Conserving Energy in the Bathroom and Laundry

Here are some methods to reduce energy consumption in the laundry room and the bathroom by decreasing hot water use and minimizing the operation of appliances.

Use Cold-Water Detergent

Though it might be difficult to make the connection at first, in recent years lowly laundry detergent has become an impact player in the field of energy conservation. Cold-water detergents clean nearly every type of clothing as well as conventional detergents, and because water does not need to be heated in order to make them work, energy savings can be realized on laundry day. Because most clothes can be washed in cold water (and doing so also helps prevent dye color from bleeding), it's a good idea to take advantage of this advance in detergent technology.

In areas where the water entering the home during the winter is quite cold, liquid detergent works better than a powder, as most powders do not dissolve as well in cold water as they do in warm.

Fill Up the Machine

It is important too, for both water and energy savings, to do full loads of laundry whenever possible. Running a washing machine to do one large load as opposed to several smaller ones uses less electricity to power the machine's motor, and overall water consumption will be lower as well. So letting laundry stack up a bit is not a sign of laziness; it's saving energy.

Hang 'em High

Clothes dryers tumble clothing inside a heated drum to remove moisture soaked up during the washing process. The heat is produced by electricity, or natural or propane gas. But you can avoid using any energy at all (well, except some of your own) to dry clothes by using the sun and wind to do the job. Clotheslines and folding dryers are inexpensive, and it takes only a few minutes to hang a load of wash. The sun sanitizes the clothing, and everything smells fresh.

An alternative to hanging clothing outside in the winter is to set up a place inside for drying, usually in the basement. If your house is dry during the winter, the evaporating water from the drying clothes adds welcome moisture to the air. In homes that already have adequate humidity, however, excess moisture can bring on problems like condensation on walls and ceilings, and subsequent mildew and mold growth.

Another point in favor of hanging clothing to dry has to do with how using a dryer ages and deteriorates clothing. High heat breaks down material fibers and causes them to fracture and loosen -- that is, after all, what dryer lint consists of; broken-off fibers. The tumbling action of clothing rubbing against other clothing is also abrasive, further deteriorating the material. So, outside line drying pays off not only in terms of energy efficiency but also in clothing longevity.

Check Your Routine

Saving energy in a household can involve some simple habit changing. Here's an example. Say you're a person who always washes your face before brushing your teeth. Your bathroom is on the upper floor of a two-story house, and it takes a while for the hot water to make its way up the two floors and finally into the faucet at the sink. To save a bit of energy and water, try brushing your teeth first before you wash your face. You're going to use cold water to brush your teeth anyway, so why not use that first portion of cold water at the hot water tap to do the job?

Then, because you've opened the hot water tap and started the hot water up the pipe, your wait for the hot water will be shorter, and you'll waste less water while waiting. This is a simple trick that, admittedly, does not amount to very much on its own. But multiply it by 365 days a year, and you'll save quite a bit of hot water.

Take Shorter Showers, Smaller Baths

One of the mantras of energy conservation is doing more with less. This also means not using so much in the first place. In the U.S. Navy, sailors take what is referred to as a "Navy shower" in order to conserve fresh water on-board ship. You stand in the shower, get yourself wet, shut off the shower, soap up, and then turn the shower back on to rinse off. Some modern showerheads come with a simple shut-off valve located near the nozzle that allows you to turn off the flow of water and turn it back on again without affecting the temperature setting. Doing this a few times makes you realize how wasteful a 20-minute shower really is; you can get just as clean and use a lot less water in the shower.

Ditto in regard to the bath. Filling a bathtub an inch or two lower is unlikely to make any difference from a hygiene standpoint, and the water and energy saved add up.

Also, consider taking a shower instead of a bath in the first place. A shower, if it's kept to a reasonable length, usually requires less water than a bath.

Leave Water in the Tub

When you're finished in the bath, consider leaving the water in the tub for a few hours. Similar to the case with a sink full of dishwashing water, you paid to heat that water, and allowing it to cool off inside the house adds some heat to the bathroom. Additionally, in a dry house during the winter, the bathwater will add some needed humidity to the air. Of course, you'll want to do the opposite during the summer; the sooner you can get the bathwater to run out of the tub the better. That way it won't add its heat to the air where the air-conditioning will have to remove it.

Buy Early and Save

The price of propane gas and fuel oil fluctuates over the course of the year. If you use either of these heating fuels, purchasing them in the summer often means you'll pay less per gallon than you would if you waited until fall to fill up the tank. Though it can be difficult to contemplate locking up several hundred dollars in fuel that you won't use for months, doing so can result in some big savings that you'll appreciate when the cold weather begins.

Conserving energy in your home doesn't end with using less water and turning down the thermostat. In the next section, we'll take a look at preventing wasteful energy use by adjusting windows and water heaters.