Up Front

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

January 4, 2008 5 min read

UP FRONT

New generation of washers clean up in marketplace

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

If you're ready to replace that old washer and find yourself thinking about switching from a top-loader to a front-loader, you're not alone.

Sales of front-load washers have tripled in the past five years, says Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers spokeswoman Jill Notini, who follows appliance purchasing patterns. The growing popularity of front-loaders is being driven by consumer demand for more energy-efficient appliances, she says.

Front-loaders typically use from one-third to one-half less water, 30 percent to 50 percent less energy than their top-loading cousins and have a more efficient spin cycle. That can add up to significant savings for the typical household that does eight loads of laundry per week.

Though they've been the laundry appliance of choice in Europe for several decades, the popularity of front-loaders in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon.

"In 2001, under 6 percent of households in the United States had front-load washers, a number that today has more than tripled," Notini says. Virtually every appliance manufacturer now offers front-load as well as top-loaders, the new models matching or exceeding the energy efficiency, capacity, stacking ability, styling and colors of their top-loading counterparts.

Front-loaders don't come cheap and can run you $1,000 or more. Top-loaders, by comparison, can be purchased for $500 or less. But the higher upfront cost will be quickly recouped in lower utility bills, typically anywhere from $120 to $150 a year. In some areas of the U.S., consumers who buy front-loaders are offered incentives such as utility company rebates or tax credits.

With so many new models on the market, finding the right front-loading machine can be daunting. Savvy consumers can do much of their legwork in advance by reading consumer publications and using Web search engines like www.nextag.com or www.consumersearch.com, to comparison-shop prices, features and models. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers Web site, www.aham.org., provides consumers with a list of washing machine manufactures and links to their Web sites.

Once you've narrowed down your list, visit your local appliance dealer for a hands-on look. And when you're there, check out the front-loader's EnergyGuide, says the Federal Trade Commission in its report, "Buying a Washing Machine? It's a Load-ed Question." The report is available online at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/washmachalrt.shtm.

Whether you heat your wash water with electricity or gas, the bright yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label will tell you what to expect in energy consumption and annual operating costs for that model. Manufacturers are required by law to post the label.

For clothes washers, the FTC uses kilowatt-hours (a measure of electricity use) to tell how much energy each appliance consumes in a year, comparing it with other appliances of the same or similar size. The range on the label - where the appliance's energy use is on a continuum - is of particular benefit to consumers. A marker shows where that model falls in the range and how it stacks up against the competition, the FTC says.

What makes front-loaders more efficient than top-loaders?

Most top-loaders wash and spin clothes with a vertical agitator. Front-loaders use from a third to a half less water because they use a tub that rotates horizontally. Clothes tumble in the tub, rise above the water and then fall back into it as the tub rolls on its side. And because less water is used, less gas or electricity is required to heat the water, notes the FTC. Since fast-spinning front-loaders wring out clothes more completely than top-loaders, the cost of running a clothes dryer is also reduced.

Front-loaders have other advantages:

- More drum space. With no center agitator, it's easy to load the machine with bulky items like bedspreads, throw rugs and blankets.

- Convenience. Since the controls are on the front of the machine, it can be slipped under a counter, providing work space for sorting and folding laundry or for other uses. Front-loaders also can be stacked and mounted on a raised platform, solving the problem of having to stoop to remove clothes from the washing machine.

- Accessibility. The front-loading washer is a boon to persons with disabilities and others who have difficulty reaching into the tub of a top-loading machine.

? Copley News Service

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