Tuesday, December 14, 2010

World Cleaned by Hand

A few years ago, the great dishwasher debate rolled through the blogosphere. The question was which is more eco-friendly, using the dishwasher or handwashing dishes. The focus was on water usage, and in the end, the findings were that, on water-saving setting, assuming no pre-rinse of the dishes, there was really no significant difference in water usage between using a dishwasher and handwashing the dishes.

And that's where the debate ended. Dishwashers were deemed just as eco-friendly as handwashing, and I never thought more about it, and we continued to use our dishwasher.

I should disclose that we don't have a "regular" dishwasher. Ours is a 3/4 size portable dishwasher, which means that when we want to use it, we have to roll it over to the sink and hook it up to the faucet. When we bought our house, there was no dishwasher, and because of the way our kitchen is set-up, we couldn't have a built-in, and because our kitchen is so small, we only had space for the little three-quarter size machine. So, our dishwasher actually uses less than a regular dishwasher anyway.

Then, one day, not so long ago, I became obsessed with lowering our electric bill. Nothing is safe and nothing is sacred, and I've turned this desire to reduce, reduce, reduce into some kind of maniacal witch hunt. Anything and everything that has a power switch or a plug is closely evaluated to determine if it's something we really need. I even bought a wind-up alarm clock, because it doesn't use batteries or plug into the wall.

My obsession has earned me more than a few sideways looks, much rolling of the eyes, and even the occasional scowl ... mumble ... grumble.

Incidentally, don't mention the television, the VCR, the DVD player or the stereo to Deus Ex Machina. I think he might still be a little sensitive. Sometimes it's hard to let go :).

A month without those things, though, and there was a marked reduction in our electric bill. Heartened by my success, I decided to see what else I could (easily) eliminate ... and I spied the unsuspeting dishwasher sitting innocently next to the refrigerator (which shouldn't get too smug or too comfortable, either).

In the comments section of a recnt post, Bellen asked how we calculated the energy usage of our dishwasher, and so I asked the man who knows all things electric, and Deus Ex Machina said that it should be marked somewhere on the machine. Every appliance has the usage listed somewhere as part of the UL requirements. So, we looked and found the little metal plate attached just inside the door frame. It says that our dishwasher requires 120v (current) and draws 8.5 amps.

To calculate the power draw, the formula is current x amps = watts. So, our dishwasher uses 1020 watts or 1.020 kilowatts. If we run our dishwasher for one hour, that's 1 kWh, which means if we run the dishwasher every day, and it takes one hour to go through the cycle (which it does), operating the dishwasher would take 30 kWh per month ... for a dishwasher.

And suddenly our sweet, little, three-fourths-sized dishwasher that's more eco-friendly than a full-sized machine doesn't seem so eco-friendly at all.

We've been researching alternative energy systems, and the more I look at any system the uses renewable resources, the more I realize that if we really want to be successful at generating own our power, we have to trim off every single sliver of the fat. The alternative energy systems just don't provide the enormous quantity of power available through the grid.

For instance, with a bicycle powered generator, the average rider can produce between 125 and 300 watts, which wouldn't even be enough power to get the dishwasher to kick on, much less run it for a full cycle. Maybe if the rider were Lance Armstrong I'd have clean dishes from a machine powered by a bicycle.

And that's what really put it into perspective for me.

In the end, I've decided that doing the dishes by hand isn't so difficult, and with me doing the dishes instead of him, Deus Ex Machina will have more time to concentrate on building that bicycle generator, because even if I can't pedal hard enough to get the electric dishwasher to work, I'm pretty sure I could pedal hard enough to charge up a battery so that we could plug in the laptop and snuggle on the couch to watch a DVD :).

I'd probably shower first, though ;).


  1. Just wanted to tell you once again that I LOVE your blog...please keep writing!! I learn so much from it, and enjoy your sense of humor! And I completely understand the "it's too warm for December" thing. Same thing going on here in VT.

