Updated on 04.12.11

Frugality Tips and “Red Flags”

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, a friend of mine told me that she runs a dehumidifier in her laundry room because it gets fairly steamy in there at times when the washer and dryer are both running. She takes the tray from the dehumidifier and adds it to the washing machine in order to save money on her water bill.

Right off the bat, this tip struck me as being a bit out of balance. How much water does a dehumidifier really extract? How much energy does it take to continually run a dehumidifier?

I was on the case.

First of all, I wanted to know how much water a dehumidifier would extract from the air. I checked out the Energy Star site on basic dehumidifiers and found that if we assume the room is very damp and is 500 square feet in size (which is substantially larger than the laundry room likely is), the dehumidifier will extract 12 pints of water from the air every 24 hours. In reality, I’d assume that the water extraction is less than that, but I’m going to give her argument the benefit of the doubt.

How much energy does a dehumidifier use? The Otter Trail Power Company suggests that a typical dehumidifier uses 350 watts. In other words, over a 24 hour period, a dehumidifier would swallow down 8.4 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Now, how much do these things actually cost? Tap water, for example, is typically sold by the acre-foot, which is 325,851.429 gallons of water. You can get lots of different estimates on the cost of that amount of water, but we’ll use $700 as a rough average. This gives a per-gallon cost of water from your tap as $0.002 per gallon. In other words, five gallons of tap water costs about a penny. Since the dehumidifier extracts 12 pints from the air every 24 hours, it’s extracting roughly 3/10 of a cent worth of water every day.

On the other hand, a kilowatt hour costs roughly 11 cents to purchase. Over that same 24 hour period, the dehumidifier is eating up 92.4 cents.

In other words, if she’s running the dehumidifier solely to save money on her water bill, this is an enormous loss. (That’s not to say that she’s not running the dehumidifier for other purposes. If she is, and the washing machine is the most convenient place to put the wasted water, then it’s probably a good choice.)

The point of this article isn’t to say that dehumidifiers are a waste of money. They often do a valuable job of keeping a moist room dry and mold-free, something that can add up to a lot of damage over time. The point is to simply say that tips that seem smartly frugal on the surface can actually be big losers in reality.

Trust me: over a given year, I hear a lot of frugality tips. Some of them are excellent. Some of them are mediocre. Some of them are just flat-out wrong. Here are some general principles I’ve found that help me quickly assess whether the tip is worthwhile.

Be wary of any tips that require very regular action. If you have to do something every single day in order to save money, it should be a large savings or else the hassle won’t be worth it.

Be wary of water conservation tips. Water conservation tips are generally only worthwhile if they involve something you’re already doing and also involve only a one-time change, like installing a new shower head, setting up a rain barrel for yard watering, or putting a full water bottle in your toilet tank. Most other water conservation tips just don’t work – or aren’t worth the time invested – simply because water is so inexpensive. That’s not to say there isn’t an environmental reason to do them.

Be wary of any tips that don’t match how you live. A great example of this is a programmable thermostat. If you don’t leave the house regularly every day, it probably won’t be worth it. If you’re the type that’s constantly adjusting the thermostat up and down a few degrees, it won’t be worth it. Programmable thermostats work when you’re happy within a broad temperature range and tend to leave the house a lot.

Be wary of any tips that introduce new costs. For example, if you need to buy something to save money, run the math. If you need to use more energy to save money, do the math first. Savings usually come from reduction, not from addition.

What you’ll often find is that any long set of frugality tips will cause at least one of these “red flags” to pop up for you. For each person, though, different tips will cause different red flags. That’s to be expected, because we all live different lives. The key, as always, is to find the tips that work for you.

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  1. Cheryl says:

    The main advantage of a dehumidifier is not energy savings. It’s the savings from avoiding mold damage and allergy problems that have to be medicated.

  2. Johanna says:

    I’ve done laundry in a lot of different laundry rooms, and the only time I’ve ever noticed a laundry room to get noticeably steamy, it was because the duct that connects the dryer to the outside had come loose, so all the warm, moist air was getting recirculated around the room. Maybe your friend should make sure she’s not experiencing a problem like that? If it’s something like that, that can be easily fixed, then she won’t have to run the dehumidifier at all.

