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Save money with these water heater tips

Jul 21, 2017

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When we think about ways to save on our electric bill, many of us reach for the light switch or the thermostat. But one of the biggest energy users in your home is churning away quietly just out of sight: your water heater.

Don't wash money down the drain! Use these tips from PEC Energy Service Advisors Brian Curtsinger and Chris Denison to manage your water heater for maximum savings all year long:

Install a timer

Standard water heaters keep their tanks heated all the time — even when you're asleep or at work. And you're paying for it.

The average water heater in a household of three to four people costs about a dollar per gallon (in tank size) to run each month. So for a family of four, a 50-gallon water heater can contribute about $50 to the electric bill. Installing a timer on your water heater so it runs only when you need it (like the morning and evening, to wash dishes and run the shower) can significantly reduce that cost.

"Timers are really where you'll see the biggest savings," Denison said. "They can save $10 to $20 per month on your electric bill, meaning a standard $50 timer will pay for itself in a matter of months, and then keep saving all year long."

Set your water heater to 120 degrees

Your water heater temperature can be set as high as 140 degrees, Curtsinger noted, but 120–125 degrees will serve most households — and you're not expending extra energy to heat your water hotter than you need it.

Insulate your pipes

Make sure to insulate exposed water lines to prevent heat loss, Denison advised.

"Most new homes do this, but it's always worth it to double check," he said.

Reconsider demand-type heaters

Demand-type (also known as tankless) heaters provide hot water only when it's needed. At first glance, this may seem like a solution to the problem presented by traditional water heaters, which burn energy to keep water hot 24/7. But it's not quite so simple, Curtsinger warned.

"Electric on-demand systems are not effective for an entire home for the cost," he said, "but a gas on-demand system is very efficient."

This is because, Denison explained, gas heats with combustion: a flame that heats the water quickly. Electrical systems use heating elements, which are relatively slow to warm the water and expend a great deal of energy to do so.

Avoid hot water circulating pumps

Hot water circulating pumps keep hot water flowing through the pipes of your home at all times. They can save a great deal of water — think about the gallons that flow down the drain while you're waiting for your shower to get hot — but increase your electric bill, Denison said.

Plus, the added heat in the floors and walls makes your air conditioner work overtime, pushing your electric bill even higher.

"A circulating pump means that you're using heat constantly. You may use two to three times as much energy as you would with a traditional system," Denison said. "Really, the best way to save is to get a timer."

Myth-busting: wrapping your heater

Conventional wisdom used to advise wrapping your water heater to save money in the cold winter months. And while this may still save you a little if your unit is more than 10 years old, there's no benefit to wrapping newer heaters.

"They're so well insulated," Denison said.

Love these energy-saving tips? Check out more at pec.coop/efficiencytips.

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