum ripped clean off the bearing leaving a huge ragged hole in the back of the drum. We inquired about getting a replacement drum but it was totally uneconomical - it cost more to do this than to buy a whole new appliance. So we bought another identical dryer. After all, we liked the model very much. Maybe it was a freak manufacturing fault which made it fail so quickly. But just in case it wasn't, we took out the optional 5-year-warranty.

It is more "green" to replace a part than to replace the whole appliance
We're very glad we did, because 2 years and 1 month after we bought it, the exact same fault happened again. And this time the warranty-people have ordered a replacement drum. I don't know why it is economical for them to do it when it wasn't economical for us, but hey-ho. I feel a bit ambivalent about this. It is more "green" to replace a part than to replace the whole appliance, so that's nice. But if they had just sent me a cheque to buy a new dryer, I would have avoided this model like the plague. I feel sure the new drum will also fail in another two years - or more likely in about 3 years, when the 5-year-warranty has expired.

How much energy have I saved by using an A-rated appliance compared to another appliance? I don't know. it depends on exactly how often I have used it, which varies from season to season. And it depends on how much I have used it on A-rated mode and how often I used it on regular mode, which also varies. I put slow-mode on when Ed is at work all day and I just tune-out the sound of the endless rumbling. But in the evenings and at weekends when Ed and the kids are at home I put it on fast-mode. There is enough noise in the house at those times without adding to it.

the embedded energy of the appliance
But how much energy is there in the extraction and processing of the materials that made the appliance? How much energy was used in its manufacture and transport? This is the embedded energy of the appliance. Think of it like the cost of owning a car - if a car is very cheap to run, then that's nice. But if it is very expensive to buy in the first place then that weighs against the cheapness of running. Maybe it still works out cheaper overall, as long as you keep the car on the road long enough. But if you buy an expensive car that breaks down after two years, then it's always going to be uneconomical compared to a car that lasts a long time. I don't think the White Knight dryer deserves to call itself A-rated if it only lasts two years, because I suspect the embedded energy outweighs the energy savings in use.

it is better to dry clothes on the line, and I do this when I can
P.S. yes, it is better to dry clothes on the line, and I do this when I can. But it has rained in England almost without let-up for the last two years. OK that's not strictly true, but it feels true. We have certainly had an unusually wet period for two years now. So line drying has been difficult, and I find a dryer is an essential emergency back-up when every surface in the house is covered in wet clothes and the kids need clean school uniforms by the morning.


Sol said...

I am so glad you are back! I have missed your blog. I have checked everyday.

I to try and dry on the line as ofter as possible. I have also purchased a 'clothes horse', that I put in the garage on wet days to try and dry with out the use of the tumble dryer. I have had to use the dryer on many occasions, but I do try and plan a bit more now I am thinking about the environment more...

Nice post. how have you found the dryer balls? I'm not fussed myself, I dont think they help and are expensive bits of plastic...

Melanie Rimmer said...

I would have agreed, but follow the link in the story to read my surprising conclusion.

Linzk425 said...

With just the three of us, the clothes horse and radiators do the trick, but I can understand needing a dryer.

I keep wanting to get a new washing machine - something A rated that'll do a cold wash. But obviously it makes more sense both financially and ecologically to wait until the current machine (now 10 years old and going strong) finally conks out. Which it shows no sign of doing.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Mel,
I had a similar experience with a washing machine that ate my underwear after two years and one week, so I can sympathise

Re your musings:

"I don't know why it is economical for them to do it when it wasn't economical for us....."

I think you have answered your own quiz question when you later said:

"But if they had just sent me a cheque to buy a new dryer, I would have avoided this model like the plague."

Yellow said...

I am lucky because my kitchen is large enough to accomodate two big clothes horses, enough to dry the clothes for hubby & I, and our two kids. I am a frugal washer in the first place though, getting at least 2 wears out of most items, apart from underwear, before washing. I used to line dry, but because i work during the day, I daresnt put the clothes out for fear of rain at some point.

Blicky Kitty said...

