Monday, August 2, 2010

Solar Power: Clothes Dryer

It seemed like our electric bill was high or getting higher.  At one point it felt like it was climbing 9% per month.  In actuality, it fluctuates wildly month to month, shown below.  The last figure is an out-lier as we were gone for 8 days during that period and the hot water heater, dryer and washing appliances were all off duty during that time.  Just that 8 days saved us 14.5%! 
Household Electric Bill -  9/09 - 7/10
The chart is baselined at $100 to provide more drama, which really needs no help.  While we've started a modest downward trend, it's still up where I would consider it too expensive.  So three weeks ago, having identified what I perceive as the main energy hog in our house, I put together a new solar powered clothes dryer.  In other words, up went a 4 strand clothes line.

I was proud that it only cost me about $36 in new hardware.  I had scavenged some pressure treated 1" x 3" x 44" boards from the Lowes dumpster locally - free for the asking.  Also left over from the garden fence project were two 8' x 4" x 4" pt posts.  Using my miter saw, I made 45° gussets for a cross member from the 1 x 3's and assembled what basically looked like telephone poles with for wires running between two of them. Screws were left over from the play ground kit and scavenged from our old shutters.

The poles went two feet into the clay and the cross members were an inch from the top, leaving room to glue on some old copper / tin post caps.  Max height of line is then 5'-11" so my wife has no trouble reaching.  The poles are 40 ft apart.  I bought 200 ft of steel core green plastic line which has stretched with use.  Fortunately, I anchored it to the hooks on either end with cable thimbles and u-bolts so it is adjustable for tensioning.  I could probably come up with a more convenient tensioner mechanism given some more time... something that doesn't require getting out the socket wrench.

Per usual, till we're satisfied with placement and utility, the post holes are just backfilled with crushed limestone and capped with packed clay.  If we like what we have, I'll cement them next year.  It took about three evenings to put it all together; one night spent shopping for hooks, u-bolts and cable, one night cutting the gussets and one night assembling and installing.  Probably 3 or 4 hours all together in effort.  I installed the whole thing in an area that gets full sun for about 85-90% of the day during summer and should get 100% daily sunlight other times of the year.

I am very much looking forward to what our electric bill is like next month.  I am anticipating a good percentage drop, perhaps 30%.  We'll see.  Also consuming a lot of load here is our Electric hot water heater, two freezers, a refrigerator, a dehumidifier which runs in 4 hour intervals, the clothes washing machine and the dish washing machine.  Lights are almost all now CFL except for the basement which has dimmers so those are incandescent but I took half the lights out of the recessed cans down there.  My desk lamp is a 40 watt... I can't have a cold blue glow of a CFL at my nice warm writing desk... just too incongruitous.

I'm looking closely at other solar powered items, like the food dehydrator I mentioned last month.  A Solar water heater is very appealing to me as it would be something within my mechanical means.  Stay tuned.