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WATER HEATING: A SMART PLACE TO GAIN EFFICIENCIES
Heating water for home use takes a lot of energy—and water heating is one area where it’s easy to make small changes that make a big difference in your energy bill.
Warm showers and baths, automatic and hand dishwashing, and other everyday tasks quickly add up to a lot of hot water usage. In fact, water heating is likely second only to heating and cooling your home in terms of energy use. The average homeowner’s cost of water heating is $400-$600 each year.
If you’re like most Americans, your water heater isn’t optimized to save you money, but you can make changes that make a difference. Small changes, like insulating your water heater or shifting to low-flow fixtures, will help to improve performance and reduce waste. Switching from a conventional water heater to an ENERGY STAR qualified water heater may be a good move, potentially cutting your water heating costs in half.
To learn more about water heating, consult the FAQ below.
Water Heating FAQ
- How can I make my current water heater more energy efficient?
- How much will it cost to make my current water heater more energy efficient?
- How can I optimize hot water use around my home?
- What should I look for in a new water heater?
- How much will it cost to replace my water heater?
- What should I keep in mind if I’m hiring a contractor?
- How much money and energy will I save?
- Are there any additional benefits?
- What rebates or incentives are available?
- Are there any laws or regulations I need to be aware of?
Turn down the thermostat on your water heater.
A setting of 120 degrees Fahrenheit provides hot water that’s comfortable and adequate for most uses.
Insulate your water heater.
Wrapping your hot water heating tank in an insulating “blanket” will reduce energy loss and make heating more efficient. Follow safety instructions and manufacturers’ recommendations and get professional help if you are unsure how to proceed.
- For electric hot-water storage tanks, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Wrap thoroughly, but be careful not to cover the thermostat.
- For natural gas or oil hot water storage tanks, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Be careful not to cover the water heater’s top, bottom, thermostat, or burner compartment.
- For hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater, insulate the first 6 feet.
Hot water heater blankets and low-flow fixtures are very inexpensive, and you can generally install them yourself.
Water heater blankets cost approximately $10-$20, and low-flow fixtures also cost about $10-$20 each. Pipe insulation materials can cost as little as $1.00 per package of 10.
Use less hot water.
- Repair leaky faucets promptly.
- Reduce water flow rates by installing aerators on all faucets. For maximum water efficiency, choose flow rates of no more than 1.0 gpm (gallons per minute).
- Install low-flow fixtures. Quality low-flow faucets are inexpensive and can reduce water usage by 25-60%. Showerhead and faucets should not exceed 2.5 gallons per minute.
- When you replace appliances that use hot water, such as dishwashers and clothes washers, choose ENERGY STAR models to reduce hot water use and conserve energy.
- Wash clothes in cold water.
For more information:
Visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website.
Choosing the right water heater depends on many variables, including the amount of hot water your family needs and the alternative and conventional power sources available in your house and region. Though a new water heater can be expensive, the energy savings will continue through the life of the product, making it a great move in the long term.
There are many options to consider:
- Tankless water heaters — Water is heated instantaneously by an electric or gas heating element and delivers a constant supply of hot water without any lag in hot water delivery. Separate demands units can be installed for separate but simultaneous hot water usage.
- Solar water heating — Panels are mounted outside of your home (typically on the roof) and water is heated by the sun. All solar water-heating systems consist of a collector, piping, valves, a storage tank and sometimes, pumps.
- Heat pump water heaters — Heat pumps used for space heating or cooling (air-source and geothermal) can also be used to heat water—either as a stand-alone system, or in a combination water heating/space conditioning system.
- Gas condensing water heaters — As with regular gas water heaters, a large, insulated tank of water is heated by a gas burner. But instead of venting the combustion gases directly outside, those gases are captured and utilized to heat the water even more; this significantly increases efficiency and performance.
For more information:
Learn about energy efficient hot water heaters.
Find an ENERGY STAR water heater that’s right for you.
Download the ENERGY STAR Water Heater Fact Sheet.
Replacing your old water heater with an energy efficient water heater can cost anywhere from $200-$2000. Solar hot water heaters may provide the most long-term energy savings, but their initial cost is the highest, ranging from $1000-$6000.
For more information:
Estimate the operating costs of different models.
For general tips, including what to ask a potential contractor, how to compare bids and how to monitor quality, please visit the How to Hire a Contractor page.
In addition to the general tips on our How to Hire a Contractor page, you may need to consider some specific issues when hiring a contractor for this particular kind of work. Here are some additional things to keep in mind:
You may want to check a manufacturer or retailer's website to get a general idea of cost, but you will eventually need an installer to come to your home and give you a customized price. The installer should confirm the optimal size for your home and address all installation needs, such as venting, electrical service and condensate drainage.
Installing a solar water heater in an existing home requires careful installation, which often includes running pipes through walls. Use a contractor certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), if possible, and choose a local contractor who can be available to perform periodic maintenance, if possible.
For more information:
To search a list of contractors in your area provided by the Better Business Bureau, visit the Energy Action Planner, right on this site.
Depending on the type of water heater you install, you can reduce your energy usage and costs for water heating by up to 50%.
|Water Heater Technology||Average Annual Savings|
|High-Efficiency Gas Storage||$30|
|Whole-Home Gas Tankless||$115|
Even if you aren’t ready to install a new water heater, you can still save money and energy on water heating. For example, putting a blanket on your water heater can save 4-9% of water heating costs, and installing low-flow fixtures can reduce water usage by 25-60%.
In addition to energy and financial saving, energy efficient water heaters and low-flow fixtures have other benefits.
- Tankless and gas condensing models can ensure you’ll never again run out of hot water.
- Some aerators provide shut-off valves so that you can pause the flow of water without altering the temperature—great for start-and-stop washing projects.
There are a number of financial incentives and programs for water heating. See the Energy Action Planner for additional information on financial incentives in your area.
Be sure to check local regulations regarding size, location, venting and fuel restrictions for water heaters.