While energy efficiency is a big component in Consumer Reports' testing of many large appliances, including refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines, it's not part of our dryer Ratings. Nor will you find a yellow EnergyGuide label or Energy Star sticker on dryers at appliance retailers. The reason is that most dryers sold today use similar amounts of energy, so any comparisons would be meaningless. A pair of government initiatives hopes to change that by driving innovation toward dryer efficiency.
"In terms of technology, the dryer has always been seen as this lowly appliance equivalent to a giant toaster," says Peter Banwell, director of product marketing with the Energy Star program. "It's time to put our collective wisdom toward moving a new technology into the market." To that end, the Energy Star program named Advanced Clothes Dryers the recipient of its 2012 Emerging Technology Award, which recognizes products that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of dryers, energy savings as high as 60 percent go hand in hand with reduced carbon dioxide.
Heat pump clothes dryers, which extract heat from ambient air and release it at a higher temperature inside the drum, offer perhaps the most promise. These dryers already command significant market share in parts of Europe. Compared with a conventional dryer, a heat pump could save $30 to $40 per year and as much as $700 over the life of the unit. U.S. consumers will need to get used to longer drying times and steeper upfront costs, so manufacturers will be targeting the early adopter crowd with their first-generation models, which are expected to be out next year.
Energy Star is also in the process of developing a specification for conventional dryers that could improve their efficiency by 5 to 10 percent. This will likely be accomplished through a combination of incremental innovations, such as more accurate moisture sensors, improved motor efficiency, and limits on standby power.
Considering that dryers account for roughly six percent of residential electricity, this attention to efficiency is good news for consumers, even if the benefits are not immediate. For now, if you're looking to save energy on laundry, your best bet is to invest in a high-efficiency washing machine (see our latest washer and dryer reports) that will spin the most moisture out of clothes before they go into the dryer. And of course, while the weather is warm, line drying your laundry doesn't cost a thing.