Saving with Hot Water, guest post

Today I have a guest post for you from Mark  Healey.  We all want to save money and to conserve natural resources.  A conventional water heater has it’s drawbacks, I will let Mark tell you about the options available to us.

Water Heaters Designed to Reduce

For most people looking to save money on utility bills, it’s easy to forget about the conventional gas or electric water heater hidden away in the basement utility room guzzling energy. Because nothing permanently retains energy, heaters with tanks require power even when they aren’t being used. Although insulated, these systems radiate heat away and when internal temperature drops below a threshold, the energy supply kicks back on to maintain a consistent temperature – just like your refrigerator.

So, if the shelf life of your current water heater is drawing near end or you’re building a new home and researching appliances, there are a few investment alternatives that can reduce your water-heating energy demand. However, as with anything, upfront costs may vary depending on what you’re looking for.

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters or on-demand water heaters pump cold water through a heat exchanger where it is heated immediately and sent to its destination. As implied by their name, tankless water heaters do not use a water storage tank. Both gas and electric energy sources may be used to heat the water. And, as mentioned above, where gas and electric water heaters constantly lose energy due to standby losses, on-demand systems avoid this deficiency. By eliminating standby losses, tankless systems can reduce your water-heating bill by 10 to 20 percent.

Because tankless systems are much smaller than conventional units, they can be stored in smaller areas – like the walls of closets – making cleaning and maintenance easier to perform.

Who do tankless water heaters work best for?

If you live in a household with a large family or if you consume copious volumes of water, then a tankless system won’t do you much good (unless you’re looking for a supplemental supply of hot water). However, if you live alone or with one other person, you’re the perfect candidate for one of these units.

Hybrid Water Heaters

Hybrid water heaters combine technology from both gas / electric water heaters and tankless water heaters, hence the “hybrid.” However, these systems fall victim to deficits associated with both technologies. Although design elements differ from one manufacturer to the next, the principal heating methods remain the same. Hybrid units consist of a series of heated copper pipes and a storage tank. The heated copper pipes circulate water in multiple passes to heat the water quickly and efficiently. The storage reservoir serves to hold a backup supply of hot water in times of high demand. As a whole, hybrid water heaters can greatly reduce home energy expenditure all while meeting your hot water needs.

Who do hybrid water heaters work best for?

As stated earlier, tankless systems are great for people in small households with few residents. Conversely, hybrid units can stream larger quantities of hot water simultaneously to multiple destinations, meaning they work well in homes with several individuals. After all, no one likes jockeying for a hot shower.

Solar Water Heaters

Solar water heaters, the crème de la crème of green water heaters, use a tank much like a conventional system only the water is heated via solar energy. Contrary to popular opinion, if you live in a relatively cloudy location or think solar isn’t worth it because of its uselessness during the night, think again. Because we live in a world that allows for net metering, the needle on your home’s meter moves both directions. So, any energy you funnel back into the grid gets credited. As a whole, solar water heaters are 50 percent less expensive to run than conventional gas and electric units.

solar heater

Who do solar water heaters work best for?

Put plainly, investing in a solar water heater will set you back with up front costs, but the system will eventually pay for itself. Plus, if you live in the states, you can receive a fairly substantial tax credit. In all, solar water heaters are great for homeowners who plan to stick around for 20 or so years.

For more ways to save, learn how to conserve water.

24 thoughts on “Saving with Hot Water, guest post

  1. Excellent post and I really appreciate the comments on who would benefit from the different systems. I like the idea of the tankless heaters but, interestingly, the few people I’ve know who have used them didn’t really save on their energy bill. I’d love to have a solar heater … I visited a family with one and they seemed to have plenty of hot water for their needs. The only accommodation they made was the timing of their showers … mid-day worked best and evening showers were a bit cool. I, unfortunately, have absolutely no say about what kind of water heater is used in my apartment. That said, I’ve found other ways to minimize the energy used to heat our water … we simply turn off the water heater except for about 30 minutes before a shower (we don’t use hot water to wash dishes, clothes, etc.). We also use the shower closest to the water heater so that we don’t waste water or energy getting the hot water out. Making that one change cut our energy bill almost in half. Thanks, again, for a terrific post!

    • Small Footprints, I like how you found a way to save on your hot water while renting, I don’t have that option being on a boiler system. But a boiler does save a lot when one tank heats the water for all the apartments. If you wash your dishes right after using them it’s not necessary to have hot water I found. Here our water is lukewarm when you turn it on, if I waited for it to get hot to use it for little things like hand washing and the few dishes I have I would waste so much water. The only time I wait for it to get hot is for my showers in the winter when I’m chilled to the bone.

      I am shocked that the people you know with the tankless heaters don’t find savings, I wonder if they use hot water frequently through the day rather than watching how much they use?

