Can I add an on/off switch to use instead of unplugging dryer?
January 24, 2014 12:58 AM   Subscribe

Dryers use electricity when plugged in, even when they're turned off. In our old house, I could reach the plug; in this house, I can't. Is there a money-saving solution that doesn't involve re-wiring or the electrical box? In the U.S., so dryer has a 220 plug. (Dryer isn't broken - asking about a switch between wall and dryer.)

Possible solutions that aren't the right fit for us:
- Re-wiring is a no-go, this is a rental house.
- Electrical panel isn't practical; it's in the attached but not connected-by-doors garage.

Ideally, it would be some kind of extra-long switch or remote control sort of thing; I've attempted googling, but I'm clueless about the "right" word(s) to find an answer, if one exists.

Also - fire safety. If such a thing exists, how safe is it? Would it be right up there risk-wise with constant use of an extension cord?
posted by stormyteal to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
How about an extension cord?
posted by phaedon at 1:18 AM on January 24

This ENERGY STAR report says "Energy used to operate dryer controls in standby mode varies between 1.4 to 3.1 watts, adding about 180-400 kWh over the life of the dryer." At a conservative price of $0.20/kWh for residential electricity, that's $36-$80 over the life of the dryer (12-16 years). So only a really cheap solution is going to give you any net savings.

for at most $7/year of savings, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:19 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]

For comparison, that's less than an alarm clock.
posted by empath at 1:23 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I think you're operating under a false belief that a dryer uses a bunch of power when plugged in. It does draw a tiny bit of power but far less than many other household items.

Items which draw a lot more standby power than a dryer include: Blu-Ray and DVD players. Stereo and other audio devices. Your furnace or central air. Your computers, including laptops and desktops. Printers. DVRs or other set-top boxes for TVs (among the worst offenders). Cordless phones. TVs.

For example, a plugged in but off rear projection television can draw up to 30x as much power as a plugged in but off dryer. A plugged in laptop is likely drawing 20x as much power. So unless there is some particular reason you're concerned about your dryer I think you are barking up the wrong tree.
posted by Justinian at 1:24 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

There are extension cords that have a switch. Usually they have multiple outlets. There is a pilot light showing when the switch is on. I am not sure what kind of store stocks them, but it seems that using one would set your mind at ease.
posted by Cranberry at 1:24 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

And if you have mechanical controls on your dryer, it uses 0 power when not running.
posted by empath at 1:25 AM on January 24

Even just buying an extension cord is going to cost as much as any savings you'll get. More if you have to drive any distance. There is no cost-saving solution here because there isn't a problem.
posted by Justinian at 1:30 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

A couple of terms to help your Google search are Disconnect Switch and Safety Switch. These device are available for all voltage ratings. They are usually used for industrial purpose, but I don't see why a properly rated unit would not work for you. Grainger carries many styles. Apologies for the mobile link.
posted by Talk To Me Goose at 2:55 AM on January 24

You could make one up. You would need:
  • 4 11/16ths box
  • 4" square deep box
  • Dryer cord
  • Dryer receptacle
  • 30A 2 pole disconnect toggle switch (something like this but without overload provision)
  • Shoebox cover plate for above
  • strain relief for the cord
  • 1" chase nipple, lock ring and bushing
  • Large blue marrette and a couple machine screws and nuts to bolt the boxes together back to back.
You're looking at ~$120 plus the time for an electrician to put it together. You could do it yourself but you need a 1" knockout punch to fit your chase nipple into the boxes.
posted by Mitheral at 3:37 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

Mitheral is right, the material is at least $100. Probably more.

Unless you really know what you are doing, I wouldn't do this yourself, so best case you are talking about 1hour of an electrician. More like, the wire feeding the dryer runs across the attic or crawl space, and then through the wall in the laudry-room. So, there is probably no good place for the electrician to install the switch. That means, he will have to set a junction box in the attic, and run a switch leg. More material and more time.

You will be lucky if this only costs $200. It could cost $400. But, lets say it costed $200, then that is a 20yr buy-back period, before you are saving money, if the dryer is using $10/yr in extra energy.

Also, please do not permanently install an extension cord to save this little bit of energy. Extension cords that are not monitored are fire hazards. It is against the US National Electrical Code to use an extension cord this way, especially given that this is a 2p30A appliance. Extension cords are for temporary power, they are not designed for permanent installation.

If you goal is to go Green, there are safer things you can do. If it is about saving money, it is not worth it.
posted by Flood at 4:02 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

Do you have access to the breaker box? The dryer should be on its own circuit, so you could simply flip the breaker when not using the dryer.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:02 AM on January 24

Oops. Sorry. Didn't see your note about the electrical panel.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:04 AM on January 24

Flood is right. This is a bad idea.
posted by deadweightloss at 4:33 AM on January 24

Is this a gas dryer or electric?

If it's electric, would running 1-2 less loads a month save more than the cost of installing the power cut switch?
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:53 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Back when PG&E was using some EPA study claiming the horrendous wastes of phantom loads, I took every cell phone charger and laptop charger in the house, plugged them into a power strip, and plugged that into a Kill-A-Watt power meter.

When the display flickered between "too little to read" and "the smallest amount it could read", I then did the same thing with my multimeter, and got the same result. And when I plugged devices into those chargers, then I could read loads.

After discussions with assorted knowledgeable friends, we came to the conclusion that whatever undergrad got got paid less than minimum wage by their professor who took the contract from Booz or whomever to do that EPA "study" (which I eventually tracked down, but can't find again right now) didn't understand power phase, and it was a worthless metric being exploited by PG&E to tell us that Enron's malfeasance wasn't really the source of rolling blackouts.

Which is a re-iteration of what you're reading above: The phantom load of the dryer is undoubtedly over-rated. If it's a mechanical control, there is no phantom load. Really, don't sweat it.
posted by straw at 8:25 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

Thank you for your answers, that's what I previously believed, too... until physical evidence suggested otherwise.

Two different homes, with two different dryers, unplugging the dryer makes the thing that spins on the meter visibly slow down a significant amount. When we began regularly unplugging in the old house, it dropped our power bill by about $20/month. (And both are supposedly low-power consumption dryers!)

That's why I've been hunting for an answer - as it didn't appear to be as "negligible" as I'd previously assumed, I've been kicking myself for not finding a solution in this house.

I'm way too fire-paranoid to consider something hacked together, so I guess I'll let it be unless I come up with way to actually measure it. (The kill-a-watt available to me doesn't do 220.)
posted by stormyteal at 9:25 AM on January 24

Wow. But, before you totally believe the spinning meter...

If it's an electric dryer, it should be on its own circuit. Go to your panel, turn off every other circuit in the house, take a stopwatch or something with a seconds counter on it, count rotations of that meter in a minute with the dryer plugged in, and make sure that the meter is completely stopped un-plugged.

Seriously, if you're getting much at all with the dryer plugged in, then it's time to figure out why the dryer is malfunctioning.
posted by straw at 9:38 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

When we began regularly unplugging in the old house, it dropped our power bill by about $20/month.

You are most likely mistaken. That works out to around 150 watts continuously 24 hours a day. Your dryer is not using 150 watts when it is not operating, even if you left the door open with the light on (typically 10 watt bulb). This could only happen if your dryer was malfunctioning, in which case you should get your dryer repaired.
posted by JackFlash at 10:50 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Yep, either you're misreading the meter or your dryer is malfunctioning, possibly in a dangerous way.
posted by Justinian at 10:56 AM on January 24

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