Cozy Up Your Water Heater

maggie_water_heaterOne of my goals this year is to complete each “Task of the Month” suggestion proposed by Earth Care Indiana.  I think this is a great program because it is so achievable – simply complete one task per month for a year to significantly decrease your home’s energy usage.  Will and I have already taken a lot of these steps so my secondary goal is to create a “green belt” advanced level of tasks.


January’s task: Insulate Your Water Heater.

We did this already, although I can’t remember when and apparently did not think to write a blog post about it (*gasp*).  Probably it was in 2010 when we started the Energy Challenge.  It was very easy, except for the bit about crawling around in the crawlspace.  For gas water heaters, you have to be careful not to crowd the venting whereas with electric water heaters, you can wrap the whole thing up as snug as you’d like.  A friend suggested that a good way to evaluate the intrinsic insulation of your water heater is to put your hand on it and see how warm it feels.  Ours was a little bit warm but not very, so I think the insulation is a good idea but perhaps not as significant as it could be with an older water heater.

water_thermostatThe other suggestion from Earth Care is to lower the temperature on the water heater thermostat to 120 F.  Our water heater has two thermostats: one for the top heating element and one for the bottom heating element.  We initially turned them both down quite far, which saved us a lot of energy during the Energy Challenge.  In fact, I think we turned one of them completely off, which motivated us to take short showers before the hot water ran out.  Unfortunately, it also made me rather grumpy as I could not take a bath at all and my showers often ended on a lukewarm note.

About six months ago, I was feeling deprived and turned both thermostats back up.  I gloried in the decadence of hot water for the first couple of months but I have to admit, I took it too far the other way.  We really do not need scaldingly hot water.  This weekend I tweaked both thermostats to try and get them both around 120 F, which should be hot enough for baths and relatively long showers but not so hot that it can scald out of the tap.  We may have to keep finagling a bit.  (Note to water heater designers: Please do not design the cover of the thermostat to be attached with a Phillips head screwdriver and the thermostat itself to require a flat head screwdrive – that’s just annoying!)

As to coming up with an “advanced” task on this subject, the next logical hot water step should to install a solar hot water heater.  It could be a fancy solar hot water panel integrated with the house plumbing, or a freestanding 3-season backyard solar shower.  We are leaning towards the latter, although hoping to build one nicer than the camp shower  we experimented with in 2010.  The challenge is figuring out a good design and location – especially one that fits our budget and construction abilities.  I’m moving it up on the “To Be Designed” list.  Right after “chicken coop.” this!

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