Heat, Hot Water, Laundry, Oh My!

Leta

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Right now, we live in town. We have put a lot of time/money/effort into making this house energy efficient. In doing this, I have learned a lot. Our electricity is very expensive, the priciest in the state, 20c per kWh. Because of this extreme electricity price, we have put everything we can on gas- our dryer, range, hot water heater, and furnace for back up heat are all on gas. It is natural gas, we are on a natural gas pipeline.

Just making the switch from an electric to a gas dryer saved us $100/mo, and that was with heavy clothesline use on my part.

Now we are looking to move to a smaller house on 24 acres. The good news is that the house is well insulated and has a brand new gas furnace for back up, but is almost exclusively heated by wood- it has a big, brand new woodstove and the property has its own wood lot. So heat will essentially cost us the gas for our chain saw. It is also on a different electric company that costs 8c per kWh. This is great news because, obviously, it's 1/3 the cost of our current electricity. The bad news is that this house is on propane, which is wicked expensive, on the order of double natural gas. Other than the back up furnace, the smaller house has its range and hot water heater as gas appliances. The dryer is electric.

I have found myself a bit confused, since the situation with the smaller house is almost the opposite of the situation with this house. On one hand, gas is expensive and electricity cheap, but on the other hand, it's almost always a bad idea to make heat with electricity.

Should I replace the electric dryer with a gas dryer? I will still use a clothesline 4-5 months out of the year, but unlike this house, there is not a good indoor line drying location in the small house- at least, not with a family of five's amount of laundry!

And should I replace the gas hot water heater with an electric on-demand model? My husband said something about an outdoor wood fired hot water heater, but when I asked him specifics, he got real flaky. I like the idea of solar hot water in the summer and wood fired hot water in the winter, with a conventional hot water heater for back up, but I don't really have the faintest idea where to start with this.

Also, as you may have guessed, this house has a septic system and a well. I don't have any idea how much electricity an off grid water system uses- any idea where to point me to figure this out?

Thanks everybody!
 

Wifezilla

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It might be time to try some google-fu. There are sites that let you calculate the cost of running an appliance based on the power source and the watts used by the appliance. Start with the dryer and go from there.
 

Marianne

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Leta, I have no real advice, other than my own experiences. Our situation is similar, really expensive propane, but expensive electricity, too. Our house is total electric...by choice.

Being the eco friendly tightwad that I am, I wouldn't buy a new dryer until the old one conked out. Wood heat is really drying, so I vent our electric dryer into the house during the colder months. I don't put any kind of pantyhose or contraption on the end of the vent pipe. I tried everything and it all wasn't worth the money (a burned out element on the dryer one time) or the hassle. I'd rather vacuum up some lint.

The on demand water heaters are not cheap, and for a family of five, you would need several. I know that you are pretty eco frugal in your lifestyle choices, so you might be able to make them work. They take a LOT of power to use. We have a big one to power a radiant heat system that we put in. It's wired to four breakers. I have considerable angst when I see that red light on, knowing the amount of juice it's using. It all comes down to lifestyle.

Our conventional water heater is electric - well insulated and in a small room that was supposed to have lots of solar gain. oh har. New windows aren't manufactured for such. Our well water is 56 degrees. We stripped down a new water heater, painted the tank black, put reflective foil on the wall in a big circle around it, etc... well water first goes into that tank, then goes from there into the regular water heater. If nothing else, the water has a chance to at least warm up somewhat to room temp in the first tank before it goes into the conventional tank. I tend to space out my hot water usage for this reason.

We also have a wood stove that I love in the family room. I keep a big stock pot of water on one side of it, and often times cook on the other side. I set up a little wrought iron plant stand that has two shelves by the stove. I plunked some ceramic tiles on the shelf areas and now have a little cooking station with a place to put a plate, spoon, whatever I need. The hot water adds humidity to the air, plus I can use it for washing dishes, etc. On the days that the stove is really fired up, I can put a smaller stock pot inside the bigger one, like a big double boiler and use it like a slow cooker. Potatoes wrapped in foil, cooked in the coals are the bomb!

I haven't seen info on how much power the well pump and pressure tank pulls, but I have wondered the same thing.

We have an air to air heat pump, so when it's really cold, we aren't getting heat. We bought an indoor wood furnace ($999 on sale) to tie into some new ductwork and it's great! The warm air shoots out into every room that we were able to get ductwork to. Much nicer than the wood stove. We also bought radiant panels that just plug into a socket to put in the most often used rooms that don't have the radiant tubing as a back up. One of these days we might not be physically able to haul wood, you know? In the end, we spent $$$$ on stuff to heat this huge place, and then ended up heating with wood. What we saved in power bills that first season paid for the wood furnace.

Any chance you could add on to the south side of your place somewhere for a passive solar laundry area? My current thoughts for the next house would have that - enough room for water heater, clotheslines, lots of solar gain...sigh. Oh, and the wood furnace would sit in that room, too. Warmer air going in the cold air return part means hotter air coming out of the vents. Plus that room would always be toasty warm to speed drying of clothes.

Let me know your thoughts, plans, links, etc. Anything that helps you is going to help me, too! :D
 

Leta

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I have thought about a solar laundry room- tons, actually- but I'm not sure if it's practical in this setting. The house is a very small, snug, 1940s bungalow and it is adorable just the way it is- I'd hate to ruin it. It faces east, so a southern solar room would interfere with the facade. And we want a smaller house- the plan is to keep this house as a rental until the kids go off to college (4 years from now for the eldest) and then rent it to them at cost. So we have a place, set up, in mind for the babies to land when the leave the nest, and in that situation a small house is just perfect for DH and myself. This house is okay for now because we have young kids, but it is way too big for just DH and I. I'm afraid of adding on and ending up in the same situation at the little house.

