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The Green Life: Best Clothes Dryer, Gas or Electric?

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January 19, 2012

Best Clothes Dryer, Gas or Electric?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

Considering I live in the Pacific Northwest and it's not always feasible to hang laundry outside to dry, is it better to have a gas or electric dryer? I have hookups for both.

—Craig in Tigard, Oregon

If you must have a clothes dryer, a gas model makes the most efficient overall use of energy, and will cost about half as much to operate, roughly 15 to 20 cents per load compared to 30 to 40 for electric dryers, depending on local rates.

Why the difference? Well, the gas dryer gets its heat energy directly from combusting gas, while the electric dryer’s heat comes from electrical energy created at a power plant. But when a power plant burns gas or coal to generate electricity, roughly two-thirds of that fossil-fuel energy is lost as heat and is not available to your dryer. There are 3414 British thermal units (Btus) in a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity, but it can take more than 10,000 Btus worth of coal or gas to make that kWh.

In your neck of the woods, for example, gas has been selling for about $1.50 per therm, which is 100 cubic feet and contains 100,000 Btus, or about 29 kWh. So the cost of your gas energy is about 5.2 cents per kWh. But one kWh where you live costs almost twice as much, or 10.1 cents. This higher cost is partly because those 100,000 Btus of gas can only generate about 9.8 kWh, so the cost of the gas (or coal) burned is embodied in the cost of the electricity, along with other expenses.

Your local power company says it gets about half its power from gas and coal, with a big chunk coming from hydropower, and 11% from wind. Like a growing number of electric companies, it offers renewable, non-fossil-fuel-based electricity for just a few pennies more per kWh than the usual rate. I recommend that you check this out, and that anybody who is reading this blog to go right now to their power company’s website to see if it offers renewable energy. It might cost a bit more, but we should be willing to pay. Besides, if you follow the energy-saving practices I’ve been harping about over the years, you’ll save far more money than what cleaner energy will cost.

Got a question for Mr. Green? Submit it here.

Note: This post has been corrected. Gas sells for around $1.50 per therm, not $15 per therm.

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