The two things that plagued my Cold House mind most, last winter, were the heat lost from hot showering/bathing/dishwashing/clothes-washing water, and the heat lost from the clothes dryer.

I (crudely) addressed the first issue by keeping the shower water in the freestanding iron tub till it got cold, and collecting the hot dishwasher/washing machine discharge in 10-gallon pails (keeping them until cold.) The new house doesn’t have such a convenient tub; it’s built-in, and against an outside wall, so getting water heat back through it will be less efficient. However, I have schemes in mind for rigging up a full graywater heat reclamation system (it involves a couple of 55 gallon steel drums, if I can find such.)

The dryer issue, however, remains problematic. Some propose that you can “reclaim” the heat from your dryer simply by venting the dryer into your house, instead of outdoors. There are even commercial gizmos such as this one for the purpose. Since the dryer exhaust is hot, it seems intuitive that diverting it to stay inside the house would allow you to reclaim the heat. Unfortunate it’s not really that simple– because the vast majority of the heat of the dryer exhaust is contained in gaseous water, not in the air. If you

redirect that into the house, the water vapor quickly condenses to liquid water, probably mostly on your windows and cellar floor. That gives off heat, indeed. But then it will again eventually re-evaporate, taking with it the same amount of heat you “reclaimed”. (If it doesn’t eventually re-evaporate, perhaps because your house is incredibly well-sealed, then you will wind up with a warmer but sopping wet house.)

Anyway, the only way to really get the heat back from dryer exhaust is to condense the water contained within it, and then dispose of that water before it evaporates again. Not easy to do. Last winter I experimented with counter-current condensers, in which a six-foot aluminum pipe carrying the dryer exhaust ran inside a larger-diameter aluminum pipe carrying the dryer intake air (the theory being that the water in the exhaust would condense, and drip out the far end.) But it was a miserable failure– only about a tablespoon of the 1+ gallons of water actually condensed. The moral: you need a huge amount of concentrated coldness to absorb the amount of rapid heat produced by the dryer evaporation.

The closest I came to success was by using another electrical appliance to suck up and spit back the heat of the first. By directing the dryer exhaust through a dehumidifier, I managed to condense about 80% of the evaporated water in real-time. This was pretty promising. The dehumidifier, of course, used some additional electricity of its own; but used in this fashion, it spits back much more heat than its own electric draw. The primary problems with this set-up were (1) no matter what I did with filters, lint started to clog the dehumidifier; and (2) there was too much technology, and too many moving parts.

All summer (while we’ve been using a clothes line, mostly) I’ve been wracking my brain for a better way to get condense the dryer vent moisture and get back that heat. But I haven’t come up with one that is cheap and both thermodynamically and functionally practical.

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7 Responses to “Musings”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Line dry? If it's above freezing, you can probably line dry your clothing.

  2. Turboglacier Says:

    Well, if it's above freezing, I probably am quite comfortable in the house without bothering with heat reclamation projects. These are really for when it's actually cold out. Also, I'm sure someone is going to point out that you can line-dry clothes even when it's below freezing. Yes. But wading through snow drifts to hang up/retrieve your laundry gets old quickly, even for nutjobs.

  3. Johanna Says:

    I know you want to talk about the *dryer* but the woodstove makes the drying so easy – just put up some racks on the ceiling above. Like this, shirts dry on hangers.Don't tell me two people can't dry their clothes like that, my mother never had a problem with six people: 1 stove.

  4. Turboglacier Says:

    Johanna- the problem is, heat-wise, drying indoors on racks is almost as bad as using the dryer. The same amount of water needs to be evaporated, taking with it the same amount of heat. Evaporating a gallon of water takes the same amount of energy no matter how you do it. Unless you can recondense and reclaim that energy before it leaves the house, it's lost. (Indoor air drying does have a slight edge over the dryer, in that it may be using a more efficient heat source– oil or wood or gas instead of electricity– but still, you're burning something to turn water to vapor, then you send the vapor outside, where it warms the outdoors.)

  5. Johanna Says:

    So it's not just that you're a cheapskate/trying to reduce your fossil fuel use… it's that you are fixated on "efficiency" defined strictly in terms of units of energy introduced into your house. You're rapidly leaving "charmingly eccentric" behind and taking a detour toward true crackpot, eh…

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Honestly, you're discussing how to reclaim waste heat from your dryer, expecting you to wade through the snow to line dry is suddenly too much? I was also going to suggest that you get a snow blower and insulate your house with snow. It'd be a comfortable 70 degrees inside, no heat needed.Seriously, just let it go, man. The fact that you're reclaiming heat from your wastewater is pretty gnarly, too. The first 20% of the work is most of the energy savings./line dry guy

  7. James Says:

    I've been poking around to try to find ways to reclaim some of my dryer heat – have to say this article doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy, more along the lines of depressed that it's not possible. Look forward to your continued efforts.

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