This article teaches you how to save money by instituting all the following devices: Electric temperature controls, heat traps, low-flow shower heads, pipe insulation, recirculating system controls, vent dampers and water heater blankets.
- Electric Temperature Controls (Electric Water Heaters Only). An electric temperature control allows you to shut down the water heater when no one is home or when everyone is asleep. This will reduce heat loss and save you money. Call your utility company or a plumber to help you install this device.
- Heat Traps. Heat traps prevent heat from escaping from the pipes and tank of the water heater so that the water in the tank stays heated longer. There are a few ways to create heat traps. One way is to install ball valves on the cold and hot water lines directly above the water heater. These valves will cause some minor flow restriction that may be noticeable when water use in the household is high. Another possible way to create a heat trap is to physically bend the flex connectors at the top of the water heater into an inverted U shape. A flex connector is an easily bendable piece of copper that acts as the cold and hot lines. These flex connectors are used in lieu of rigid, soldered copper pipes which are far, far more difficult to install. The heat will remain trapped inside the water heater.
- Pipe Insulation. Another way to conserve it is to insulate the pipes. There are several kinds of insulating material that will work. You can wrap the pipes very quickly using closed-cell foam. Closed-cell foam can be found at your hardware store; just ask a store employee. You can also use insulation blankets but make sure they are the thick ones. Please note that different kinds of pipes require different sizes of insulation. For example, copper and galvanized pipes each have different thicknesses though they both may be measured at 1 inch. You should also wrap the cold water pipes starting from 3 inches above the water heater.
Insulation products will often come with several different self-adhesives to secure the insulation. You should have no problem with any type you choose. If you do not have any self-adhesives, here are a few other options. If you want to use tape on the insulation, make sure you use gas wrap tape (it looks similar to electrical tape). You shouldn’t use duct tape because duct tape wears out quickly. You can also use plastic ties; these work well for securing insulation to the pipes.
There are several parts of the water heater you should not cover. The cover unions or fittings, as well as the ends of the pipes, should be free of insulation. If these areas are covered, the insulation will exacerbate any leaks. Also, on gas water heaters, do not cover the draft diverter directly above the tank. On gas water heaters, there is a tine duct line that goes from on top of the water heater to (usually) outside a nearby wall or the roof. This duct is called the draft diverter.
- Re-Circulating Systems. Any water heater manufacturer can install re-circulating loops that, though expensive, are highly efficient. Recirculating systems send water that is just sitting in your pipes back to the water heater to be reheated. Water left sitting in pipes will lose its heat rapidly, which is why when you open a tap in the house, it takes almost a minute for any hot water to reach the tap.
- Vent Dampers (Gas Water Heaters Only). A vent damper is a metal flap just above the heater. The vent damper is located inside the draft diverter. Either a motor or the heat itself will open the vent flap. Vent dampers appear to work better on indoor water heaters; however, it is not known just how effective vent dampers are.
- Water Heater Blankets. Water heater blankets work best on water heaters located outside the house or in warm rooms. Make sure you purchase insulation ranked at R-11 or higher. The increase in energy efficiency is substantial when compared to lighter insulation such as R-6. Wrap the blanket around the entire water heater, then cut holes for all the fittings like the T&P valve, cold and hot water lines, the electrical elements on electrical water heaters, or the gas burner housing on gas water heaters. Water heater blankets do make it more difficult to detect any leaks, and the blankets can also intensify any rusting problems, but the energy savings still make this a good idea. Just make sure to periodically check underneath the blanket for any wetness.
- Low-Flow Shower Heads. These attachments to your showerhead simply decrease the amount of water you use, thus requiring your water heater to work less. You can also attach low-flow aerators to sink faucets. Both of these are an effective way to save energy and money.