Design & DIY

Do you have any advice about buying a washer and dryer for the cottage?

I’d like to buy a small washer and dryer for my cottage. Do you have any advice about what I should look for?

—Tara George, via e-mail

You’ll want to get energy-efficient models. “Energy Star, Energy Star, Energy Star. That’s the golden rule of buying an appliance,” says Ken Elsey, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance. Energy Star-qualified appliances are tops when it comes to efficiency; these washing machines use 35 to 50 per cent less water than conventional models, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources Canada. Dryers aren’t part of the program because their energy use doesn’t vary a lot between models, but you can look at each unit’s EnerGuide rating (a label that shows annual energy consumption) and compare models. (Do this for the washer too.) You’ll also want to look for a dryer with a moisture sensor, which tells the machine to turn off automatically when the clothes are dry. And remember, buying small appliances will save space but not necessarily energy if you have to run them more often than larger ones. For more tips, visit

But wait—before you go shopping, confirm that your septic system was in fact designed to handle a washing machine, says Doug Joy, the director of the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre. Check your building office, where the septic permit may still be on record, or have an inspector look at your system. Keeping your septic in good shape is another reason to get a machine that uses less water. “The more water you put through the septic system, the harder it has to work, and the more likely it will have problems,” says Joy. Only use bleach when you really need to (it can mess with the organisms in the tank), and use EcoLogo-certified or phosphate-free detergent. Also, “try to avoid doing too many loads of laundry in a row,” says Joy. (Avoid? Laundry? No problem.)

You should know that unfiltered water from your lake or a well may affect your clothes, says Elsey, who recently installed a high-efficiency washer and dryer at his cottage on the Severn River. For example, if there are a lot of tannins (from decayed vegetation)—and you don’t filter them out—your clothes could come 
out of the wash stained…which sort of defeats the purpose of washing them.