They’re not sexy, and the Department of Energy estimates 13% of your home energy consumption goes into a big tank of hot water. I’ve seen other estimates that go higher, and a larger or older tank will burn more energy. So your water heater may be one of the more boring appliances in your home, but it’s a leading load on your energy bill. Fortunately, there are easy ways to fix that.
First let’s talk about how to improve a water heater that you already have. For less than $20, you can hit your local DIY hub/ home improvement store and buy a water heater blanket with quick and easy assembly instructions. If Internet testimonials are true, it will probably take more time to drive to the store and buy one, than it will to install it. If your water heater already has a blanket, bravo! Just keep in mind that the big sticker on the front of your water heater has some important information. You might want to tape it to the blanket for easy reference. While you’re at it, you could also consider insulating some of your pipes or ducts (see first link in this paragraph) for even more savings.
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If you’re renovating your house, or if your water heater recently died, consider an upgrade. The D.O.E. just posted new Energy Star ratings for water heaters, so read the stats on a new tank to get the best value. If you want to join millions of people in other countries, you could consider getting a tankless water heater. Instead of heating a large volume of water and storing it, a tankless water heater works on demand, heating water as it’s used. They generally use 10% to 20% less energy than a standard 40 gallon tank heater, and they come in both electric and natural gas varieties.
I had one while I was living in South Korea and loved it. The water was hotter than I needed, and it never ran out, not even when I had company.
If you’re ready for a new water heater and you also have all the hook-ups for a tank, fear not. General Electric is capitalizing on the infrastructure built into most homes to replace old water heater tanks with their upcoming hybrid-electric water heater tank. Yes that’s right, it’s the hybrid of water heaters. GE claims this electric water heater tank will use less than half of the energy a standard one requires. And even more cool, it absorbs heat from the air and transfers it into the water. Forgive me, but that tickles every nerdy bone in my body! The electric water heater tank will be available in 2009, and EcoGeek claims the energy savings could have huge implications.
Also, let’s not forget solar-thermal water heaters. As with investing in solar energy, this will return your investment fastest: better yet, it’s a renewable source.
So are water heaters sexy? Maybe if they’re tankless, but generally not. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t save some money by increasing your home’s energy efficiency. In fact, many groups suggest that increasing the energy efficiency of existing buildings is the cheapest and easiest way to combat climate change right now. It’s something most people can do to take action with minimal investment or effort. So take a look at your water heater and see what you can do. Once our water’s energy use is efficient, maybe we can move on to making our use of water more efficient, too.
I'm an environmentalist who loves to write. I grew up across the southeastern U.S.A. and especially love the Appalachian mountains. I went to school in the north east U.S.A. in part to witness different mindsets and lifestyles than those of my southern stomping grounds. I majored in English Lit. and Anthropology. I've worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which introduced me to a wilderness and the complex issues at play in the places where relatively few people go. I also taught English language in South Korea for a year, which taught me to take nothing for granted. Currently I'm applying for grad school to study international environmental policy.