Mother Earth Living

Her Natural Home: The Washer and Dishwasher Debate

Linda Ligon wonders if buying energy-efficient appliances will pay off.
By Linda Ligon
July/August 2002
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If you’ve been following the saga of the new home my husband and I are building, you might expect that we’d have walls by now, maybe a roof, at least a hole in the ground. After all, it’s been in the works for more than a year and a half. What we actually have is a port-a-potty in the middle of an empty lot. It’s been there quite a while. I’ll spare you the details; if you’ve ever built or bought a home, you’re probably aware of the kinds of strange obstacles that suddenly appear. I don’t know if it’s any worse for a “natural” house than for a conventional one in our small conservative town. I do trust that it will be okay, the project will move forward soon, and meanwhile, what is, is. So I’m using this waiting time to think about energy-efficient appliances.

For most of the thirty-some years we’ve lived in our current home, we’ve had the typical: range, fridge, washer, dryer, dishwasher. Most of these are old—really old—and not very energy-efficient. I’ve had the vague intention of leaving them all behind and equipping our new home with the best: the front-loading washing machine, the super-efficient dishwasher, and so forth. But I’m having second thoughts, some of which are budget-driven, some of which are guilt-driven.

There are just the two of us and the dog, most of the time. I wash maybe two loads of laundry a week. That’s about how often we run the dishwasher, too. The economic theory behind the new energy- efficient appliances is that you soon make up for their higher prices with savings on water and electricity. But what if you hardly use them?

The logical extension of that thought is, if you hardly use them, why have them? Because we have a dinner party or houseguests maybe once every six months? Because they made some sense once upon a time when there were three ravenous kids around changing clothes a lot? Because they’re there? Not a good reason in the lot. So I’ve been experimenting with ratcheting back, doing without.

Now, household chores have never been Zen experiences for me. I can feel that way about weaving or knitting or running, but not about scrubbing and so forth. Dirty dishes are particularly irksome because they pile up so repetitively, with such regularity, even for just the two of us. So I’ve made them my trial discipline. And it’s not so bad. I’m beginning to imagine life without a dishwasher, and it’s a good, quiet, orderly life. I haven’t measured whether we’re saving water or not, but if you add water and electricity together, it’s probably at least a wash (so to speak).

Laundry is another matter. I don’t see myself hand-washing sheets and chinos. And while hanging clothes out on a lovely sunny day has its pleasures, I’m at the office on five out of seven of those sunny days, and never mind the miserable, cold, windy ones. I’m feeling that modern appliances are a must in the dirty-clothes department. But until our budget can accommodate the “green” washer and dryer I’m lusting after, I think I’ll stick with the ones I’ve got. They’ve been my stalwart slaves for more than thirty years, and they’re green, too—avocado green. They’ll do for now. 

Linda Ligon is publisher of Natural Home. This is part five of the ongoing saga of her new natural home.


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