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Water Heater Efficiency Tips That Can Help Save Money

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Common water heater maintenance tasks can also improve efficiency. Don’t take the comfort and convenience of having hot water in your home for granted. Use these do-it-yourself tips to help make your water heater more efficient and extend its life, while saving money on your energy bill.

  • Lower water heating temperature – Although some manufacturers set water heater thermostats at 140ºF, most households usually only require them to be set at 120ºF. Lowering the temperature can slow mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes. Perhaps more importantly, water heated at 140ºF also poses a safety hazard—scalding.
  • Savings from turning down your water temperature are based on two components: reduced standby losses (heat lost from water heater into surrounding basement area); and consumption (from water demand or use in your home). Set too high, or at 140ºF, your water heater can waste anywhere from $36 to $61 annually in standby heat losses and more than $400 in demand losses.
  •  If you have a dishwasher without a booster heater, it may require water within a range of 130ºF to 140ºF for optimum cleaning. While there is a very slight risk of promoting legionellae bacteria when hot water tanks are maintained at 120ºF, this level is still considered safe for the majority of the population. If you have a suppressed immune system or chronic respiratory disease, you may consider keeping your hot water tank at 140ºF. However, this high temperature significantly increases the risk of scalding. To minimize this risk, you can install mixing valves or other temperature-regulating devices on any taps used for washing or bathing.
  • Insulate hot water pipes – Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature 2°F–4°F hotter than uninsulated pipes can deliver, allowing you to lower your water temperature setting. You also won’t have to wait as long for hot water when you turn on a faucet or showerhead, which helps conserve water.
  •  Paying for someone to insulate your pipes—as a project on its own—may not make economic sense. But having the insulation done during new construction of a home, during other work on your water heater or pipes, or insulating the pipes yourself, is well worth the effort. In special cases, such as when the fuel used for heating water is very expensive, the distance traveled by the pipes is far, the pipes are exposed to very cold air (in which case they should be insulated anyway to prevent freezing) or, if the household uses a lot of water, much higher energy savings can be obtained. In these cases, cost savings may offset paying for someone to do the job for you.
  • Insulate your water heater tank – Just like insulating your walls or roof, insulating your hot water tank is an easy and inexpensive way to improve energy efficiency and save you money each month. If your water tank is new, it is likely already insulated. If you have an older hot water tank, check to see if it has insulation with an R-value of at least 24. If not, consider insulating your water tank, which could reduce standby heat losses by 25%–45% and save you about 4%–9% in water heating costs—and should pay for itself in about a year. You can find pre-cut jackets or blankets available from around $20.
  • If you don’t know your water heater tank’s R-value, touch it. A tank that is warm to the touch needs additional insulation.
  • Remove sediment – Drain a quart or more of water from your tank (until the water runs clear) every month or two to remove sediment that can build up in the bottom of the unit. This sediment impedes heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your water heater.

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