If heating and cooling your home is the biggest expense on your energy bill, then your water heater is a close second because it is running almost as much as your HVAC system. Anytime you take a shower, shave, do the dishes or laundry you are using your water heater, and just like every other appliance in your home there are ways to get the most out of your water heater in order to save energy and money.
Let’s start off with a quick overview of how your water heater works. Your water tank will hold around 50 gallons or so of water in at any one time and when you begin to use the water that’s in the tank it refills itself by using the cold water pipes that it’s connected to. Each water heater will have a thermostat in it that you can manually set to give the water your desired temperature. Once you begin to draw hot water out of the tank it goes through a series of pipes that use the “heat rises” principle to keep the water hot throughout the journey from the tank to your shower head. For a nice detailed explanation of how a water heater works our friends at HowStuffWorks has you covered.
The easiest way to save money is by turning the thermostat on the water heater down. Some of the heaters can get water as high as 180 degrees (82 degrees Celsius for my thousands of European readers) which, honestly, is hotter than any human needs their water. Energy saver people will tell you to keep it at 120 degrees, but to get a good balance of energy savings and the ability for a nice hot shower I say keep it anywhere between 140 and 150.
So now that you’ve got your heater at a good temperature a good way to save money on your actual water usage is by installing energy efficient shower heads and faucets. The good thing about energy efficient shower heads and faucets is that you don’t sacrifice water pressure (unlike low flow toilets).
Something else that you could look into would be solar water heaters, which use panels on your roof (south facing is preferred) to heat the water in your tank. Like most solar projects this can be tricky to install, requires some specific criteria, and costs more money up front, but saves money long term.
Saving the best for last is an on-demand or tankless hot water system. These can also get pretty expensive depending on which model you buy and what you are using it for, but this can save you a lot of money long term, and you never run out of hot water. Instead of having a giant drum filled with water that gets heated and sent to you, the tankless options have water flow directly into the unit which is heated on point, and then sent to you. The downside to on-demand heaters is that they don’t have the capacity that tank heaters have, meaning that you probably won’t be able to heat your entire home through just one unit, but you can usually get away with needing only two. If you have one of your systems power your appliances (dishwasher and washer machine) and have a separate unit for your faucets and showers you can be set for a good long time…or you can just never take showers.
If anyone out there has an on demand system or a solar system be sure and tell us how you like it in the comments or on facebook.
Shower safe (and warm) out there!