A Dehumidifier Helped my Dryer

Spend here, save there: How installing dehumidifier helped my clothes dryer. Sometimes spending on one thing saves you money on something else.

Several years ago I realized that the basement of my house was too humid and I definitely needed a dehumidifier.  The basement doesn’t have water seeping in through the walls, and it’s actually pretty dry during winter.  During summer, however, the seasonal humidity combined with the cooler temperatures of the basement created a rather unpleasant and unhealthy environment.  It was never moldy, but it didn’t seem to be too far from being so.

damp_basement.jpgClearly, I needed a dehumidifier.  Luckily there was one at the local Goodwill that seemed to be in good condition.  I bought it and installed it.  I knew it wouldn’t do much good if I just put it on the floor and plugged it in.  A dehumidifier has a bucket that needs to be removed and emptied when it gets full.  When a dehumidifier’s collection bucket is filled with water — taken right out of the air, like magic — it automatically shuts itself off and waits for its human master to empty the bucket.  I was afraid that emptying the dehumidifier bucket was a task that wouldn’t be done as often as it should.  I wanted my dehumidifier to work whenever needed, bucket be damned.  So I suspended it on cables attached to the overhead floor joists directly above my basement sink and connected the discharge pipe to a garden hose leading to the drain.  The discharged water goes right down the drain, completely bypassing the bucket.  Thus, no need to ever empty the dehumidifier bucket … one less thing!  Also, it’s nice to have it out of the way and not taking up floor space.

Just a day after I turned on the dehumidifier, the air in the basement was noticeably dryer and more pleasant.  I saw that the basement sink dried more quickly after doing a load of laundry.  I was also glad to know that the basement was much less hospitable to vermin, like cockroaches.  But, I worried: how much electricity is this thing going to use, i.e., how much is it going to cost?

As it turned out, I didn’t notice any change in my electric bill.  Maybe part of the reason is the dehumidifier doesn’t use as much electricity as I feared it might.  But I noticed something else: the clothes dryer (which is also in the basement) was drying clothes more quickly than it had before I installed the dehumidifier.  I don’t know exactly how much more quickly, but I do know that I never had re-start the dryer because the clothes were still a bit damp after the dryer stopped (which happened sometimes before the dehumidifier).

It makes perfect sense.  To dry clothes, the dryer uses a lot of air pulled from the area around it.  Before I had the dehumidifier, the air in the basement was full of water.  Once the dehumidifier was doing its thing, the dryer has nice dry air to work with.  To some degree, the electricity used by the dehumidifier is offset by reduced electricity usage by the dryer.  Spend a little here, but save a little there.

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DIY Neighborhood Watch

windows_at_nightYears ago I attended a talk about safety and crime prevention given by a local police officer.  One thing he said led me to develop a habit, something I’ve done ever since.  He recommended that everyone should look out their window for a few minutes each night and call the police to report anything suspicious or out of the ordinary.  Sounded like a good idea to me.  If a lot of people do this, it adds up to many hours of crime-preventing observation.

Before I go to bed at night, I look out one of my windows for a couple minutes.  I just take a look at the street, sidewalk, parked cars (including my own), my neighbors’ houses and everything I can see.  If I see anything suspicious, I call the police on the non-emergency number.

I’ve called the police twice.  Once it was because I saw some young men driving around with a man seated on the top of the car!  Pretty weird.  I guess they were drunk or high.  Another time I saw a man walking up one side of the street and down the other, stopping and peering into parked cars.  Both the car and the man got out of sight before the police arrived, but both times I did see a police car drive by soon after I called.  Did I prevent some crime?  Maybe.

Everyone should do their part.

I Cut a Hole in my Washer

Front-loading washing machines have filters (sometimes called “coin traps”) to prevent solid objects from getting into, and possibly damaging, the pump that moves water out of the machine through the discharge hose.  These filters need to be emptied and cleaned periodically.  Some washing machines have a small door on the front that allows access to the filter.  On some washers, the filter can be easily unscrewed and removed.  On mine, the filter is inside a wide spot in a length of flexible hose leading to the pump near the front of the machine.  But it’s behind a solid front panel (no door) and the only way to get to it is to remove the front panel.  And the only way to remove the front panel is to loosen the top, move the control panel, and disconnect the door lock.  Because my dryer is stacked on top of the washer, loosening the top requires moving the dryer.  Just getting to the filter requires an absurd amount of time and effort, especially considering that the actual filter removal and cleaning takes only about 5 minutes.  Very bad product design, in my opinion.*

Because it was a “previously owned” washer when I got it, I cleaned the filter when I first installed it in my basement.  Since then, I’ve felt a little guilty about not having cleaned it for a long while, but I dreaded all the work required.  Thinking it over, it seemed that cutting a “filter-access door” in the front panel would be quicker than removing the panel as described above.  Not to mention all the work required to put it all back together.  Once done, I could clean the filter whenever I liked without all of work that would otherwise be required.

