Picture it 2014. A cold and snowy winter day in Michigan. Your kids come home and when you empty their backpacks you find wet gloves from recess that have now made all the pictures wet and papers unreadable. And, everything stinks.

So, what’s next? You try the age-old trick of putting the wet items over the vents to dry, but that doesn’t work great. Trick two – the dryer. Better, but now you’ve wasted a bunch of energy and the inside is still damp. “THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY!” parents across Michigan scream. But one parent didn’t just lament about it; the mother of invention, Karen Smoots, created a solution: The EcoDryer (originally called The Green Glove Dryer).  

“I vividly remember it was a Friday with their Friday Folder filled with work from the week, their artwork and spelling test, I remember feeling so disappointed that it was all wet and wrinkled. So, I laid it all out on the counter and I knew it was a result of their wet gloves and hats,” said Smoots.

“As a mom, I figure out everything – what to make for dinner, how to make you feel better, but no matter what I did, it wasn’t drying the gloves. I really felt defeated, so I said to my husband, ‘Look at these vents around our house…they are pumping out air and heat, how do we reuse that?'”

The EcoDryer started as a weekend project that took 8 hours. Smoots put everything on the dryer before bed and waited to see if it would work. “I was walking down the stairs like it was Christmas morning, I tiptoed to the dryer and said, ‘please let everything be warm and dry inside’ and my jaw just dropped…it was! It was that moment that I was like ‘it worked!’”

Smoots didn’t immediately think about sharing the product or starting a business, “All I was thinking about at that particular moment was my issue is solved.” Fast-forward to the following spring/summer and a neighbor asked if they could borrow the dryer to see if it would dry their daughter’s volleyball knee pads. “Sure enough it worked and that’s when it clicked and I thought, ‘Could we make a business out of this?’” And the EcoDryer was born.

EcoDryer School Project
Picture it 2016. A cold and snowy winter day in Michigan. But this time it’s 20+ kids returning to the classroom from recess and 20+ pairs of wet gloves (and other winter gear) are being shoved into backpacks or strewn about the classroom. A nightmare situation for most teachers. But remember, THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY! And if it works at home, it can surely work in schools.

It’s a partnership that started six years ago in Jackson, Michigan. After purchasing the dryers to distribute at energy efficiency events, Consumers Energy saw a bigger need and partnered with Smoots to provide the solution by distributing EcoDryers to schools across Jackson County. After a successful pilot the partnership steadily grew and in 2018-2019, we provided EcoDryers to schools in several counties across the state. And this month, we are partnering with Smoots once again to provide the dryers to 373 public schools (K-5) in nine more Michigan counties. When the current effort is completed, we will have outfitted more than 70 counties with EcoDryers.

Smoots was busy delivering the dryers to schools last week and she said, similar to her reaction when she first realized the dryer worked, the schools receiving the dryers also acted like it was Christmas morning – filled with excitement and joy as the dryers were delivered.

We are so proud of the many schools, teachers and students we were able to help through this effort. Learn more about the initiative here: https://theecodryer.com/eco-dryer-school-project.

“We’re Ready to Keep Moving”
While Smoots and her family live in Michigan, ultimately, she hopes to see the dryers in other snowbelt states. “We love that this project started in Michigan, supports small business, supports entrepreneurs, connects communities, connects kiddos but we’re also excited for the opportunity to duplicate that in other states that have to deal with winter. We’re ready to keep moving,” she said.

But first, Smoots and team are passionate about making sure all the schools in Michigan receive the dryers, “We still have the three of the four largest counties outside of Kent county, and they have the largest need,” Smoots said of the remaining Detroit-area counties. She doesn’t have a plan yet for getting the EcoDryers in those counties but said, “Rest assured, I don’t give up easy.” She is relentless when she believes in something, and that’s how she feels about this project. “We need to focus on finishing Michigan but then we would love to partner with utilities in other states to help their schools.”

Learn more and order your own EcoDryer here: https://theecodryer.com/.

Consumers Energy’s Clean Energy Transformation
Instead of using an additional energy source, The EcoDryers use energy/air from existing heating vents. The dryer, made from a series of plastic vented arms, sits on top of the vents and allows the winter gear to dry from the inside out. And they are sustainable; six years into the project and the initial dryers are still in use in Jackson schools.

This is a great example of taking small steps to protect our planet, boost our state’s local economies and lower energy use. We are working with Michigan homes and businesses to use energy more efficiently, go coal-free and use more renewable energy. Together, we can become a Force of Change. Learn more at www.ConsumersEnergy.com/change.