When you’re paying your energy bills, do you ever ask what it is you’re paying for? Yes, you’re paying for your electricity and natural gas usage, but what is actually consuming those resources, and more importantly, who are the biggest culprits?
For starters, the biggest consumers of energy in the typical home are space heating costs: running your heater and AC to heat and cool your home. This is why we make a big deal about installing efficient furnaces and air conditioners.
After that, it gets a bit murky as to what is the biggest energy vampire. But the evidence suggests that after HVAC systems, water heaters are the single biggest consumer of energy. Their share of home energy usage varies depending on who you ask:
- S. Energy Information Administration: 9%
- Energy Star: 13%
- Alliance to Save Energy: 14%
- Choose Energy: 17.7%
Water heating and space heating costs are similar in that they’re both subject to daily behaviors. Just as keeping your home at 75 degrees all winter long will run up your energy bill, taking 45 minutes showers will hurt your wallet. But they differ in an important way as well.
Space heating costs scale according to the size your home, while water heating costs scale according to the number of people in your home.
You may have a conservatively sized home that costs very little to heat or cool. But if you have a very large family, then you’re likely running the shower a lot, doing a lot of loads of laundry, using your kitchen’s hot water tap more, and so on.
What are your options for reducing your water heating costs? Well, it all comes back to your water heater. In case you don’t know how a traditional tank water heater works, it’s essentially the equivalent of a big pot of water that’s continuously kept on a stove to be used at a moment’s notice. When the water drops below a certain temperature, the “stove” (the heating element) in the water heater kicks on, and heats the water until it you’re your desired temperature setting. Then the heating element turns off again. When you start using hot water, the water that is consumed is replaced with cool water, which has to be heated.
The upshot of this is that while water heaters use a lot of energy when you consume hot water, they actually use energy even when you’re not using any water at all. While this is frustrating, this means that there are actually ways to save energy using the same hot water heater you have now, without changing a thing about your habits:
- Reduce the temperature on the water heater. For every 10 degree reduction, you cut about 3 to 5% from your total water heating costs.
- Make sure that your water tank and the pipes connecting to it are adequately insulated.
- Fix any leaking faucets in your home.
- Install low-flow fixtures and flow reducers.
- Install a timer that turns your water heater off at night or when you’re away from home.
If your water heater is getting old, then it may be time to upgrade to a new, energy efficient water heater.
Is your water heater more than 15 years old? Then it may well be time to replace it.
If you aren’t sure how old your water heater is, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors has a handy guide on how to read the serial number on the tank to determine the age of your water heater. If your water heater isn’t on that list, contact the manufacturer for assistance.
Don’t assume that just because your water heater works fine, that it isn’t a dinosaur. Recently, the author of this blog post had to contact A.O. Smith for assistance in dating the water heater in his home, as the serial number didn’t match anything listed on the manufacturer’s site. It turned out that the water heater was 40 years old!
Water heaters have gotten significantly more efficient in the last few years. Even a decade or so has made a big difference. Gilmore’s Energy Audit team can help you identify energy efficient water heaters that will save you money while fulfilling your family’s hot water needs.
If you really want to cut your energy costs, consider buying an Energy Star certified hot water heater. Energy Star gas-powered water heaters are at least 8% more efficient than typical models. If you rely on electrical power, an Energy Star certified heat pump water heater uses less than half the energy of a standard electric-powered model. Visit Energy Star’s site to see a full list of Energy Star certified water heaters.
If you are a PG&E or SMUD customer, you may want to check and see if they offer energy efficiency rebates to customers in your area for installing an efficient water heater. This can help to cover some of the upfront costs.
For those looking to radically reduce your water heating energy consumption, you may even want to consider a tankless water heater. However, these can be very expensive, so consider carefully before going this route.
To learn more about how you can save money by replacing your old water heater, contact the experts at Gilmore Heating Air & Plumbing! Contact us today!