I called the oil & propane people that deliver out to the little house, and they told me that the cash price for propane right now is $1.87 per gallon, so not bad. I know it fluctuates, but I had to start somewhere. The electric out there costs 7.5c per kWh, not including the $10/mo charge for being hooked into the grid. I looked around and figured out that 26 kWh of electricity creates as many BTUs of heat as 1 gallon of propane. So, using that constant, at the above prices, it takes $2 in electricity to make as much heat as $1.87 in propane. So propane is the winner, cost wise, though not by much.

The reasons that I'd want to go with gas over electric for a dryer are a) gas takes much less time to dry, and therefore is more efficient; b) if the power went out, if we had a generator, we could do laundry, but an electric dryer uses too much juice; c) if we ever do get off the grid, we will have to have a either propane dryer or a solar drying room.

However, because the cost differential is so small, if the seller is going to leave the appliances (which, I don't know if she is or not :( ) I think I'd build a laundry airer over the wood stove and wait until the electric dryer dies before installing a gas dryer. But if she takes the appliances, I think I'll just install a gas dryer hookup right away since we have a gas dryer already.

I really like the solar water preheater idea that you describe. In the small house, the hot water heater is actually only a year old, so that isn't a huge priority, but they only last 10-20 years, and I like to plan ahead. :) I wonder if we could preheat with solar or wood with a tankless... it seems like no... I have been reading about the newer tankless models and they are a lot better. My grandma installed one twelve years ago and HATED it. She replaced it last year with a new one and can't stop raving about it.

There is a gas range at the small house, but I would eventually like to set up an outdoor summer kitchen and replace the gas range with a very small wood cook stove. If I do that, I am for sure going the hot water reservoir route. Maybe if we are lucky, we can get the hot water set up with wood-for-winter and solar-for-summer so that our existing, new, tank, gas hot water heater is basically backup and it's life is extended.

The downside to the cheap electricity is that the municipality got an exemption to net metering. If you set up solar panels, you can't do grid tie. So solar would be dead last on our SS priority list. Nonetheless, our dream is to be fully off the grid, which will mean having either a propane dryer or a solar indoor drying room.

Gah! Laundry! I can come up with solutions for everything but drying stupid laundry in the winter!!!
 

Marianne

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Actually, you did! The first year we had our wood burner in here, our son asked if he could run a clothesline in front of it. I was not digging the idea, but said okay. He took small nails, put them next to the windows on a diagonal in front of the stove. He used paracord (parachute cord he had already), tied a loop on each end, hooked it on the nails and proceeded to hang his laundry sans clothespins. The heat from the stove (plus the blower) dried the clothes really fast.

I got used to it. We did laundry in the evening, and in the morning put the clothes away. Then I could take the line down on one end and hook the loop on the other nail and it wasn't visible. Small items like a gazillion socks were just plopped on top of t-shirts, or around the edges of the clothes basket. If I had too many things, I'd crowd them on the line, then as some dried, I'd shuffle the other stuff around.

BUT! There's just DH and myself plus DS#1 when he visits the USA. He usually stays here for a few months at a time, otherwise he's in India or ?? We started calling it the Indian Clothesline as that's where DS figured out what he needed. Anyway, for a family of 5, that might be really inconvenient. My washer is a Fisher Paykel, spins at 1000 rpm. A load of jeans in the dryer (with a couple dry towels thrown in) will be dry by the time the next load has finished washing.

What about hanging lines on a back porch or something? A lot of the old timers out here talk about freeze drying their clothes. Not something I really want to do, but our neighbor in town did it for years.

My aunt had a big fold out wooden rack she used for many years. She had four kids, too! She said she just planned on doing a load of laundry every day, doing the lightweight stuff first so it'd dry faster, then heavier stuff to leave overnight. Hanging shirts on hangers is another way to save on line space, I'm sure you already knew that.

Let me yet again applaud what you have accomplished already! I have read your posts with great interest. One day I hope to be off the grid too, but it won't happen in this house.
 

Leta

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Freeze drying clothes? This is a thing? I always just assumed that back in the day people had fewer clothes and dried them indoors. Off to Google...
 

Marianne

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Nothing to google, really! :lol: They just continued to hang them outside when it was freezing cold! They actually do dry...in a weird kinda way.
 

Britesea

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I've heard about that. I also remember reading something about boiling clothespins in salt water to keep them from freezing to the clothes and the line.
 

k15n1

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Marianne said:
I don't put any kind of pantyhose or contraption on the end of the vent pipe. I tried everything and it all wasn't worth the money (a burned out element on the dryer one time) or the hassle. I'd rather vacuum up some lint.
I've read that small particles are really bad for your lungs. Mainly, I've read about sawdust, but I assume that lint could cause similar problems. I don't mean to be alarmist, but thought I'd mention it.

Here's an alternative that I thought was pretty cool. Don't know when I'll have time to do it. Maybe I'll have a chance now that the garden is dead dead dead. (Hard frost last night in SE MN.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hilZKO-29VM
 

k15n1

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Leta said:
The reasons that I'd want to go with gas over electric for a dryer are a) gas takes much less time to dry, and therefore is more efficient;
This may not be true. You have to figure out how much energy is being used by the dryer before you can make any claims about efficiency. Timing alone does not capture the efficiency unless you know that the amount of gas being used produces the same amount of energy as the alternative.
 

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