  2. Thank you, patrice. It's very kind of you to say and very humbling for me to hear ;).

    You know the old saying about misery and company - I'm sorry to hear that it's also too warm in VT, but at the same time ... ;). Here's hoping our weather changes (for the colder ;) soon! Otherwise I have little hope for our maple syrup season.

  3. When my dishwasher died a few months ago, I decided not to do anything with it. Strangely, I'm really enjoying washing the dishes by hand and there has been a drop in our electric.

  4. Mom - I used to hate doing the dishes, but now I'm finding it isn't so bad. The first time I remember actually enjoying doing the dishes was during one of our power outages when I warmed the water on the woodstove and handwashed the dishes. Because no one in our area had electricity, we had been given a short repreive from the rigors of our daily (modern) life, and everything was slower and calmer. Doing the dishes by lamplight with water heated on the woodstove was actually kind of soothing ;). Weird, huh?

  5. I have lived without a dishwasher many times over the years. Sometimes I will handwash the dishes just for the fun of it. Right now we use a portable dishwasher, and sometimes it is just too much work to haul the thing over to the sink and hook it up.

    I so love reading about your quest to reduce-reduce-reduce your energy usage!

  6. I've never had a dishwasher.
    I have also been meaning to let you know that I stopped using my clothes dryer 2 months ago, and doing so brought my electric bill down to $35 month. THanks for all your inspiration.

  7. Hey, Barefoot - Where the heck have you been? No updates on your blot, not comments anywhere ... :). I was beginning to wonder. I know what you're saying about using the portable almost being more trouble than it's worth. It's a heavy little bugger, and difficult to steer. It's almost better just to do the dishes by hand so that I don't run over my feet :).

    Graffiti - You know, I thought a dishwasher was a good deal, but it's actually kind of like carpet, which ends up being more work than it's worth. You know? Hey, congrats on the dryer thing. I read your monthly savings number and said, out loud - no kidding - "Holy cow! That's awesome!"

  8. A dishwasher is a strange animal when it comes to consuming electricity. I'm sure Deus pointed out that 8.5A figure is the maximum current draw — which is probably during the "dry" cycle when it's running its heating element. Unless it has a pre-heater for the water, it might pull as little as 1A the rest of the time. You might try the "air dry" setting to see how much difference that makes to your power bill, then see if the dishwasher on "air dry" shows up on the power bill.

    Oh, and I'm quite familiar with heating water on the wood stove. The ktichen is on the opposite end of the house from the hot water heater, and it takes a long time to flush the cold water out of the pipes. It's easier to just dump a pot of hot water into the sink than run a couple gallons of water out the back.

  9. FARf - It will be interesting to see if there is any difference in our power bill at the end of this month of not using the dishwasher ;). We'll definitely keep everyone posted.

  10. Wendy, we got rid of our portable dishwasher this year, after it sat not being used very often (it was freecycled away). We also do not have a clothes dryer (and haven't had one in 10 years)- which means people learn to be more careful with their clothes so that things can be used more than once as only so many clothes can hang on drying racks, and the weather is not always cooperative to hang on the line.

    As for the holiday lights, I did a little research and discovered that 1 15 foot string of LED lights was better than the large overhead lights in our livingroom and kitchen. We have an open concept livingroom/diningroom area, so up went the LED's and off went the overhead lights. It adds a nice atmosphere during the holiday season, and I look at it as a baby step toward better choices for lighting for our family.

    The lights are coming down probably this week, so now we need to consider other lighting options, because I am not sure I can bring myself to returning to those overheads now!

  11. Hey Witchy Mom - you know, there's no shame in keeping those Christmas lights up all year long (I believe Gretchen Wilson sings a song about it ;). If they use less electricity than the overheads, you could just string a couple of strands around the window or around a door frame, or even string them across the ceiling (like a low-tech track lighting ;).

    It might actually look pretty cool.

    I'll have to think on this one a bit.

    Don't be surprised if you see a post about it ;).