  3. Suzanne says:

    I am wondering why it gets so steamy in there. Is she using warm or hot water to wash all her clothes? Is her dryer venting properly? Her laundry room might be evaporating (pun intended) money before the dehumidifier comes into play!

    Nice article and great suggestions for evaluating all kinds of frugality tips.

  4. Wesley says:

    @3 Suzanne, yeah my first thought was she is using hot water, which right there is the exact opposite of being frugal.

    Has Trent ever done a cost analysis over using hot versus cold water in a washer? Would be interesting to see.

  5. Kristen says:

    Johanna and Suzanne are both thinking along the same wavelength as I was. Another thing to keep in mind is if her vents or tubing is clogged with lint (or, if she is venting through an exterior vent, squirrels/mice), it’s a serious fire hazard. Steam like that in the laundry room is a good indicator that something isn’t right.

  6. Steven says:

    “That’s not to say that she’s not running the dehumidifier for other purposes. If she is, and the washing machine is the most convenient place to put the wasted water, then it’s probably a good choice.”

    I have the feeling that this is most likely the case, rather than her running it for the sole purpose of saving money on her water bill. It makes a lot more sense (and cents) to utilize that water in the washing machine, or to water house plants rather than pour it down the drain…even if it’s “only” $0.002 worth of water. Conservation is the more important issue, since only 0.3% of Earth’s water is available for our consumption.

    Also, could you please indicate what these tips are that we should be “wary” of? You mention that they might not be worth the money, but there could be an environmental reason why they could be a benefit. What are those benefits? Money shouldn’t always be the driving force guiding our decisions. Sometimes there are more important reasons.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Using hot water vs cold is definitely more expensive, just because you have to heat up the water. I run 2 loads a week on hot, mostly sheets, underwear, socks and diapers/wipes. Everything else on cold. I have gone some months doing everything on cold and didn’t notice a significant cost drop in the energy bill, but if you did everything hot wash/ hot rinse, maybe you would.

    And our washing on hot has never steamed up the laundry area. Methinks the dryer is the culprit here.

  8. David C says:

    I know a couple that vents their clothes dryer into a spare bedroom to help “heat” it. They don’t seem to realize that the increased humidity and fuzz level in that room probably negates any energy savings. Of course, the money they could make from harvesting mushrooms that could be grown in there, would probably help some. :-)

  9. NMPatricia says:

    I have seen tips that suggest venting the dryer into the house. Here in New Mexico it is EXTREMELY dry. I wouldn’t mind a little extra humidity in the house. And no, I have no mushrooms :) or mold growing in my house. So one might keep in mind the circumstances.

  10. Wes says:

    All this talk about hot water got me wondering: does anyone know how much a gallon of hot water costs (hot enough for a shower or load of clothes, for example)?

  11. Hunter says:

    WRT to Water conservation. Trent, I read that you mntioned rain barrel installation. I ran a cost benefit analysis on March 18. The results surprised me. It always pays to carefully run the numbers.

    But the numbers are only part of the equation in the decision process. It makes sense to use less of a resource if you can, in my opinion. Recycling was not profitable for decades before it became a billion dollar industry overnight.

    Thank you,

  12. Hunter says:

    RE #11 March 24 not March 18

  13. Gretchen says:

    You forgot the cost of the dehymidifer itself.

    I’ve never seen a steamy laundry room. Sometimes if it’s raining outside and puddles where the exhaust goes, that steams, so I agree something’s probably wrong with the dryer.

    Dryer vents should never be vented inside.

  14. Wes says:

    I just read that to raise water from 60F to 105F, it takes 0.11 kwh. That means, at least in our home, it costs about 1 penny to heat a gallon of water for a shower.

  15. valleycat1 says:

    More on #14 – & #10 – And a washing machine can use anywhere from 20-40 gallons per load depending on size of load, size & make of machine; a shower ranges from 2-4 gallons per minute (of course, you’d have to factor how much of that is hot vs. cold).

  16. Scott Messner says:

    Dehumidifiers are expensive to run. We run one in our basement all summer to keep the humidity down. The only time my laundry room gets humid is if the dryer vent is clogged. I highly doubt she is running it just for water savings.

    She’s making a big mistake if she is. She would be better served finding the source of the humidity.

