One the great pleasures of our human existence is a nice warm shower made possible by a hot water heater. Unfortunately, water heaters for our home use – and the hot showers – can cost some of us as much as 25% of our annual home energy costs. If you are renovating, this is a good time to incorporate newer, energy saving water-heating technologies. Even when we are not planning home renovations, there is still much we can do to reduce our water consumption, and our hot water use – which saves energy and saves money.
Let’s start saving hot water, and saving energy, in our daily life, then we’ll look at some of the exciting new ways we can create hot water for our use, and save energy and save money in the process.
First and foremost, we must always think in terms of energy saving in everything we do. One simple example, something we should all do frequently, washing our hands. Since hand washing is usually a quick process, we are usually done washing and rinsing before the water at the tap even gets warm - so by not even turning on the hot water (or leaving the handle on the COLD side), our hands get just as clean, but we have saved hot water, saved energy, and saved money. For the times when our hands need extra attention, the most energy efficient way is to turn on the hot water tap slightly, then add cold water to the flow to get a comfortable temperature. Turning on the cold-water first, then adding hot water will waste hot water.
Next, fix any leaks you have. This is one of the biggest hot water wasters in the world. We may not realize it, but an occasional drip can waste gallons and gallons of water every day – and if it is hot water, not only is it wasting water, it is wasting energy. So fixing leaky faucets will save on your water bill, and your energy bill.
Aerators and Low Flow Faucets.
There are several ways to reduce the amount of water that you actually use without seeming to. First, make sure that all your faucets have aerators on them and that they are working properly. I know that our water here in Northeastern New Jersey in the USA has a fair amount of particulates, and is quite hard with lots of dissolved minerals. This means that the aerators on our faucets get fouled up in a year or so and this reduces their effectiveness quite a bit. So I replace them every year or so to make sure we get the maximum benefit.
And Low Flow, Water Saving Shower Heads are almost a necessity today. Most newer homes and apartments will come with low flow fixtures already installed, but older homes and apartments will have older, water – and hot water – wasting models. If you live in an older home, it is be well worth your while to invest in a new low flow replacement. I have found the Waterpik ECO 563 EcoFlow 5-Mode Water Saving Handheld Shower
to be a VERY nice combination of low, water saving, flow rate while still delivering a comfortable shower. You can read a blog post about our experience with this great showerhead here.
Of course, whenever you replace dishwashers and laundry washers, make sure you get the best water saving performance you can, consistent with your budget. In the USA, the Energy Star information can help you make the best decision – other countries have equivalents of the Energy Star program, so, by all means, use this resource to help you make the best decision, When your appliances use less water, they automatically use less hot water – and this automatically saves energy and saves money. Look for the energy saving “air-dry” feature on your dishwasher, and use it as often as possible. The dishwasher drying cycle is one of the great energy consumers in your home, and by bypassing that cycle and opening the dishwasher door, you will save lots of energy and save lots of money. One of the most valuable energy saving features you can get on a dishwasher is a, “booster heater.” This allows you to run your water heater at an overall lower temperature. This saves you energy and money on your hot water, but the booster heater in the dishwasher brings the water up to the recommended 140° F (60° C) for thorough dish cleaning. Though the booster heater makes the dishwasher more expensive to purchase, if you lower the heat setting on your hot water heater, you will probably offset the additional cost with your overall hot water savings in a year or so. And always match the cycle length to the type of load you are washing.
And when you wash clothes, use cold water whenever possible. Today’s laundry detergents work well in cold water and still get clothes clean. Think of how much hot water – and money – you will save each and every year by washing most, if not all, of your clothes in cold water (we’ve been washing in cold water for at least 25 years. I have no idea how much money we’ve saved, but I know it must be considerable.) Combine cold water washing with matching water use (there is usually a water level setting, Low, Medium, or High on most washing machines) to the size load you are washing – don’t use a fully filled washer to wash a smaller load.
One of the criteria we have used when buying washers and dryers is always buy the largest machine consistent with our budget. This is especially true for younger families as children create LOTS of dirty clothes – and towels – and sheets and blankets, etc., etc. And a smaller capacity washer makes you wash many more loads – which is actually more expensive. For us, now that our children are grown, because we have fairly large capacity machines, we do laundry much less often now – and save money.
There are many other things you can do to add more cost savings and energy savings to what you have already created.
First, insulate all of the pipes you can access in your home that carry domestic hot water from your water heater to the rest of the house. This can often raise the temperature at your faucets, shower, clothes washer, and dishwasher by several degrees – which can allow you to drop the temperature setting on the water heater. More savings in energy and money. And even though the temperature on the water heater is set lower, hot water may actually be available to your faucets faster since the water in the pipes will possibly already be warm. Carry this insulation as close as you can to the actual water heater. You should even insulate the first 3 – 4 feet (~ 1 meter) of the cold water inlet pipe as this will prevent some heat loss. On gas water heaters, keep insulation at least 6 inches from the flue. If pipes are within 8 inches of the flue, your safest choice is to use fiberglass pipe-wrap (at least 1-inch thick) without a facing. You can use either wire or aluminum foil tape to secure it to the pipe.
Most home goods stores have several choices available for insulating these pipes. Choose the one that is best for your budget, and offers the safest and most effective insulating properties for your situation.
By all means, consider an insulating blanket around your hot water tank. This becomes much more effective if you water heater is in a cool basement or unheated garage. Like insulating all of your hot water pipes, this also makes a good Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.) project. For safety’s sake, make sure you purchase an insulating system designed for hot water heaters and make sure you read and follow the directions very carefully.
If your storage water heater doesn't have heat traps, you can save energy by adding them. They potentially can save you around $15–$30 on your water-heating bill by preventing convective heat losses through the inlet and outlet pipes.
Heat traps—valves or loops of pipe—allow water to flow into the water heater tank but prevent unwanted energy losing hot-water flow out of the tank. These specially designed valves usually are sold in pairs and must be installed correctly to keep the hot water in the tank.
Heat traps may cost only around $30, but unless you can properly solder a pipe joint, heat traps must be installed by a qualified plumber. So the best time to install heat traps , heat traps is when the water heater is installed. You may even find that some newer water heaters that are available may already have heat traps already designed in, or as an option.
In addition to saving money in the way you use hot water, you can also save money by installing a solar hot water heater in your home. Solar hot water systems use the power of the sun to create the hot water for your domestic hot water use. DIY Hot Water.com has a great book with a lot of outstanding information on homemade solar water heater installation. A homemade solar hot water heater can eliminate a great deal of the cost of hot water for your home, and they are pretty easy to install. This great book covers solar hot water collectors, solar hot water kits, and solar hot water plans. A homemade solar water heater installation can be a large help lowering the cost of your domestic hot water.