  2. We have a solar hot water heater with a tank so it heats and then stores hot water. In summer we need to have it cooled to non-boiling temperatures before we can use it as it’s scalding hot. Our secondary water heating is done via a water jacket for our wood stove/heater then on to gas boost (we haven’t yet had the gas connected) and finally electric (we switched off the electric boost option).

    • What a great set up you have, I think it’s great you were able to install a solar system for your hot water, but I didn’t realize some areas the water could get so hot.

  3. Presently we have an energy efficient conventional hot water heater and low flush toilets. We’ll see what the options are when we have to replace it. In the meantime, we can save the most hot water by taking shorter showers.

    • I agree, Live and Learn. I have no choice in my water heater or my toilet here. Our hot water (and heating) comes from a broiler which is better for an apartment complex than each of us having a conventional water heater, but I still take Navy showers to reduce the amount of water in general I use. All laundry is done in cold water and hand washing, I don’t generally wait for the hot water unless it’s important to do a deep clean. Of course I can always rinse my hands in peroxide after washing if I’m concerned about germs. As for my toilet, I have a very old model which has a huge tank. I have two bottles filled with water to offset how much the tank holds but I would change that with a low-flush model if I could….one of the downfalls of renting.

      • We rent too an our greatest problem is our hydro. Tere is a mixture of opinions going around our close knot building, and we are starting our own investigation. We truly believe our landlord has simply placed our bills together and theyre splitting them in threes –between the apartment. We USE NOTHING–n i mean nothing, until darkness. Even our lunches are cooked in the ‘green’ periods off peak hydro hour charges, basically. what its looking like is my bill to run a fridge is $80.00/month? Really? Where? Anyway, my concern is also that our electrical room is “locked” and only landlord has key, so i am not even sure if hes splitting the costs of US heating the water through the split bills…?
        I thank you soo mich for this article and I Tooo, save and conserve w/navy showers and cool water for dishes using bleach mix for germs!!

        • Jay Nine, I am in a similar situation as our rent here includes our utilities, but some people use way more than others and there is no difference in the rent. I just deal with it because my rent is so low that I know I can’t find anything nearly as cheap nor with all the amenities, but I would love to have a way of showing that I use way less than the average person to save a little more. I hope you find a way to sort things out on the way you are billed.

          The one way we differ is that I don’t use bleach, I can’t breathe around it, instead if I need to disinfect something I spray with white vinegar and then hydrogen peroxide which a scientist proved kills more germs than bleach when she had problems using bleach.

  4. I am sighing heavy sighs as I read this post. A few years ago I replaced a hot water heater. I wanted so desperately to upgrade to something greener, but alas, it just wasn’t in the cards.

    On demand looked attractive, but I decided against it because they don’t function at all if the power goes out, which can happen frequently here during big blizzards. But a gas powered hot water heater works just fine when the power’s out and with a little ingenuity can provide enough warmth to at least keep the pipes from freezing. There have been at least half a dozen times when I’ve relied on it to get through for a few days until the power came back on.

    What I really wanted was a solar hot water heater, but apparently the building codes here require all of the connections on solar hot water heaters to be welded instead of soldered which makes the installation costs just astronomical. I think you probably do need some sort of backup with a system like that too. Anyhow, when I added it all up and compared it to the $10/month that I currently spend for hot water, the payback period was sorta ridiculous – like probably longer that I can reasonably expect to live, and I’m only 46!

    Anyhow, I ended up just installing another regular old gas hot water heater. But it’s at least a very efficient one, and I gave it an extra blanket of insulation. My next project is to try to figure out how to insulate the pipes because I think that’s the main source of hot water waste in my life at this point (not to mention frustration waiting for the water to get hot!)

    • Cat, did they stop making the gas powered on-demand hot water heaters? I first learned about the tankless ones when I stayed in a cabin that had a tankless gas powered system, also around here the Amish and Mennonite people don’t have electricity but do use gas powered appliances and rely on the gas tankless hot water. After living in a mobile home here I know all about freezing pipes and guess a tankless system wouldn’t help you much with that.

      It drives me nuts the regulations we have to put up with! What happened to owning your home so you could do what you wanted to with it? They keep us stuck with older technology and reliant on the utility companies we so want to free ourselves from. Sorry you couldn’t afford to switch to solar but I would have made the same decision if faced with the decision myself.

      • I think the tankless systems use gas to heat the water but use electricity to start the flame in lieu of a pilot light. That might not be accurate, honestly all I remember is that they don’t work in a power outage and I sorta turned off my brain at that point! :-)

  5. I would actually disagree strongly with tankless water heaters being great for smaller households. Buy a tankless and then double the cost as that’s how much installation costs – so here in Portland, you’re talking $2500 for the whole heater and install job (and it’s not something you want to try to install yourself, I’ve been told many times). So to recup the costs of this it would take me many years, since my water bill is only $500/year and we’re talking a maximum savings of $100/year – so 25 years to recup, no thanks. As a household of one, when my electric water heater finally died, I upgraded to the Whirlpool Energy Smart (http://www.whirlpoolwaterheaters.com/products/electric-water-heaters/es40r123-45d/?id=41) which has been doing a great job and cost me $500 including install by my contractor. The tankless concept is nice, but they’re not realistic for either size household unfortunately.

