Steam-enhanced propane dryers conquer the laundry room
With higher heating capacities and shorter drying times, propane and gas dryers offer rapid payback and long-term efficiency.
By Selby Frame
Gone are the days when laundry appliances were best kept out of sight, relegated to dingy basement corners. Stylish colors and finishes, sleek designs, and highly interactive features have turned washers and dryers into centerpieces not just in the laundry room, but also in hallways, mud rooms, and even kitchens.
But the hottest trend in laundry appliances has more to do with what's inside than outside. "Steam is huge," says Jill Notini, marketing vice president for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). "It's gone from nothing to roughly 40 percent of washers and more than 20 percent of dryers in under four years." Sales of steam-capable gas dryers are outstripping their electric counterparts, capturing 25 percent of the total market in 2012, according to AHAM data.
Many new dryers feature steam cycles that can dewrinkle, refresh, deodorize, spot-clean, and actually sanitize most clothes and fabrics. Steam dryers help consumers reduce the need for dry cleaning, notes GE Appliance spokesperson Julie Wood. "Steam can refresh clothing without dry cleaning. And for loads that have been left too long, a quick steam cycle can freshen them back up so you can wear clothes without ironing."
Saving energy and money
Propane is a particularly smart choice for dryers, since it naturally produces a moister heat and dries loads faster than electric models. Clothes dryers are the second most energy-hungry appliance in the house (behind refrigerators), so the energy savings of propane or natural gas add up quickly. The purchase cost of propane dryers can run about $50 to $150 more than electric models, but the investment is more than paid back with long-term efficiencies derived from a higher heating capacity, shorter cycle times, and features such as pilotless ignition.
Propane dryers offer operational savings of 20 percent annually over their electric counterparts. While propane provides the heat to dry the clothes (the largest portion of the dryer's energy use), propane dryers still use electricity to operate electronic controls and other electric components such as the drum motor. The electrical savings, however, are substantial: The electrical cost for a typical load of laundry in an electric dryer is 30 to 40 cents, compared with 15 to 20 cents for gas dryers, according to a report by California's Consumer Energy Center.
Gas dryers are environmentally friendly and can play an important part in reducing a home's carbon footprint. According to a 2011 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the total source energy consumption of dryers nationally could be reduced by roughly 60 percent just by switching electric dryers to gas. The EPA is currently developing an ENERGY STAR specification for clothes dryers, so expect to see even more energy-saving innovations soon.
Convenient venting options make it easy to install propane dryers in small or nontraditional spaces. Most gas dryers arrive from the factory fitted for natural gas but can easily be converted to propane with a brand-specific conversion kit, typically costing under $20 and requiring less than 30 minutes to install. Propane dryers have a single vent, and can run off the same 110V circuit that supplies the washer with power, avoiding the cost of installing a 220V circuit for an electric dryer. Steam dryers don't require extra venting and get their water intake either from unit-based, refillable water receptacles or by hooking in to the washer's water-inlet hose.
Designed for aesthetics and ergonomics
The latest dryers feature innovations designed for people as well as clothing. Ergonomic considerations such as glass-window doors, interior lighting, and roomy openings make it easy to check on your laundry's progress. Larger drum capacities on some models can accommodate bulky items and make it easier to remove articles from the back. Quiet operation and optional stack kits allow for placement near bedrooms or in closets. And pedestals or built-in risers on many models let consumers adjust dryer height to reduce bending and reaching.
Sleek styling is giving new laundry appliances cache as design components for areas outside the traditional laundry room. Washers and dryers are now becoming part of kitchen designs; they're being showcased in hallways and study nooks; and wood-paneled units are making their way into walk-in closets. Some laundries have whole rooms built around them, creating modern mud rooms equipped with sinks, extra storage, and even dog showers.
Propane dryers have a single vent, and can run off the same 110V circuit that supplies the washer with power, avoiding the cost of installing a 220V circuit for an electric dryer.
"With metallic colors, see-through doors, and lots of electronics, they're definitely not the washers and dryers that our parents used to use," says AHAM's Notini. "These appliances are really cool and fun to interact with so you're not willing to relegate them to the dungeon downstairs. People want to show them off; they become a sort of status."
Consider some of these dryer features as you help your customer decide which propane unit to purchase. Be sure to check out our online product directory to browse popular gas dryers from a variety of manufacturers and find related training and resources.
1. Cycle options
New dryers offer many more cycle options that allow owners to customize for contents of each load as well as temperature and time. Several dryers now fine-tune cycles for real-world use, such as the Kenmore Elite Steam Gas Dryer, which includes a fabric setting for athletic clothing. Some cycles increase energy efficiency by slowing down the drying time or modulating the spin speed and airflow. The Maytag Bravo XL High-Efficiency Gas Steam Dryer comes with an airflow monitor that provides a visual display of the dryer's venting performance throughout the cycle. Consider a clothes dryer with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when clothes are dry it will reduce wear and tear on fabrics and save energy compared with a thermostat-sensor unit.
2. Steam functions
Some dryers can calibrate steam to start at the end of the drying cycle to prevent wrinkles from setting in, while others offer a full suite of steam options. Look for dryers that allow you to store preferred settings for later use to simplify cycle programming. GE's GTDS855 top loader features many customizable settings, including a steam control that can be set according to the number of garments that need to be steamed. The unit is also configured so the washer can communicate with the dryer to preset the optimal dry cycle for that load.
3. Smart technology
Smart technology will play an increasingly central role in future laundry appliance innovation. Many new washers and dryers now come with data ports that connect through an ethernet cable to a home's electric smart meter or DSL line, opening up a range of remote options. The LG DLEX6001 steam dryer includes technology that allows you to monitor your dryer remotely, download new kinds of cycle controls as they are developed, and run the dryer when electricity rates are lowest. Some new dryers let you start your unit remotely via the Internet. GE dryers incorporate technology that allows service professionals to come to your home, connect a laptop to your dryer, and diagnose needed repairs on the spot.
The propane clothes dryer, the clothes washer, and a propane tankless water heater supplying the clothes washer form a laundry room technology trio to optimize convenience, efficiency, and performance. These appliances play an integral role in the Propane Energy Pod model for new-home construction that merges five applications of propane space heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and clothes drying into an integrated, whole-home energy package.