Cut down on your hot water use for utility savings
The arrival of warmer temperatures in spring means you can finally think about shutting off your heat, saving a considerable amount of money on your monthly heating bills – at least until winter rolls around again. But unlike your furnace, your water heater has to remain on duty throughout the year.
The typical household uses hot water for bathing, washing clothes, and laundry, plus a few other incidental purposes. Even when you aren't doing any of these activities, many water heaters use energy to keep the water in their tank warm at all times in case it is needed.
A few simple upgrades to your water heating system can help you save money on your utility bills. You can also reduce your hot water use by modifying some of your behaviors around the home.
A few simple upgrades to the water heater can result in considerable savings. The Department of Energy says every 10 degrees of temperature reduction on the water heater's thermostat can reduce energy usage by 3 to 5 percent. Joe Bousquin, writing for the home improvement site HouseLogic, says many water heaters are preset at 140 degrees. Lowering the thermostat to 120 degrees will not only save you money, but also reduce the risk of scalding.
The thermostat may not be entirely accurate, so it's helpful to test the water to see if it is too hot. Drain some water from the faucet farthest from the heater, then use a thermometer to test it. If the reading is higher than the thermostat, reduce the temperature and wait a few hours to test the temperature again.
Draining sediment from the water heater can prolong its lifespan and also help it to run more efficiently. You can fully drain the tank once or twice a year, or drain a quart every three months to help keep sediment levels down.
Tanks on older water heaters may not be insulated, so some of their heat will be radiated to the surrounding air. Covering the tank with an insulating blanket will keep the water warmer, so you'll use less energy heating it.
When putting a blanket on the tank, make sure you don't cover any essential components such as the thermostat, air intake, or exhaust. Make sure your tank isn't already insulated, since adding an extra layer to this type of water heater won't result in significant savings.
Heat traps can also be helpful in reducing the amount of energy used by a water heater. The Department of Energy says these devices prevent heat loss through piping, and typically result in $15 to $30 in savings. Some newer water heaters may already have this feature installed.
Timers on your water heater can be very useful, as they shut the appliance off overnight or at other times when you won't need hot water. Similarly, you can set the thermostat to its "vacation" setting when you go away for a trip to keep the water heater from unnecessarily having a supply of hot water ready.
Pipe insulation can also reduce heat loss as the hot water is transported to its destination, so you'll use less energy in the process. Union Gas, a Canadian natural gas company, says you'll only need to insulate the first six feet of hot water pipes coming out of the water heater and the first three feet of cold water plumbing. Make sure the insulation is at least six inches away from the water heater's exhaust vent.
If your water heater is old and inefficient, it may be time to upgrade to a better model for significant savings on your hot water costs. Some more efficient features include solar water heaters and drain water heat recovery, which recovers heat from hot water that goes down the drain.
HOT WATER USE
You'll also reduce the utility bills related to your hot water if you simply use less hot water. The Department of Energy says you can shorten your showers, and perhaps even turn off the water while using soap and shampoo.
Instead of leaving the water running when using warm or hot water, fill the sink to have a supply available. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, a New Zealand organization, says this is useful for tasks such as washing dishes or shaving.
If you have a dishwasher, avoid using it until it is fully loaded. Many dishwashers also have an "eco" option to limit their use of hot water.
Warm and hot water is often recommended for light and white loads of laundry, but you can also consider doing each wash with cold water. Union Gas says cold water detergent is available to ensure that your clothes will still get clean. Always use a cold water rinse on wash cycles.
Saving money on your hot water energy use also goes hand in hand with reducing your water use. Leaks can cause a significant increase in your water bill, so be on the lookout for any dripping water. Bob Formisano, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says a leaking water heater is a sign that the appliance needs to be replaced.
Faucets are a common culprit in water leaks, and can result in several gallons of water going down the drain each week. The problem is usually caused by a problem such as a wornout washer, which can be easily fixed.
If you are in the market for a new washer, dishwasher, or other water-using appliance, check the ratings to find an efficient model. These appliances can save you thousands of gallons of water over their lifespan.
One simple upgrade involves replacing your showerhead. Older showerheads can emit water at a rate of six to 10 gallons per minute. Replacing them with low-flow showerheads can drop this rate by as much as 80 percent, considerably reducing a household's water usage.
Faucet aerators have a similar effect. The EECA says these devices can cut a faucet's water flow in half, but still maintain enough pressure for you to comfortably wash your hands or complete other tasks.