Avoid the nightmare
Keep your water heating efficient for a warm, happy life
You wake up one of these dark and cold mornings, dark like it’s still night out, and stumble into the shower with your eyes barely open. You turn on that water, really blast it, and feel that nice hot water begin to do what it does best — warm you up.
But all of a sudden it gets lukewarm. Real quick. And after a few minutes it’s barely warm at all.
What a total nightmare.
For some of us, this morning annoyance might very much be a reality, especially as winter deepens and the snow and ice become ever more present outside. It’s probably a sign of something more troublesome, though — it probably means our water heaters are overused and inefficient.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household spends $400-600 on heating water every year, making it the second largest expense in a home, accounting for 14 percent to 18 percent of utility bills.
Luckily, there are some things we can do to help the situation if we’re finding our water getting cold quick and get ourselves back to enjoying those steamy showers while saving a bit of cash, too.
Diagnose the problem
Many conventional water heaters in homes — especially homes with families — have a reservoir of 20 to 80 gallons of hot water ready to be released a the turn of a tap. When hot water is used — always coming from the top of the tank — cold water enters the bottom of the tank to make sure it’s always full.
In winter, though, the ground gets colder and that incoming cold water gets colder, too, meaning the water heater works harder to heat the water. Plus, sediment can get into the tank, which will cause problems and cold showers.
“Typically, if you’re noticing you’re running out of hot water quicker than before, it means it’s filling up with sediment, and it’s displacing hot water more than it had been,” said Ron Dantzer, sales and project manager at Coe Heating & Air Conditioning in Fort Wayne.
Another problem may be a corroded tank.
According to Dantzer, one area of town was previously supplied water which caused corrosion far faster than normal. Water heaters which were designed to last longer were bad by year 10, if they lasted that long, he said. The city began supplying water to that part of town and things began to get better.
“With city water, they last 12 to 20 years, Dantzer said.
If your wagger heater’s tank is corroded, it’s time for an upgrade. But a tank full of sediment can be flushed.
Steps for efficiency
Our water heaters can run inefficiently during this time of year for a variety of reasons.
Maybe we’re running the dishwasher heavily with all the plates that need to be cleaned during the holiday season. Maybe the water heater is turned up too far. According to the Department of Energy, while most manufacturers set water heater thermostats at 140 degrees, most households only require them to be at 120 degrees.
A water heater experiences heat loss both when it is in use and not. Keeping a water heater set at 140 degrees wastes anywhere from $36 to $61 in heat loss from idle time and more than $400 while being used, according to the Department of Energy.
To conserve even more energy after turning your heater’s temperature down, you can also insulate the pipes carrying the water from the heater to fixtures. Strips of fiberglass insulation can be wound around the pipes and taped in place, or something easy like self-stick pipe insulation — sold in 3-foot lengths at many hardware stores — can be used.
The hot water tank itself can be insulated more, as well. The trick, though, is to be careful not to put insulation within six inches of the heater’s vent if it’s a gas heater and not ever to cover the thermostat — whether it’s gas-heated or electric-heated.
Insulating your tank can reduce heat loss while the heater is not in use by 24-45 percent and 7-16 percent while in use, according to the Department of Energy.
And of course, there’s always the simple — but maybe hard to do — way of conserving a little more.
Only run your dishwasher when it is full, especially if the it isn’t an energy-efficient model. Washers and dryers which are more energy efficient are becoming the norm, but yours may not be, so only run them when they are full, too. Of course, not washing dishes or doing laundry isn’t really an option.
The other thing you can do is just use less hot water in the shower.
Sometimes, though, you just need to upgrade.
Newer water heaters have “beefed up the installation” and sealed up the bottom to help prevent sediment getting in and keep the cold temperature out, according to Dantzer.
Improvements in water heater technology have been made, too, for efficiency’s sake.
Tankless water heaters, also known as demand-type or instantaneous water heaters, are the big thing when it comes to efficiency.
“They’re about 98 percent efficient,” Dantzer said.
The advantage is you don’t have to wait for a storage tank of cold water to heat up, but the disadvantage is there are limits to a tankless water heater’s output flow rate, the Department of Energy said.
Tankless water heaters can supply hot water at a rate of two to five gallons per minute. Taking a shower and running the dishwasher at the same time can really stretch its limits, so it’s not for everyone. But tankless water heaters can pay off for families.
“If you’re in a one bedroom home, where you’re single or you’re just a husband and wife and you shower once a day or so, there’s really no reason to go to a tankless water heater,” Dantzer said. “But if you’re in a home with four plus people, and you have the dishwasher going or the hot tub going or a jacuzzi, the payback is really quick.”