Water heating – trimming your bills


If you haven’t yet read my first posting about water heaters, I highly recommend that you do so now. Without that foundation, you’re not going to get the most out of this article.

Invariably, this question comes up – “how do I reduce my water heating bill?”

Let’s break this down into a few parts. What affects your bill?

  1. The amount of hot water you use
  2. The efficiency of your water heater
  3. The cost of your fuel
  4. Other inefficiencies

I’m going to address these points one at a time, because each one is important to understand and all impact your energy bills.

Reducing your hot water use

This one is obvious. Reduce the amount of water you use and you directly cut your energy bills. But how can you cut back on hot water use? I’m assuming that you aren’t willing to change your lifestyle because most people aren’t. I mean seriously, if you’ve taken 20 minute showers your entire life, are you suddenly going to start taking 10 minute showers, even if you know it might save you $100/year? Probably not.

Top ways to reduce your hot water usage:

Shower heads

Showers are one of the biggest consumers of hot water. Consider an older 4 gallon per minute shower head. That’s 60 gallons of water or maybe 40 gallons of hot water for each 15 minute shower. Ouch! That’s going to cost a fortune. If you can reduce that to 2 gallons per minute (GPM), you cut that to 20 gallons of hot water without changing your lifestyle. So the first act I would take is replacing the shower head.

But before you rush out and buy new shower heads, you might want to measure the flow of your existing heads. Just turn on the shower and time how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket then calculate the number of gallons per minute. Easy!

  • If you’re not already using a reduced flow shower head (1.5-2.5 gallons/minute) then invest in one. I’m not talking about the pathetic little ones they sell that couldn’t wash the soap off a bald man’s head. I’m talking about nice, designer shower heads, that are designed for efficiency. Things like this one. I’ve used one of these for years and love it. No, it’s not the most efficient one around, but it’s reasonably efficient and it actually works.
  • If you’ve got teenagers who take really long showers, then get one of the 1.5gpm shower heads. They don’t work quite as well, but if they’re taking hour long showers, they can deal with a little inconvenience! If you’re feeling generous, you might get this one or this one.

Laundry Machines

Usually, I don’t endorse getting rid of perfectly good appliances – in most cases, it’s just wasteful. But I make an exception for laundry machines. The new front loaders with high-speed spin-dry cycles are worth the investment on so many levels.

A typical, old style, top-loading washer requires filling the entire tub with water multiple times during the cycle, using up to something like 35 gallons of water. They’re incredibly wasteful! Add to that the fact that the clothes are still pretty wet after the spin dry and you’re paying a lot more to dry the clothes as well. Finally, those agitators are simply brutal on delicate clothes. In all respects, top loaders are simply destined for extinction.

The front loader cuts your hot water usage very substantially. If you want a detailed discussion of them, go to the Energy Star website. They do require a little different usage, and special soap, but that’s a small price to pay for $100-$200 savings per year in reduced water use. They’re truly awesome!

Wash Clothes in Cold Water

You’ve heard it before and I’m going to say it again – the most efficient usage of hot water is not using hot water at all.

With modern laundry detergents, you do not need to wash clothes in hot water, and the savings can be hundreds of gallons per week if you do a lot of loads of laundry. That adds up to huge reductions in your hot water use over the course of a year.

Ok, so maybe you’ll still use hot water for some things, like your kids white socks that they wear outside without shoes or their football uniforms. But for a typical person, hot water wash is a complete waste.

Whole House Humidifiers

Many homes are outfitted with whole-house humidifiers. These bolt on the side of your furnace and introduce water into the air stream to humidify your home during the winter.

Unfortunately, some lazy product designers decided it was a good idea to run hot water through these units to help humidify the air because the hot water will be more “steamy” and work better. So what do these idiots do? They design a machine that runs something like 6 gallons of hot water through the system every hour, even when they’re only using a tiny fraction of that to humidify the air. Why? Because hot water is much more prone to scaling problems, so they run the water to flush out the mineral buildup!

Over the course of a day, that humidifier can be doubling your hot water use, easily. So over the course of a winter of use, that’s adding hundreds of dollars to your utility bills. Horrible. Stupid. Wasteful. These things should be outlawed.

If you’ve got one of these units that runs on hot water, disable it, shoot it, rip it off, and throw it in the trash. If you must have a humidifier (I’ll cover this topic in another post) then get one that uses cold water and a misting system or a sponge-like element.

BTW – I wrote an entire post about central humidifiers and their evils.

Remember to Fix those Drips!

Remember – there’s no such thing as a small leak! Even a slow drip can be gallons per day which means hundreds of gallons per year. That’s dollars out of your pocket and wasted water for absolutely no reason.

If you have a leaky faucet, fix it. Any homeowner should be capable of turning off the water supply and replacing a washer or faucet components. They’ve made it pretty easy for most things. So don’t hesitate. Fix the drip!

Here’s a nice tutorial on the subject.

And if you don’t like to read, here’s a video.

< End of part 2 >

Ok, I’m stopping here for the day. These have been the biggies and I’ve given you enough information to save you hundreds on your water heating bills each year. Now get busy replacing shower heads, buying new washers and dismantling your whole-house humidifiers!

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