If you have or have had teenagers in your household, you probably can relate to hopping into the shower at some point for a quick wash only to discover cold water pouring out regardless of where you adjust the faucet. Yes, that last person who doused themselves in a luxurious, steamy soaking for 30 minutes used up all the hot water! While you are standing there trying to towel the icicles off your shivering body, here are a couple of things that might get your blood boiling. First, it may take two hours or more for your 50-gallon electric hot water heater to fully recover. Second, that hot water recovery probably costs about one dollar each time it occurs. If this happens frequently in your home, it could be costing you some cash!
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 18 percent of all energy used in American homes goes toward heating water. It is second only to energy used to heat and cool your home. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to take control of your water heating costs.
First, you might attempt to change the perception of certain “shower hogs” of what is a reasonable length of time for a shower. Through surveys, the U.S. Department of Energy has determined the average shower is eight minutes and consumes 10 gallons of hot water. Try setting a count-down timer to eight or less minutes to remind any “shower loiterers” how long they have been dawdling.
Another source of unnecessary hot water use relates to shower “warm-up” time. Nobody wants to stand under the cold stream of water initially spouting from the showerhead. Rather, the shower is turned on and unoccupied until heated water arrives. Sadly, many lose track of how long this waiting period is and allow hot water to flow long after the water is warmed and long before they get wet. To call attention to this common oversight, time how long it takes warm water to arrive at your showerhead after turning the hot water on. Then, use that same count-down timer described above to remind your household’s violator when the shower is ready to go!
Do you have a drippy showerhead that never quite shuts off because of the hot water valve? At one drip per second, you are losing more than five gallons of hot water each day. Over the course of one year, that equates to nearly 2,100 gallons. At a cost of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, your electric hot water heater is adding an extra $43 a year to your power bill. Fix that drip!
Now, consider your showerhead. Since 1992, it has been federally mandated that showerheads sold in the U.S. have a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons-per-minute (GPM). Note, there is no minimum! Installing one that restricts flow to 2 GPM or less can provide savings of 20 percent or more!
Finally, investigate where your water heater is set. Most hot water heaters do not have calibrated thermostats that can be precisely set to produce a particular temperature. Rather, you will want to use a thermometer directly under the showerhead to measure output after the water has ran long enough to reach its maximum temperature. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends a setting that produces water no hotter than 120°F. This not only saves energy, it greatly reduces scalding risks.
To reduce the temperature, turn the thermostat to “cooler,” “lower” or a lower temperature reading. Wait at least four hours to allow the whole tank to be affected by the change. Then, measure the temperature again as described above. Remember that most electric water heaters have two thermostats! It may take several tries to get the temperature setting you desire. Regardless of where your current temperature is, for every 10ºF reduction, you can save from 3 to 5 percent on your water heating costs.
For additional ideas on how you can reduce your hot water costs, as well as where you might save additional energy in your home or business, contact your local electric utility. You may even find you are eligible for EnergyWise℠ efficiency incentives that help reduce the initial cost of other energy-saving home improvements.
When this season rolls around, I always remember to check and change the furnace filter in my heating an cooling (HVAC) system.