New and Notable: Pump Up The Heat

May 01, 2012
May/June 2012
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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In Europe, a new heat pump clothes dryer is being successfully marketed, and it's shown to use up to 50% less electricity than the traditional dryer in North America.

The traditional dryer draws in air, heats it, runs it over the wet clothing, and when the air is saturated, expels it back into the environment. The dryer then draws in more air, heats it, and continues the same process until the clothing is dry. In contrast, the heat pump dryer draws in air only once and continues to use that first air to dry the clothes fully. When the air is saturated, it is passed through a heat exchanger, which cools the air enough to condense the water and then reheats it for repeated use. The water is pumped away, just like the water in a washing machine.

Right ImageThis Electrolux heat-pump dryer consumes 40% less energy than an A-rated tumble dryer. (Electrolux)

The Super Efficient Dryer Initiative (SEDI), which was organized in 2010 in the United States and Canada, can greatly profit from this European example. The SEDI is a subsidiary of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), whose members include utilities, environmental groups, and local and national governments in Canada and the United States. DOE and EPA actively participate in the CEE and provide funding.

The heat pump dryer is rapidly increasing its market share in Europe. It is the only dryer to get an A rating on the European Union's energy label. Switzerland has already passed a law forbidding the sale of any but A-rated dryers, effectively banning the sale of the conventional ones. More countries are expected to follow suit.

A German rating agency, Stiftung Warentest, figures that if a family dries 580 kilograms of clothing a year, its electricity cost will be 60 euros ($80) with a conventional dryer and 30 euros ($40) with a heat pump one. The heat pump dryer, however, costs quite a bit more to acquire. One German mail-order house offers conventional dryers for as little as 199 euros ($270), compared to 499 euros ($675) for the cheapest heat pump dryer. This means little net savings for the consumer, but a considerable reduction in a country's overall power demands. The dryer is the biggest energy guzzler in most households.

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For more information on SEDI, visit

The heat pump dryer is fairly new on the market. The first ones were sold in 1997 by Electrolux, and there are now at least four firms producing them. They are not yet on the American market in any numbers. Most reports on the new dryer also comment that the clothesline is the really cheap way to dry your laundry. Sunlight is still free.

Ted Shoemaker is a now-retired writer and editor based in Frankfurt, Germany.

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