Just to be sure I would be able to cut a hole in the front panel without damaging anything inside the machine (like hoses and wires), I unplugged the washer, moved it away from the wall, partially removed the back panel and looked inside.  There was plenty of room, at least a few inches, between the filter and the front panel, enough to allow a drill or saw to penetrate without damaging any of the internal parts.

Using an electric drill, and being extra careful to penetrate as little as possible, I made 4 holes that would be the corners of my filter-access door, the dimensions of which would be about 6 inches tall and 10 inches wide.  I used the holes as starting points to make cuts connecting one hole to another.  First I used a hacksaw, but hacksawing was too slow so I switched to an electric jigsaw.  I held the jigsaw at an angle, allowing the blade to penetrate inside the machine as little as possible.  Using the jigsaw, I had the hole cut in about 5 minutes.  The edges of the hole were quite jagged, so I covered them with duct tape.  After all, I have to put my hands through it to reach the filter.

Removing the filter through my new filter-access door is still awkward work that requires lying on the floor and reaching into an area that’s difficult to see.  All things considered though, it’s a lot easier to do it through a hole in the front panel than to disassemble the front of the machine.

After a few minutes, I had the filter assembly in my hand.  Inside the coin trap (basically a plastic cup with several holes in it) I found a very corroded key, several coins, many bobby pins, and many other small bits of unidentifiable solid materials, plus lots of thread and lint.  Undoubtedly this mess of a mass was slowing the flow of water into the pump and out the discharge hose.  Also, it smelled bad and the smelly odors would have migrated up into my freshly laundered clothes as they sat in the machine after being washed.  After cleaning the filter, I reinstalled it.  Helpful hint: the hose assembly is easier to slide into place if it’s wet.

I did a load of laundry and ensured that nothing was leaking.  This was easy to do by just looking through my new filter-access door.  I can easily take a look at the machine’s insides anytime.

I used a piece of magnetic plastic whiteboard as a door cover.  Its magnetic force wasn’t enough to prevent it from sliding down as the machine vibrated when it was running, so I used two magnets (taken out of an old computer hard-drive) to hold it in place.

Overall, if you’re unlucky enough to have a washer without one, a DIY filter-access door might be something you should consider.  Be aware that doing this probably voids your warranty (not an issue for me, because mine was an on-the-curb-first-come-first-served acquisition).  Of course, anything you do is at your own risk.  I assume no liability.  You definitely shouldn’t do this if you have young children in your house.  With a door like this, they could easily get into the machine’s moving parts and could hurt themselves or damage the machine.

* Seriously, take a look:

Final note:  It might be possible to access the filter through the bottom of the machine (its bottom panel has a couple large holes, perhaps for maintenance access), but this would require removing the stacked dryer, disconnecting the water, moving the washer away from the wall and tilting it on its side.  That’s almost as much work as removing the front panel.  I still like my filter-access door.

DIY Washing Machine Lint Trap

It’s a good idea to prevent lint from going down the laundry-sink drain.  You can get lint traps that attach to the end of your washing machine’s discharge hose.  They cost around a dollar each, if you buy them at your local grocery store, hardware store, or big-box home improvement store.

However, you can get them a lot cheaper (per unit) if you buy them in bulk (e.g., dozens) from a big online retailer.  That’s by far the best way to do it.  They’re a good value and worth using, considering that you’re likely to have a clogged drain if you don’t.

mesh_bags

I’ve used the store-bought lint traps for many years and been pretty happy with them.  Recently I had one that was completely filled with lint, ready for the garbage, but I didn’t have any new ones in the house.  I wondered if I could create a DIY substitute out of something I had on hand and I though of the mesh produce bags that onions and oranges (etc.) are packaged in.

I noticed that the mesh pattern of the produce bags is more widely spaced than that of the typical lint trap, so I doubled up by putting one mesh bag inside another.  Instead of using a cable tie to attach my improvised lint trap to the discharge hose, I cut a strip off the top of the mesh bag itself and twisted it into a cord, then used that to tie the bag to the hose.  You could also use a screw-type hose clamp and keep re-using it indefinitely.

The results:  The DIY produce-bag lint probably doesn’t catch as much lint as a purpose-made lint trap.  It might work better if it were tripled or quadrupled with three or even four bags.  On the other hand, it’s free.  Overall, I think it’s probably best to buy lint traps in quantity and get them for a good price.  In a pinch, though, the DIY version is definitely better than nothing.

Btw, check the internet: there are lots of DIY projects that use mesh produce bags.  I am certainly not the first person who has looked for re-uses for them.

