Hot water heaters can be real energy hogs. Conventional gas-fired units, which store a reserve of hot water, use twice the energy required to run a refrigerator and account for up to 16 percent of the average American’s total energy consumption. Improving the efficiency of your gas hot water heater can translate into significant savings on your monthly gas bill.
1. Use Less Hot Water
The first way to improve energy efficiency is to consume less of the resource itself. And the easiest way to decrease the amount of hot water you use is to install aerating shower and faucet heads. Good models deliver a satisfying stream of water yet cut the actual flow by 50 percent, which means that a family of four can potentially save 1000 gallons of hot water a month from baths and showers alone. Other ways of saving water include
- installing a horizontal-axis washing machine
- installing a new model dishwasher
- using cold water to wash clothing
Painless conservation efforts not only reduce your gas bill but also help lower your water bill, resulting in a responsible use of a limited resource.
2. Insulate Your Hot Water Tank and Hot Water Pipes
Much of the energy expended in conventional storage heaters is a result of keeping the water in the tank at the right temperature, especially if the heater itself is located in a cold part of the house. Insulating the tank will reduce heat loss and improve the unit’s efficiency, in some cases by up to nine percent. It is a relatively simple project, but homeowners should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations carefully when insulating a gas hot water heater so as not to block the air inlets.
Insulating the hot water pipes works on the same principle: The water sitting in your pipes, waiting to be used, will be kept at a higher temperature if the pipes themselves are insulated. Insulating the pipes is a more time-consuming and costly improvement than simply insulating the heater, however, so homeowners should consider their individual needs before embarking on this project.
3. Turn Down the Heater’s Temperature Setting
You can improve energy efficiency by up to five percent for every ten degrees you lower the temperature setting on a conventional storage heater. For many households, lowering the temperature from 140 to 120 degrees yields considerable savings and no inconvenience. After all, if the water that runs from your taps is so hot you have to mix it with cold in order to bathe or wash dishes comfortably, it is a safe bet that you can lower the temperature on your unit without sacrificing any comfort whatsoever.
4. Install an “On-Demand Circulator” under Your Sink
In houses with a conventional gas hot water heater in the basement or other remote location, 50 or more feet of pipe lie between the hot water source and the faucet. Bringing the hot water to the faucet expends energy and wastes water. An on-demand circulator can solve this problem. This device is a pump that pushes hot water from the heater to the tap and returns the cold water sitting in the pipe back to the heater. Because you use it only when you need the hot water, the circulator greatly increases efficiency and cuts down on waste.
5. Switch to a Tankless Unit
The next time your conventional gas-fired hot water heater needs replacing, consider installing a demand, or tankless, heater. Demand units do not store water; rather, they work by heating the water rapidly whenever you turn on the tap. Over a 13-year life cycle, tankless gas heaters cost nearly 500 dollars less to purchase and operate than conventional units. The difference in the annual cost of running these units in more striking: A conventional gas unit costs an average of $350 a year compared to the demand unit, which costs only $256.
Tankless units are not appropriate for every household, however. If you have a large home or use hot water at different places simultaneously within the home, you may need to install two separate units as the flow of hot water coming from a demand unit is limited. Since demand heaters are more costly to purchase and install than conventional ones, the price of installing more than one unit will undermine any energy savings. However, if a demand heater can accommodate your needs, these units provide great efficiency, with the added bonus that they take up very little space in the home.
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