If you found this page, you probably already know that your water heater is one of the two largest power consumers in your house. It is responsible for 20-30% of your electric bill. Everyone’s water consumption needs are different. Before you can plan to save, you need to evaluate how, when, and how much hot water you use. Whether you rent or own makes a difference, too. Here’s a quick list of things to consider.
The Short List
- Do you own or rent?
- How many people live in your home?
- When are your peak hot water usage times or do you use hot water throughout the day?
- What is your budget for home improvements?
- What will the return on investment be? (How long until your utility bill savings pay for the changes?)
- How handy are you?
- Is your water heater gas or electric?
- Do you plan on selling your home someday?
Own or rent?
Obviously, if you rent, you are limited to simple power-saving solutions. You can’t install solar heating panels on the roof. Check with your landlord if you want to do anything more than turn the water heater on and off at the breaker box. If you do something like install a timer, it may be considered a “fixture” and you won’t be able to take it with you when you leave.
If you own your home, your options are limited only by your budget, home-improvement skills, and will to save money. Many power-saving tips require familiarity and/or experience with electrical circuits. If you’re not comfortable with electricity, factor in the cost of a professional electrician for the more advance options.
Two people living in a 1,500 ft2 house use hot water much differently than a family of five in 2,500 ft2. The number of people living in your home controls how large your water heater needs to be, therefore how much power it uses and when it needs to be working hard. Single people and couples who keep the same schedules may be able to institute simple saving solutions like turning the power on and off. Large, busy homes may not have that luxury and will probably require more elegant solutions.
Peak usage times?
Mapping your daily hot water usage gives you a plan for the power-saving solutions you can consider. If your usage is the typical morning shower and evening washing (dishes and laundry), you may benefit from simply turning the power off when you leave or installing a timer that turns the electricity on a half-hour before you need the heat. If your usage is spread out across the day due to staggered schedules or a homemaker or maid service, these are not options to consider.
Budget, Money, Greenbacks
It’s always about the Benjamins. If you don’t have serious home-improvement money in your budget, don’t seriously consider expensive solutions. Thinking about a solar heating system? Depending on your answers to the previous questions, you may require a $2,500 system. This is why answering these questions is important. With all the options, you have to be practical. This leads us to return on investment.
You’ve done the analysis and saved the money, but will your plans pay off? The higher your utility bill, the sooner you’ll see a return. If 20% of your bill equates to $50 per month, it’s going to take 50 months for that $2,500 outlay to be recovered. The upside is, once the initial ROI is realized, it’s all pure savings and bragging rights from there on. There are other considerations beyond ROI. If you have a green streak, some of the monetary blow will be softened by the satisfaction of doing the right thing for the earth and your kids.
Is that a hammer or a shoe?
Some solutions require modifications to your house. If you’re not confident in your ability to differentiate between a hammer and a screwdriver, consider different solutions or prepare to pay for a professional. To implement some changes you will have to work with electricity or cut holes in your roof. If you’re not comfortable around electricity, you’ll need to hire an electrician. If you have acrophobia, you’ll need to hire someone to do the roof work.
Modifications to the outside of your house may require zoning and/or home owner association approvals. If the paperwork is complicated, you may benefit from hiring a contractor to take care of the work from stem to stern.
One often overlooked cost is the tools required. If you have to buy the tools in addition to the solution, don’t forget to add those to your budget and ROI. If larger tools are required, it may pay to rent them or hire a professional who has an arsenal of tools already.
Gas vs. Electric
The type of water heater dictates some solutions. Gas heaters tend to have faster recovery times, but require ventilation and often local codes require qualified professionals do the work. If you have access to gas, consider a tankless water heater. Those supply hot water on demand and don’t sit around all day heating up water that no one is using. Electric heaters offer wider savings options like disconnecting the lower element. Electric tankless models may leave you in the cold though.
You will save money with either type if you simply lower the temperature. 110-120°F (43-48°C) will serve the needs of the average household. Make washing the laundry in cold water part of your savings plan. Don’t worry about the dishwasher, either. Your plates are not being sterilized at 140°F anyway. It takes 160°F to sterilize dishes. They’ll be just as clean at 110°F as 140°F. Lowering the temperature also reduces the risk of accidental scalding in the shower.
Plan on selling?
You might be empty nesters thinking about replacing the old 50-gallon heater with a 25-gallon model. Hold on. You may need to sell that 2,000 ft2 house one day. That tiny appliance will be a deal-breaker for a family of four. Install the right size heater for you and the house.
To be continued
Analyzing your water usage and living situation is the first step to creating a power saving plan for your water heater. Next, we’ll look at some specific tips that apply to specific situations.