Water Heater Facts to Keep You from Getting into Hot Water
When selecting a new water heater, it’s important to choose a system that will provide sufficient hot water for all your needs in an energy-efficient and cost-effective manner.
We present the following detailed information to help interested consumers research water heater types, energy-saving tips, and a variety of water heating options. Some information here is highly technical and may be difficult for non-professionals to understand. Please contact us for professional assistance to identify the system that’s optimal for your location, fuel type, and personal needs. Our technicians are knowledgeable, and we’re fully prepared to help you make your optimal selection.
Conventional storage water heaters store hot water in a tank that usually holds 20 to 80 gallons of water. These continue to be the most common type of hot water heaters in use today. The conventional water heater is fueled by natural gas, fuel oil, electricity, or propane.
Tankless heaters offer hot water on demand, which is generated only when needed. Water is heated as it is passed into a pipe and through a heating element. There is no waiting for a tank to fill up, or worrying about hot water running out. Energy losses are minimal, so they also are more economical. Gas-fired demand water heaters typically have higher flow rates than electric ones.
Heat pump water heaters move heat from one place to another instead of creating heat specifically for hot water. They can be used as a stand-alone water heating system, or as a combination water-heating and space-conditioning system.
Solar water heaters rely on the sun to create hot water. They can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water, and can be used in any climate. The system relies upon insulated storage tanks and solar collectors. There are two types, either active, which use circulating pumps and controls, or passive, which do not. In two-tank systems, the solar water heater preheats water before it enters the conventional water heater. In one-tank systems, the back-up heater is combined with the solar storage in one tank.
Solar systems have become popular because they use heat from the sun to provide, or augment, primary heading of water for the home.
The three types of solar collectors used for residential settings are the flat-plate collector, the integral collector-storage system, and the evacuated-tube solar collectors. The flat-plate collector is an insulated box with an absorber plate under a glass or plastic cover. The integral collector-storage system, or batch system, is comprised of black tanks or tubes in an insulated, glazed box. Cold water passes through the solar collector to preheat it before it travels on to a water heater.
The two types of active solar water heating systems are direct circulation systems and indirect circulation systems. The direct circulation systems dump circulated household water through the collectors and into the home. They work best in temperate climates. The indirect circulation systems pump heat-transfer fluid through the collectors and a heat exchanger. This heats the water that then flows into the home. These are popular in very cold climates.
Passive solar water heating systems have greater longevity and are less expensive, but are usually less efficient. Solar water heating systems almost always require a backup system for peak demand days and times of inclement weather or harsh northern climates.
In thermosyphon systems, water circulation results from the fact that warm water rises inside the system and cold water sinks. The collector is installed below the storage tank so that warm water will rise into the tank.
Boosting Efficiency to Cut Costs
A wide array of strategies exist to help you reduce your hot water costs and increase the energy efficiency of your water heater. Some require an investment, while others may be free or very economical.
Estimating hot water costs is where to start. The next time you pay your utility bill, make one simple calculation. Divide the total cost amount by seven to gain an approximate idea of what you are spending to heat your water. If you receive separate utility bills for gas and electricity, use the gas bill for this calculation if you have a gas water heater. Make this calculation using the electric bill if you have an electric water heater.
Conserving hot water requires controlling each of the factors that add to cost, especially unproductive factors. For instance, fix leaks, install low-flow fixtures, and purchase energy-efficient appliances such as dishwasher and washing machine.
Acting on these tips will help you control and reduce your water heating costs:
- Reduce your hot water use
- Lower your water heating temperature
- Insulate your water heater tank
- Insulate hot water pipes
- Install heat traps on a water heater tank
- Install a timer and use off-peak power for an electric water heater
- Install a drain-water heat recovery system
- Replace your old water heater with a new, more energy-efficient water heater
- Turn off your water heater if you are going to be gone for 3 or more days
What and Why Tips
Simple Fixture Fixes
You can significantly reduce hot water use by simply repairing leaks in fixtures like faucets, showerheads and pipes. A leak of one drip per second can cost $1 per month. If your water heater’s tank leaks, it’s time for a new water heater.
For faucets, the aerator is a screw-on bushing that controls water flow. After much use, these little washer-like rings become worn. Aerators are Inexpensive and easy to replace, and they’re a quick and cheap way to conserve water.
Federal regulations mandate that new showerhead flow rates must be 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) at a water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch (psi) or less. Faucet flow rates can’t exceed 2.5 gpm at 80 psi, or 2.2 gpm at 60 psi. You can purchase quality, low-flow fixtures for around $10 to $20 apiece and achieve water savings of 25 to 60%.