So the fact that I'm on day two of this outfit even though I've done pilates in these sweats is really helping the earth. I meant it as such and not as abject laziness. :)

We have the energy star rating here in the states. I'm pleased that we're going on year 7 with our washer and dryer.

I can't figure out whether I should compost my dryer lint or leave it around for bird's nests.

Have I mentioned I'm happy you're back? Just in case I haven't, I'm happy you're back.

heather t said...

Hi - so glad you are back! Here in the States, one of the big pushes we hear from appliance companies is how much money we can save/better for the earth a new appliance is than an old one that is still working fine. Then I read/hear about things like this where appliances & electronics have catestrophic failures almost immediately after the warranty ends, and I can't help feeling it is all a big scam. I don't know that I'll ever buy a new appliance.

I hope planned (built-in) obsolescence eventually bites these companies in the butt.

Anonymous said...

The only time I used a tumble dryer was at university, and that was a right pain because it meant lugging all the clothes down two flights of stairs and across a hundred yards of open ground. We don't have one now, and have clothes-horses in the conservatory (one of which I mended very frugally the other day by tying it together with string), but then there are only the two of us in the flat. We didn't have one when I was growing up, either; the house had ceilings high enough to accommodate Dutch dryers. Now my parents are down on the Isle of Wight there's usually enough sunshine for them to be able to line-dry outside.

Sol said...

hmmm, maybe I should ask my friends children if I can have my dryer balls back!!! They are currently toys!

I should have read the link, but I was on coffee break at work. I was just so pleased to see you were back blogging!!! So I just had to comment. Cheesy arent I!

Anonymous said...

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Wulf said...

I feel your pain! Earlier this year, we got the drum of our washing machine replaced (after about five years), which cost about as much as buying a new version of the machine in question and still meant the old drum unit was ditched. A few months later something else went. In the end, we decided to cut our losses and ditch it, spending a couple of months making more frequent trips to friends and family and eventually being given an old machine (same make and similar model!) which sounds ropey but is working for now.

I wish there were a machine on the market which were designed to be fixed rather than designed to be replaced. Any ideas?

Unknown said...

My reversair tumble dryer that we got in 1986 gave up the ghost 15 + years later. The one my mother had when we were growing up died (actually cooked all the washing into brown lumps, so was ditched) just before I left Somerset. I have no room for a dryer here & drying can easily take a week in an unheated cottage with the rain falling down outside, but we live with it. I have an old fashioned clothes horse (2nd hand & repaired several times) & spin the clothes again after the washing cycle to get them drier before hanging. School uniform is a nightmare to dry each weekend. I can fully understand the need for a dryer

Anonymous said...

This is the first time i have read your blog. what a great resource of information. I will be coming back soon.

Anonymous said...

We had a washing machine that failed because it wasn't designed for use in a damp environment. Yes, those were the words of the repairman. A little condensation on the circuit board caused a short circuit and minor fire, and that was it.

As for using a tumble dryer, we've managed very well without one in dreech and damp Scotland. We've a couple of laundry maids—slatted racks that hang from pulleys attached to the ceiling—and a clothes horse.

We've found the key thing is to think two days ahead with the laundry as that's how long things take to dry. If we need something in a hurry, using the clothes horse in the snug with the open fire going works quite well. (Just don't put the clothes close to the fire!)

Nice to see you back, BTW.

LizzyAstro said...

Hi Mel,

IMO this (NW Engalnd) climate calls for a dryer. Being out during the day we keep our central heating turned down for the majority of the house (and on a timer) and use the gas fire in the lounge for a few hours of an evening if necessary. It is probably greener to run the dryer to deal with the clothes than to heat the whole house to do so.

Good to see you blogging again.


Anonymous said...

We have the heating on in the evening only and that or the clothes line outside is sufficient.

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Anonymous said...

Your point about A rated appliances is very true, however I believe all new things are allowed teething problems and working items should not be replace unless it stops working or is proven to be a gas or electricity guzzler.

In relation to this blog I would like to point you to a website that looks promising and seems to deal with all items A rated. Click link below