Removal Salt, Avoid Rust

In much of North America the last snow of the winter usually occurs sometime in February or March, which is also the time of the last road salting.  Once the salt is gone — and it’s good to wait until there’s been a heavy rain that gives the roads a good rinsing — you will want to get the road salt off your car.  You could go to the local car wash and spend money … or you could avoid convenience and save money by doing it yourself.  I’ve always gotten good results with a bucket of warm water mixed with a little dish-washing detergent.  Apply with a large sponge, scrub, dump the remaining detergent-water mix over the car, and rinse well.

auto_rustHowever, removing the road salt from your car’s unpainted undercarriage is even more critical than washing the car’s body.  It’s the metal parts under the car that can be damaged by salt’s corrosive powers.  The painted body can usually withstand contact with road salt pretty well.  Also, the top of the car gets rinsed by the rain.  The underside of the car isn’t exposed to rain.  Most people know this, which is why commercial car washes offer an “undercarriage wash” and why they do such a good business after the end of the snowy season.

But you don’t need to pay $$$ (not to mention, wait in a long line) to give your car’s undercarriage a good washing.  You can just use a garden hose and a lawn sprinkler.  When I wash the car for the first time after the last of the winter snow, I attach a lawn sprinkler to the garden hose, turn on the water, and use the hose to slowly push the sprinkler back and forth under the car.  It’s a good idea to avoid spraying too much water into the engine compartment.  You might need to get down on your hands and knees to make sure the water is directed at the wheels and suspension.  There are actually special tools that attach to a hose to perform the undercarriage washing.  Some clever people have made their own.  In my honest opinion, it seems that a lawn sprinkler works just as well. The whole point is to get the salt off your car, and because salt is water-soluble, all you really need to do is get water into contact with the underside of the car.

It takes a little time, but … as usual, avoiding convenience means you’re paying yourself instead of paying someone else.

(However, if you search the internet you can find lots of people saying that you need to use some kind of special salt-removing product to really do a good job.  All I can say is that the sprinkler method has worked for me, but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.  What’s happened to me is anecdotal.  I haven’t owned enough cars to do a scientific study.  It might be that my car is less susceptible to rust or maybe I reduce my driving when roads are icy and salty.  (The second part is true.  I really do try to avoid driving when there’s ice and snow … and salt … on the roads.)

Buttons and Bolts

Eventually, you’re going to need a button.  Or a bolt.  It’s a pain to have to make a special trip to a store to buy the one button you need to fix the shirt you need today.  Likewise, when you find you need a bolt or a screw for some minor repair.  It’s especially frustrating to have return to the same hardware store that you had been to just 2 hours earlier because you need one more bolt to finish your project.

buttons_jarIf you have a jar full of buttons, there’s a good chance you can find one that’s close enough to do the job.  A jar full of bolts and nuts, screws, and similar hardware is also very useful.

This is more a matter of saving time than money, but your time is worth a lot of money (isn’t it?).  When you’re throwing away old clothes or old furniture or anything that has buttons, bolts, screws or any other kind of fasteners (and when you see these things that other people have thrown away), take a look and see if you can salvage some of those useful fasteners and add them to your home store.

Whenever I throw away an old shirt, I remove all the buttons and put them in the button jar.  If I have several matching buttons I sometimes keep them together on bit of string or thread.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve added to my nut and bolt collection by just taking a few that are easy to remove from furniture that my neighbors have thrown away.  I’ve also taken knobs from drawers and cabinets that I’ve found on the curb.  And some hinges.  And many of those cool IKEA fasteners and the little dowel rods.  (It’s good to have carry a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool for this sort of thing.)

Keep stocking your home store with buttons and bolts that would otherwise end up in a landfill and it will serve you well.

Washing Shower Curtains

shower_curtainAccording to the internet, when confronted with a shower curtain or shower curtain liner that has become icky with accumulated dirt, limescale and hard water deposits, mildew and mold, soap scum, and serratia marcescens bacteria (!) … many people will just throw it away and buy a new one.  Even members of my own family would do this!

However, a spin in the washing machine will make shower curtains and liners as good as new and repeated washings can add months or even years to their useful lives.  Just put them into the washing machine with a few heavy towels (especially for top-loading machines, which can tear up shower curtains without the towels to act as padding and buffers) and add the usual amount of detergent.  As a booster, add about a half cup of ammonia (my favorite), or some baking soda, borax, vinegar,  or bleach.  [Of course, never use ammonia and bleach together.]  Run the machine on the longest cycle with hot water.  You might pause the machine for some additional soak time.  There’s no need for a high-speed spin.  Don’t put the shower curtain in the dryer.  Just re-hang it in the bathroom and admire it as it dries.

You can also admire the money that stays in your bank account each time you do this.  A new shower curtain might cost at least $8.  Washing it in your home washing machine costs about 50¢.

If you have a mildew, mold, and serratia marcescens problem in your bath and shower area, a fan in the bathroom might help.