To conserve water, choose a showerhead with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gpm. They come in aerating and laminar-flow. Aerating showerheads mix air with water to create a misty spray that contributes to the humidity level in your home. Laminar-flow showerheads form individual streams of water. For a simple test of your shower to see if you need a new system, place a bucket under your shower head, turn the water on at its normal flow, then let it run until you have filled the bucket to the one-gallon level. Note how long it takes to fill to that level. If it takes less than 20 seconds, this is a good indication that you need a low-flow showerhead.
Assert Appliance Authority
Wise use of large water-consuming household appliances offers you significant savings through reducing non-essential hot water usage. Your knowledge of how your appliances work empowers you to reduce energy consumption and costs by controlling routine operations.
Dishwashers: Reduce energy consumption by using an energy-efficient dishwasher and operate it with full loads only. Dishwashers come in compact capacity and standard capacity. Dishwashers that have a booster heater increase the water temperature only on wash loads being processed, thereby saving energy costs by heating water only as needed. The selection of shorter cycles helps conserve water and energy also. Let cleaning effectiveness be your guide.
Clothes Washing Machines: Selecting the cold and warm water settings wisely offers you the simplest yet greatest cost control over costs. For the majority of loads, avoiding unnecessary use of hot water lends a ready cost reduction. Cold water always is sufficient for rinsing. By selecting cold water rinse, this change alone may reduce hot water usage by half. Machines that allow you to set the temperature, spin-dry the clothes, and provide front-loading all give you control over energy-efficiency and cost savings.
Water Heaters: Controlling the energy use of your water heater is best achieved by lowering the thermostat. Water heat maintained to 140ºF can introduce a safety risk. For each 10ºF reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3% and 5% in energy costs. Most people find that a setting of 120ºF or 115ºF achieves a positive balance between cost and performance. The lower temperature setting also extends appliance life by slowing mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes, contributing to maximum efficiency. Check your owner’s manual for further directions, and be sure to test the temperature at the tap that furthest away from the heating unit.
A water heating tank that’s warm to the touch is using excessive energy and losing heat. This indicates that the tank needs an insulation blanket. In any event, It is helpful to add insulation to your tank if it has an R-value less than R-24 so that you can reduce energy losses and costs. Pre-cut jackets or blankets are available for $10 to $20 and should have an R-value of R-8. Do not set the thermostat above 130ºF on an electric water heater with an insulating jacket or blanket because the wiring may overheat. A piece of rigid insulation or bottom board under the tank will also protect against heat loss into the floor. The installation of insulating blankets or jackets on gas and oil-fired water heater tanks is more difficult and is an operation best performed by a qualified professional.
Hot Water Pipes: Pipes that carry hot water naturally lose some heat from the water they carry. Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss, can raise water temperature, and can speed up arrival of hot water to a faucet or showerhead. Use quality pipe insulation wrap, or neatly tape strips of fiberglass insulation around the pipes. Pipe sleeves made with polyethylene or neoprene foam are common. Match the pipe sleeve’s inside diameter to the pipe’s outside diameter for a snug fit. Place the pipe sleeve so the seam will be face down on the pipe. Tape, wire, or clamp (with a cable tie) the insulation every foot or two to secure it to the pipe. If you use tape, some people recommend using acrylic tape instead of duct tape. 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.
Heat Traps: If your storage water heater doesn’t have heat traps, you can save energy by adding them to your water heating system. They save you money, but must be installed by a professional who can solder a pipe joint.
Time Your Energy Use: Installing a timer that turns the electric water heater off when you don’t need hot water can save energy. You may wish to contact your utility company to ask if an energy-demand management program is available.
Recapture Hot Water: Hot water going down the drain carries energy with it, which represents energy loss. Drain-water heat recovery technology works to capture this energy and put it to work in your home.
Each of these tips represents significant potential savings. Call Plumbing and Heating by Craig to have one of our trained technicians help you.
How to Choose a Water Heater for Your Home
The most important factor in choosing a water heater hinges on determining the optimal available fuel type for your situation. Natural gas, oil, and propane water heaters generally are less expensive to operate than electric heaters. If you are considering choosing electric, check into off-peak electricity rates, which can save you money. In moderate climates, an efficient heat-pump water heater might be a good choice.
Water heater efficiency ratings are indicated by their energy factor (EF), which is based on recovery efficiency, standby losses, and cycling losses. A high EF rating is desirable because it indicates a relatively high performance efficiency. Electric resistance water heaters have EFs ranging from 0.7 and 0.95; gas water heaters range from 0.5 and 0.6, with some high-efficiency models ranging around 0.8; oil water heaters range from 0.7 and 0.85; and heat-pump water heaters range from 1.5 to 2.0. Everything else being equal, select a water heater with the highest energy factor (EF).
In the United States, water heaters are sold with EnergyGuide labels that tell you about operating cost variations. This helps you comparison shop. One important variable to consider is the first-hour rating (FHR), provided on the EnergyGuide label, which is a measure of how much hot water the heater will deliver during a busy hour. Before you buy a water heater, estimate your household’s peak-hour hot water usage (your water use during morning showers, for instance) and look for a unit with an FHR in that range.
