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Squeezing Water Savings From Washing Machines

LaundromatThe commercial laundry market can cut water use by almost 50 percent in some cases by using more water-efficient machines, according to a white paper.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which jointly published the white paper, say front-loading washing machines have increased energy and water savings. But there’s still a lot more water savings that can be squeezed out of washers, especially in largely untapped commercial laundromats.

The two organizations have collaborated to identify savings opportunities in the clothes washer sector as part of the development of a program for the Great Lakes region.

About 20 percent of households in the country do their washing  at a laundromat or multifamily laundry room, the authors estimate. Commercial machines are used much more frequently than residential units, at almost four loads per day versus about one load per day. But only 32 percent of commercial washers sold are efficient units, so the water savings that can be realized from upgrading to more efficient commercial units are substantial, say the authors.

They point out that there are opportunities to target specific portions of the commercial laundry market, such as single-load  commercial washers — also known as family size — that are primarily sold for multifamily (or apartment) laundry rooms, which can be replaced with more efficient units. This would reduce water use by almost 50 percent.

The authors cite a case study where three single-load top-loading machines, with a capacity of 12 pounds each, were replaced by two multi-load washers with a capacity of 40 pounds each. This retrofit increased the capacity of the laundromat by 44 pounds of capacity, while simultaneously decreasing the water factor from 16.3 to 12 — the water factor is a metric used for characterizing water efficiency in clothes washers. It is calculated by dividing the weighted water consumption per cycle by the capacity of the clothes washer.

The study suggests retrofitting laundromats without changing the size of the facilities, introducing customizable multi-load units that can be a value proposition for customers who do large or multiple loads at once. It says retrofits will also avoid permitting and impact fees that some communities charge for big changes to facilities.

If water and energy utilities collaborate, the white paper concludes, they can tap these opportunities for water savings. The NRDC and the ACEEE will pilot test this in a target state within the Great Lakes Region.

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