    • That is interesting, EcoGrrl, I enjoyed the one I had the opportunity to try. As the bathroom was next to the kitchen another feature we loved about it was that the person in the shower didn’t get a burst of hot water if someone turned on the kitchen faucet, or flushed a toilet. I appreciate your input, I have never had the opportunity to purchase one myself so only know I enjoyed having the tankless for the 2 weeks we were on vacation.

  6. We’ve been saving to install two tankless water heaters for our upstairs and downstairs home. They do actually make whole house models, but the ones I am aware of are special orders from big box stores and are in the $600-$900 range. We used to have a solar water heating system installed over 15 years ago, but we are switching to a full home photovoltaic system, a popular option in my state.

    • I have heard of the whole house models, but that doesn’t seem to make much sense to me as you would still be wasting water waiting for it to reach certain parts of the house. I keep trying to talk people into the tankless when their conventional water heaters die, but so many want to keep using what they are used to. By full home photovoltaic system do you mean all electricity will be solar for you?

      • Yes, all our electricity will (hopefully) be fully solar powered. We would lease the photovoltaic system with 30+ panels that would power our entire home. We can still “plug into” our electric company for a fee of $16 a month, as a backup. The lease turns out to $100 a month for about 20 years with no downpayment, which for Hawai’i, is 1/3 of the average electric bill for a small family. The University of Hawai’i’s electricity bill per month is over $1,000,000; they have big plans to “go green” soon. Here is a neat infographic about cost per kwh in the US: ( http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/10/27/141766341/the-price-of-electricity-in-your-state )

        The same kilowat measure of electricity in Hawai’i is 3-6 times more costly than anywhere else, which also partly explains why Hawai’i is adopting green energy solutions rapidly. Rain catchment systems, wind farms (http://www.firstwind.com/projects/kahuku-wind), talk of geothermal energy (from volcanoes on Hawai’i, a.k.a. Big Island), while controversial, are all options I’ve seen in our area and are gaining in popularity. Photovoltaic is THE fastest growing energy option on my island, however.

        My friend Joni is my local eco-living model. Joni lives on a fishing village right off the shore of a major Honolulu industrial zone. Her family uses a motorized boat to get to their little island, but they are otherwise self-sustainable, have a composting toilet, and tread lightly because their front porch is literally the ocean. The view from the pier was of the industrial zone, but walking further out in back of the island… it’s rampant with life and beautiful, like a rain forest of the sea, no trace of anything but nature in the horizon. =D Ah, I suppose I’m due back for a visit. Here’s a news brief about her island within an island ( http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/global/story.asp?s=8070133 ) if you’re interested.

        =D I apologize, as I didn’t realize I had so much to share about energy in Hawai’i.

        • Please, Yvonne don’t apologize I love learning more about Hawaii, I knew things were more expensive on the islands than the mainland but had no idea your electricity would be so expensive. I would think solar would be a good way to go as you get quite a bit of sunshine, unlike where I live.

          Thank you for sharing your friend’s story, I read the article and can’t believe they had to suffer so having their homes burned down, all for another airstrip. I’m glad they got it back and hope the families can hold on to it for future generations. I would love to live completely off grid, but it’s not something I can do and live in the area I do.

  7. Great Post Lois.. We have to start and think about these things.. as to saving some water I put a brick in my toilet system , lol it uses less water each flush! and use waste water I use to peel veggies back on the garden.. :-)

    Lots of homes here now have solar panels fitted to connect to the grid.. We too looked into this as a firm said they would install free 18 panels on the roof to connect back to the Grid.. .. But a surveyor said 18 wouldnt fit south facing because of our chimney, but we could still go ahead if we paid £12,000 for the installation for less.. As the grid needed 18 to get the max out of it.. .. We declined as we couldn’t justify the cost. But why are not new homes being built with solar panels…?? They are efficient and save money..
    Then a about a month ago Lois we read the EU may be starting to tax solar panels.. we never heard anything else.. But another Tax! on Free Energy! ..If True where does it stop!

    • Sue, I have two large containers that I believe had lemonade in them to start. It helps a lot to save water. I was told not to use bricks as they can break down and clog things up.

      From free to 12,000 pounds? Wow I wouldn’t have been willing to part with that much at once. I agree new homes should have solar panels or at least geothermal systems in them which help regardless of the sun/wind.

      I’ve heard similar talk about charging people for being connected to the grid with solar from Australia. It’s crazy! The more they do things like this the less people want to contribute to helping with green power and will disconnect and keep it for themselves.

      • Like a breeze block stonework but a red brick as built we build houses with them. LOL :-D If you put that in the cistern it will still flush but will not use as much water to do so. .. Smiling widely as I realise our vocabulary means various things from USA to England!

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