  17. Kathryn says:

    I have to disagree that programmable thermostats are only worth the investment if you leave the house a lot. Basic programmable thermostats are relatively cheap and DIY-friendly, so it doesn’t take much to recoup the initial investment. If you just use it to adjust the temperature for about 8 hours or so every night, while you sleep, it’s probably a worthwhile purchase. That’s what we’ve found with our programmable thermostat.

  18. JuliB says:

    One thing about water barrels – if you have an asphalt tiled roof (very common in the Chicagoland area), you do not want to water your garden with water from the downspout. I found that fact very depressing….

  19. Karen says:

    I was just going to post what Kathryn already said about programmable thermostats. We have one installed even though the kids and I are at home most of the time. It’s set to raise the temperature at 6 am before we get up, then drop at 8 once everyone is dressed and moving around. Then to raise it again at 6 pm for the kids’ bathtime etc, then a significant drop at 10 pm once everyone is tucked into bed. And if it’s particularly cold during the day, I’ll bump it up a few degrees knowing that the program will kick back in after an hour and return to the plan.

    Otherwise what happens is, we turn it up when we’re cold, then forget to turn it back down until the middle of the night when we’re all sweating, or we go out for the day forgetting to turn it down…

    It has definitely paid for itself many times over – it cost about $30 and took less than half an hour to install with only basic understanding of electrical work.

  20. deRuiter says:

    “San Francisco was especially determined to convert old-school water-wasting toilets into new eco-friendly ones. They converted fixtures in public buildings, and encouraged private citizens to do the same with rebate incentives and credits.

    The result of the crunchy environmentally friendly toilet swap initiative has not exactly been kind to Mother Earth, nor to the taxpayers. The city has had to spend over a hundred million dollars on bleach to disinfect the stagnant sewage before it is dumped in the bay. (deRuiter says, “The “savings” on water is approximately 11/10 the amount San Franciso has to spend on bleach to clean the fowl waste of sludge which builds up in the pipes due to low flow toilets. This never happened when San Franciso used high flush toilets, no bleach had to be dumped into the waste water system, and the taxpayers saved approximately $90,000,000. (NINETY MILLION DOLLARS) not buying bleach, way to go enviromentalists!)

    It turns out that low-flush toilets don’t use enough water to flush the poop out of the pipes. The sludge builds up and creates a stench in the city. To combat the stink, city officials have stocked up on 8.5 million pounds of bleach, which will be used not only for the sewage, but also for drinking water.” This is exactly Trent’s point, with a lot of eco damage thrown in, due to a government meddling. Ronal Reagan always used to say, “Watch out fr the man in the suit who says, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”!!!!

  21. JS says:

    May be your friend is running dehumidifier to “dehumidify” the laundry room and not to generate water out of thin air for water savings. By Product of dehumidification is then added to the washer. I would call this a good frugality achieved from smart thinking.

  22. Tom says:

    Nice analysis.

    Water is cheap! Many people don’t realize this. We had a plumber install a garbage disposal (to be more accurate, fix my attempt at installing it myself) and teach us the proper way to run one… he told us using a bit more water through the disposal is cheaper than calling me to fix it down the road.
    Newer model washers use way less water anyway. I think the average cost per year is on the order of $20 (YMMV). I can’t fathom that pouring water in the washer that I got for “free” would really make a noticeable dent in any bill.

  23. WendyH says:

    I can’t find the post I was looking for to reference, but I’ve seen similar efficiency breakdowns comparing using a slow cooker vs oven vs pressure cooker. Slow cookers can be easy if you’re away from home, but may not be as energy efficient as cooking multiple items in an oven at the same time. A pressure cooker can also be less expensive because you are significantly cutting your cooking time. Unfortunately it appears that the efficiency is difficult to determine because it depends on older/newer appliances and what your gas/electricity costs are.

    re #20: I wonder if any companies do a comparison between flushing 1x with an older-style toilet and flushing 2-3x with an “efficient” toilet – which is what you need on some of them to get the bowls to “clear”? I hadn’t even though about what happens down the plumbing line.

  24. Johanna says:

    re #20: I could be wrong about this, but isn’t “government meddling” a big part of why we have things like public sewer systems in the first place? So now it’s “Get your government hands off my Medicare, my state-school (or community-college) tuition, AND my public infrastructure!”

  25. Nancy says:

    #24 Johanna—Amen, sister!

