How to Use Your Dryer to Save on Heating Costs

Did you know that, second only to refrigerators, clothes dryers are the biggest energy users in the home?

That’s right. Clothes dryers cost, on average, $80 a year to run. But that bill can run a lot higher if you’re a neatnick, have kids, or have pets that shed all over your clothing, blankets and washable rugs. In fact, if you have an electric dryer, you are literally “blowing” hundreds of dollars a year (out the nearest wall, ceiling or floor).

Unlike refrigerators, which run at a fairly constant temperature 24/7, clothes dryers have “peak” seasons: early spring, also known in some locales as “mud” season, and midsummer, when frequent changes of sweaty clothing are not only socially de rigueur but essential to physical comfort.

Winter is another peak drying season. In most areas of the country, clotheslines – the newest “green” trend – are worthless, and warming cold clothing, or drying wet outerwear, are equally useful techniques to stave off chills that can precipitate colds and flu.

Winter is also the time when heating bills max out for most people. Home heating season, which can be a minor financial setback in places like Arizona, cause major panic attacks in the Northeast, where a combination of cold temperatures and high heating costs leave residents dreading winter.

If you live in a cold climate like New Hampshire, Minnesota, or Montana, you can do a number of things to reduce your heating bill. You can insulate and weatherstrip, both of which are initially expensive but are good long-term solutions. You can close off unused rooms and heat only living areas. You can even bypass your local propane or heating oil dealer and burn wood in a woodstove (though of course you have to pay for the stove, which is another long-term fix with high initial costs).

Use Dryer Heat to Supplement Furnace Heat

You can also use dryer heat to supplement furnace heat. This is a double-whammy for wattage use: (1) offering clean clothing and (2) providing a warmer home with the addition of much-needed humidity in homes where forced-air heat leaves air so dry it encourages sinus problems and allergy symptoms in susceptible individuals.

This latter problem can also be solved by a humidifier (costing between $30 and $90, plus about $10 a month to operate), but humidifiers also introduce unwanted germs via standing water and a constantly wet filter.

How to Use Dryer Heat to Warm Your Home

Waste dryer heat – from electric dryers only, please (gas dryers can cause carbon monoxide buildup) – is easy to incorporate.

1. First, split your flexible, extendable aluminum (not plastic) dryer vent hose into two sections above the top of the dryer by simply cutting it in half right through the metal spiral. If your vent hose isn’t long enough to split, buy a second shorter hose for about $7 and attach this to the wall/ceiling/floor cutout vent area, making sure to block or cap it so that dust, spiders and mice can’t get in. Note: rodents won’t chew through plastic.

2. Next, fasten the vent section from the dryer to the top of the dryer or to a nearby wall, using drywall screw anchors, a bent coat hanger or any handy method to keep the end of the vent close at hand. Leave the top two inches free for a lint filter.

3. Cover this vent with one leg of a pair of pantyhose (save the second leg for rotating lint filters). The open end of the leg will fit snugly over the vent, and should be changed whenever lint buildup inside exceeds an inch at the bottom or one-quarter inch in thickness. To clean the pantyhose, simply turn it inside out, remove lint, and wash it with your next load. Use the other leg as a spare in the meantime.

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Reconnect the Vents in the Summer

To reconnect the vents in summer, cut the dryer end of the vent, from the top down, into four or six flanges, and manually crimp it to make it smaller than the outlet vent. Fit this into the wall/floor/ceiling vent and fasten with box tape. Don’t use duct tape, as this will dry and become impossible to remove without tearing the duct.

Use a Fan to Redirect Heat

Lastly, because the humidity from an electric dryer can cause mold to build up in your utility room if you aren’t careful, buy a fan and stand it on top of the dryer, directing vent air out of the room through a doorway and into the room(s) adjacent. This also works to prevent possible damage to your furnace’s electronic ignition assembly, which can fail if air is too humid.

If your dryer is in the basement, dryer heat can still transfer warmth to other floors and inject much-needed humidity into the air, which will naturally migrate upstairs. In fact, the only case in which this dryer-heat recovery method might have adverse effects is if you notice mirrors and windows in your home developing large amounts of condensation and/or frost. That means you are producing more humidity than the home can handle, and you need to reattach the outside vent to the dryer vent for a few days or weeks.