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As Temperatures Drop Save Money on Your Hot Water Bill

As Temperatures Drop Save Money on Your Hot Water Bill

The key to savings is to maintain a constant temperature and use less hot water

By Gary Foreman

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Utility companies say that a water heater can contribute between 15 and 20 percent of your utility bill. It's the third largest energy user after heating and cooling. It pays to find ways to curb use.

For every degree you lower your water heater thermostat, you'll reduce your cost by one percent. Typically, 125 degrees is sufficient, but anything lower than 120 degrees can allow bacteria to grow in the tank, which is dangerous.

Maintain a Sensible Temperature
Some folks believe that keeping the water very hot and mixing just a little with cold water is a better way to save money.

Here’s why this theory is off base: Think of a tea kettle as a water heater. To keep the water at 125 degrees over a continuous period of time, you'd eventually find the right setting on the burner.

To make the water hotter, you would turn up the heat -- and consume more electricity or gas. Regardless of how much water you use, it will always take more energy to keep the water heated to a higher temperature.

Reducing Household Costs
If you have an older unit, a water heater jacket is a good first step to cutting costs. Installing one is a simple do-it-yourself project that usually costs less than $20.

Cutting usage is equally important. Running the washing machine with both cycles set at "hot" consumes, on average, 32 gallons. Changing the settings to a warm wash and cold rinse reduces that by seven gallons.

The dishwasher runs through 10 gallons per load, which is why it’s a good idea to wait until the machine is full before running it.

A bath or long shower uses an average of 20 gallons. A good showerhead reduces water consumption by half and so assuming a family of four takes daily showers, installing a water-saving showerhead could save as much as 1,200 gallons each month.

The electric company may offer you a discount if you allow a “peak load” controller to be placed on your water heater. It automatically turns off your water heater when the electric company is facing high demand.

Water heaters require some regular maintenance. Mineral build-up can reduce efficiency but draining a few gallons from the tank quarterly solves the problem.

Buying a New Water Heater
Old water heaters operate for many years at a low efficiency before they fail. Naturally, that low efficiency translates into higher energy bills.

There are different types of water heaters available. The most common water heater is a storage tank that holds water heated to a pre-set temperature. Most use electricity or natural gas to heat the water.

A "demand" or "tankless" water heater stays off until hot water is required. Generally, these work best in situations where only a limited amount of hot water is needed at any given time.

When you shop for a new hot water heater, look for one that is energy efficient. An easy way to do this is to compare the Energy Factor (EF) for different models. The higher the number, the more efficient the water heater.

Another consideration is the First Hour Rating (FHR), which tells how much hot water can be supplied under peak load. A bigger tank does not always mean a higher FHR. Buy one that's big enough to handle your needs but not wasteful. Figure out how much hot water you need based on the usage figures above.

Gas or Electric?
Gas water heaters generally cost a little more, but are less expensive to operate. Typically, the energy savings more than make up for the higher purchase price. Before buying, you should check with your electric or gas company. Many will help you to pay for a new water heater.

Bottom line for savings? Turn the water heater thermostat down, try to consume less hot water, and consider replacing an older water heater.

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