Whenever possible, do not install the water heater in an unheated basement. To reduce heat loss through pipes, minimize the pipe distance between your water heater and your bathroom and kitchen.
Gas-Fired Water Heater Safety
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been working to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths from gas-fired water heaters. Consideration of federal regulations to address the problem of flammable vapor ignition in gas-fired heaters led to a voluntary redesign of water heaters in the industry.
The CPSC has also worked with industry to educate the public on the hazard of flammable vapors.To reduce the hazard of flammable vapors from gas-fired water heaters, consumers should:
- Make sure gas-fired water heaters are installed according to code requirements
- Where possible, elevate heaters 18 inches from the floor, regardless of location
- Never use gasoline to clean equipment or tools, only in motor vehicles.
- Store gasoline only in tightly sealed red containers intended for gasoline
- Keep all flammable materials and liquids away from gas-fired water heaters
- Install insulation on an electric hot water heater
Note: Installation is more challenging on gas and oil-fired heaters than for electric water heaters. Ask staff at Plumbing and Heating by Craig for further instructions.
Cut the tank top insulation to fit around the piping in the top of the tank. Tape the cut section closed after the top has been installed.
- Fold the corners of the tank top insulation down and tape to the sides of the tank.
- Position the insulating blanket around the circumference of the tank. For ease of installation, position the blanket so that the ends do not come together over the access panels in the side of the tank. Some tanks have only one access panel.
- Secure the blanket in place with the belts provided. Position the belts so they do not go over the access panels (Figure 2). Belts should fit snugly over the blanket but not compress it more than 15% to 20% of its thickness. The installation is easier with two people. If working alone, use tape to hold the blanket to the top until you get the belts into position.
- If your water heater has the temperature/ pressure relief valve and the overflow pipe on the side of the tank instead of on the top, install the blanket so these items are outside of the blanket. Depending on the piping arrangement and location, you may need to compress, or even cut, the blanket.
- Locate the four corners of the access panel(s). Make an x-shaped cut in the insulating blanket from corner to corner of each access panel.
- Fold the triangular flaps produced by the cuts underneath the insulating blanket. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for the rating/ instruction plate.
- The blanket must not be installed on a leaking tank.
Setting the temperature on your water heater
Annually, roughly 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths occur in homes from scalding hot tap water. The majority of these accidents involve the elderly and children under the age of five. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends keeping water heaters at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This prevents injury, reduces energy consumption, saves money, and is better for your heating equipment.
Adults will suffer third-degree burns when exposed to 150-degree water for two seconds. Burns will also occur with a six-second exposure to 140-degree water, or with a thirty-second exposure to 130 degree water. Even if the temperature is 120 degrees, a five-minute exposure could result in third-degree burns.
For electric water heaters, call your electric company to adjust the thermostat. Do not use the hot water for two hours before adjusting the temperature. To adjustment it yourself, shut off the water heater, then turn off the circuit breaker to the heater or remove the fuse that serves the heater. Most electric water heaters have two thermostats, both of which must be set to the same temperature.
To reach these thermostats, you must remove the upper and lower access panels. Adjust the thermostat in accordance with the owner’s manual. Use a thermometer with tap water to verify temperature.
Because thermostats differ, for a gas water heater, call your local gas company for instructions.
For furnace heaters, contact your fuel supplier to have the temperature lowered. If you live in an apartment, contact the building manager to discuss possible options for lowering your tap water temperature.
Always test the water before using it. Never leave a child or infant unsupervised in the bathroom.
Consumer Alert: Why You Should NOT Install Your Own Water Heater
Replacing your water heater no small task, and it is can open your home to needless risk. Potential issues are more complex than simply replacing the unit you already own. Selecting from the many heater sizes and options can be a daunting challenge, with long-term cost, performance, and safety implications.
To safeguard your family and protect your largest personal investment, your home, an ounce of prevention is great advice. You can greatly benefit from professional recommendations to help you select the system that best meets your needs. Fuel source, energy efficiency, fast recovery, venting, and anticipated demand are all considerations that can become complicated.
The high risk of error demonstrates why regulations governing water heater installation often are stringent. These also vary by municipality, and many do not allow self-installation. Professional contractors are familiar with the rules and regulations in the areas in which they work, and the safety concerns that underlie these regulations.
Installing a hot water heater requires fittings, pipes, parts, tools, venting materials, and valves, as well as a proper removal and disposal of the old water heater. Most people do not have the proper resources for the job. Professional contractors are licensed and bonded and often offer warranties. In addition, they are familiar with local building codes.
Premature replacement needlessly costs money. In some cases, your current hot water heater can be fixed. A contractor has the skill and expertise necessary to differentiate between a repair and a new water heater.