14 March 2006

Home-Tech: Washers & Dryers-3

In the end, we opted for the recycled washer-dryer combo. This allowed us to get exactly what we want for a mere $450 (for the pair). This meant a Kenmore front-loading washer and a GE dryer. I confess I made a fairly dumb mistake (because I was too overjoyed at my good fortune in finding such a cheap pair of machines). My mistake was that, had I actually bought a matching pair, I would have had "kidnapping doors"* on the units, which is very handy for transferring clothing. Kidnapping doors are simply doors that open on opposite sides, and it's common now for non-stacking units to have such doors.

I was curious about the age of the units, which I had likewise neglected to check when I was at the store. The washer was manufactured in 2002, while the dryer is a '99. I know that the part of appliances that usually fails first is the electric motor—indeed, it makes sense that that would be the weakest part of any tool. I'm anxious to find out how long the motors last on these models and if they were replaced as part of the recycling process.

The GE has both the option of timed drying and "dryness selection," in which the operator can have the machine estimate the moisture of the clothes (based on the humidity of the exhaust). One thing to remember with a front loading washing machine is that the clothes require far less time to dry than is the case with the toploader. So you really ought to err on the side of less time in the dryer.

UPDATE: Soon after writing this we noticed there are holes drilled in the edge of the door that allow one to rotate it 180%. This, naturally allows one to have "suicide doors" on the units. You pop the bungs, or hole stoppers, or corks (whatever you want to call them) and unscrew the door, then mount it into those holes. It's really obvious.

*kidnapping doors: on 4-door sedans, a combination of forward doors hinged on the forward edge, and rear doors hinged on the rear edge (example). The rear doors are called "suicide doors" because they are so dangerous (if you are getting out of the car and a passing car accidently hits the door edge, it will slam the door shut on you; likewise, children playing with the door latch can accidently open the door while the car is moving, causing the wind resistance to yank the door open). "Kidnapping doors" are so called because, on some models (like this 2005 Jeep Gladiator) there is no central pillar, so you could easily drag a victim kicking and screaming into your car.

12 March 2006

Home-Tech: Washers & Dryers-2

Some info on choosing a dryer
I'm still looking at the Lowes' guide online to selecting a dryer. The first thing one needs to establish here is what type of power one has for the heating unit: electricity or gas. We're in the Pacific Northwest, so everything is either electric or propane (tank), so that's settled for us (and probably for you, too). Another obvious point is the need to coordinate capacities of dryers with washing machines; I'd think it's a reasonable assumption that you're buying the two together. However, an obvious corollary of this is that cheaper models are likely to scimp on the capacity of the dryer, assuming that a minority of consumers, mostly higher-income, will ever bother to check.

Other features include a cool-down cycle (after clothes are dry) in order to ensure they don't wrinkle; a moister-sensor, which monitors the humidity of the air in the dryer to prevent overdrying; and that's really about it. So I visited the excellent website of Fixitnow Samurai, which includes an entry on dismantling dryers (for diagnostics). I was extremely interested in this, since the Samurai is not only an expert on appliances with a broad understanding of physics and electronics, but also an outstanding writer and user of photographic aids.

To illustrate what dryers look like inside, he picks a very conventional model, the Norge (identical to the Admiral, Magic Chef, Montgomery Wards, and others). It looks like a very common, very cheap dryer. Here's a late model GE dryer (minus the drum). Samurai had a very low opinion of this model, which is so cheap it does not have a rear service panel.

Not sure what Samurai thought of the other models, but I think with six models he had covered the entire industry. However, with a couple of exceptions, I believe these are mostly older models. There was not a strong correlation between bells & whistles, and rigor of construction, either way. I would have expected the plain, functional exterior of the GE machine to be matched by a relatively solid and well-planned assembly—I would have been wrong. The Whirlpool looked pretty good (for one thing, the panels do not appear to warp dramatically on disassembly) but I suspect few of these machines are made by the parent company, I'm not sure we can deduce from this what current models look like under the hood.

Home-Tech: Washers & Dryers-1

Part of the reason I've been posting so infrequently is that my wife and I just moved to a new house, and in our neighborhood, DSL is not available. So we took over three weeks getting cable access. Now we're shopping for a washer and dryer, which has to be cheap: we didn't exercise options on Exxon-Mobile stock recently, and so we're tight on the money.

We live a few miles away from a Sears, a Lowes, and an Appliance Recycling Outlet. I checked out the Lowes page on what to look for in a clothes washer and a clothes dryer. Let's discuss the advice page there for a moment.

Clothes Washer:

The big item of discussion is whether to get a toploader or front loader. Unfortunately for us, the frontloaders are all very expensive, but I have to confess I regret that. First, my intuition is that frontloaders are traditionally what you use in a coin-op laundromat. That means they're tough, and also that they use less energy. Part of the reason is the spin cycle: in a top loader, the tub that spins acts as a centrifuge, and dries the clothing by spinning so fast that the water is pulled out into the holes in the tub. But woe betide if you load it improperly, or if you have a single heavy object, or something that happens to absorb a lot of water. In fact, even when I've lived places where I had access to a washer, I would take camping gear or large coats to laundromats for just that reason. There's no skin required to loading a front-loader, and it can take heavy objects.

It is also more energy efficient. In fact, arguing the merits of front-loading washers is like shooting fish in a barrel. The only flaw is that they typically start at about $450 or more. In contrast, a top loader can be found starting at about $200.

photo courtesy of Zenzoidman.

Our previous washer ate socks. The socks would slip up into the rim of the tub and get wedged there. So I now pay special attention to the gap between the tub and the edge of the loading door. However, there is also a hierarchy of tub material: porcelin-lined metal (at the bottom—chips and rusts), then plastic, then stainless steel.

Water Levels, etc
The guide is not terribly helpful after that because it merely lists features and why they exist. Water level control is a feature, for example, found in nearly all machines; it allows one to select the load size. Digital controls have been introduced to save money fro the manufacturer, not you; vendors include programming, which I find irritating and silly. What if you have kids? Assuming you have the technical aptitude to program your washer and drier, will everyone in the household be able to master it too? Will this mean only children above the age of fifteen will be able to do their own laundry (contrary to popular belief, it is not true that all children somehow have a knack for electronic gear; the majority do not). And why would you want to program a washer anyway? So your load is finishing when you get back from running an errand?

Energy StarTM
Energy star labels mean the appliance complies with certain design parameters developed by the EPA. I've observed that a majority of devices for sale don't carry this label, so I'm guessing that it definitely means something.