  26. Sherri says:

    Is the water in the dehumidfier clean? I’m thinking about mold and other airborn spores that could be multiplying in the stagnant water! Let’s wash some clothes in it.

  27. Sam says:

    Maybe I missed something in the article, but why would you assume she’s running the dehumidifier for the purpose of generating water for the washing machine? The water is simply a by-product of taking care of a problem she has.

    I do agree with other posters in that this woman should check into cleaning her dryer vent because a steamy laundry room shouldn’t be a normal occurrence.

  28. My dryer vent once popped off the wall and promptly steamed off all the wallpaper in my bathroom/laundry room. It worked better than renting a steam wallpaper remover!

  29. Katie says:

    The other thing about water conservation as a money-saving strategy is that, over the long term, it’s pretty doomed. The costs of producing water are pretty fixed; it costs a bit more to produce each gallon but the vast majority of the cost is the same no matter how much water they’re producing for each household/business.* And since water use has been steadily declining, the water rates have had to steadily increase. You’re only going to save money if you manage to use substantially less comparatively to everyone else in your town.

    * Which is different than serving new households and businesses which does substantially change the costs.

  30. EngineerMom says:

    I would check the dryer vent, too. Even running a washing machine on hot in a small room should not significantly affect the humidity when compared the rest of the house.

    We lived in an apartment building for a while that had two dryers in the basement (also two washers, but that’s not important). It sounded great, except they had vented both dryers through a vent hole sized for a single dryer. This means that every time both dryers were run at the same time, roughly half the air was forced back into the laundry room. In the summer, this meant clothes didn’t dry, the room became very humid and uncomfortable, and anything stored in it was at risk of mildew (some of the storage lockers for the apartments were in that room). The owner even replaced the dryers with newer version to try to fix the problem, which it didn’t, of course, since the real problem was the fact that each dryer needed its own separate vent.

    Also, if her vent is blocked enough to be causing this issue, it’s entirely possible she’s staring at a significant fire hazard in the form of excess lint blocking the vent.

  31. Wojo says:

    One interesting effect of when I used a dehumidifier regularly is that it makes the room warmer. In fact, my dorm room’s A/C (this was a while ago) had trouble keeping the temperature at where I wanted it. It was dry, but it was warm. Certainly, that’s an added cost that might be better spent investing in an A/C unit that does a good job removing moisture from the air.

    Unintended consequences at work, I suppose.

  32. tall bill says:

    Moisture is usually only when the dryer is not properly vented outdoors. Only a few very dry areas of the country can use moisture inside during part of the year. Mostly however, mold will grow for many of us unless it’s vented outside. Please take the time to check the venting & if you have a lint trap with the air being left inside, consider redoing it to discharge outside if moisture is heavy. Mold is not worth the energy savings…

  33. AnnJo says:

    As others have mentioned, if the dryer vent is functioning properly, there should be no excess humidity. And fires due to clocked dryer vents or other lint accummulations are one of the biggest reasons for house fires, so it needs immediate attention.

    The lint filter in the machine needs to be cleared before or after each use. The outside vent cover needs to be removed and cleaned at least once or twice a year. If both of those things haven’t been done on a consistent basis before, the duct may need to be professionally vacuumed. The kick-panel of the dryer needs to be removed once a year to allow thorough vacuuming of the area under and around the dryer.

    PS: I keep a plastic container in the laundry area and collect the lint, then use it to help start fires in the woodstove. There’s nothing better for starting a fire than lint. You just want to be sure you’re starting a fire where you want one, not where it will burn your house down.

  34. DivaJean says:

    In our area of the world (upstate NY), the dehumidifier is run in the basement during the summer and pulls about 2 gallons a day. The dehumidifier is not on to gather water for the laundry, but I do just pour it on out into the washer when I am down in the basement running a load. I notice that the water from the dehumidifier is not as hard as our “regular”, from the tap water and clothes are a bit softer. But again, it is not my intention to “save” on water when I am using more electricity by having the dehumidifier on. It’s on to decrease the mold and moisture of summer in our basement.

  35. Jane says:

    We use a dehumidifier sporadically when it is excessively humid in the basement. One month our electricity shot up by $30 for no reason (it was winter, so no AC). It turned out the dehumidifier was running continually. Those suckers are energy hogs!

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