Washing machines: the new water savers?


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Washing machines account for 20% of an average household’s water use in California, but that may change now that the California Energy Commission has prevailed in a years-long lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy, which had prevented the commission from adopting a more water- and energy-efficient standard for clothes washers.

Currently, there is no standard for how much water a washing machine uses. It’s estimated that the average washing machine uses 39.2 gallons of water per wash, or 15,366 gallons a year for a normal household.


If California’s proposed standard goes into effect, an average machine would use just 6 gallons of water per cubic foot of washing machine capacity; the average washing machine would use just 21.1 gallons per wash, or 8,271 gallons per year.

On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the U.S. energy department to reconsider California’s request to set its own washing machine standard. While the U.S. energy department has not agreed to the state’s request, it could be granted next year, with the new standard going in to effect some time in 2013.

Jonathan Blees, assistant chief counsel for the California Energy Commission, said the standard does not require consumers to upgrade their machines; it merely requires manufacturers to apply the standard to all California washing machines that are made after the standard goes in to effect.

Blees said many washing-machine models, most of them front-loading, currently meet the 6-gallon standard.

Blees estimates that within the first year of the new standard, the state would save 4.76 billion gallons of water. Within 12 to 15 years, a time frame during which most Californians will have switched their existing machines to the more efficient standard, the state could save as much as 66.7 billion gallons of water – enough water to supply a city the size of San Diego every year. The new standard would also save the state 500 gigawatt hours of electricity and 50 million therms of natural gas -- energy that is used to pump water in to the home for washing machines and treat the water after it’s been used.

-- Susan Carpenter