State University Extension
Home Maintenance And Repair
Energy Tips - Controlling Costs for Home Hot Water Production and
expect hot water at their fingertips, yet we pay a high cost for that
instant comfort. An average family spends 14% of their monthly energy
bill on hot water. Heating water is the third largest energy expense in
Four destination points in the home are end users for hot water:
faucets, showers, dishwashers, and the washing machine. At each of
these end use points, there are ways to conserve water usage and
control energy costs.
Faucets and Showers
Repairing leaky faucets and showers saves hot water.A leak of one drip
per second can cost $1 per month, yet it could be repaired in a few
minutes for less money.
Using less hot water will reduce your energy costs. A family of four
uses 700 gallons of water a week. This represents a three-year supply
of drinking water for one person. Turning the hot water faucet off
while shaving or brushing your teeth can reduce water-heating costs.
Another option is to limit the amount of time in the shower or the
number of whirlpool baths a week.
Other actions may require a small investment of time and money.
Installing low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators can save
significant amounts of hot water. Low flow showerheads can reduce hot
water consumption for bathing by 30%, but still provide a strong,
A quick test can help you determine if your shower is a good candidate
for a showerhead replacement. Turn the shower on to the normal pressure
you use and hold a bucket that has been marked in gallon increments
under the spray. Now, time the number of seconds it takes to fill the
bucket to the one-gallon mark. If it takes less than twenty seconds,
you could benefit from a low-flow showerhead.
A relatively common assumption is that washing dishes by hand saves hot
water. If properly used, an efficient dishwater can consume less energy
than washing dishes by hand, particularly when you only operate the
dishwasher with full loads. Heating the water for an automatic
dishwasher can represent about 80% of the energy required to run this
appliance, and new dishwaters use about half the electricity of a
Average dishwashers use 8 to 14 gallons of water for a complete wash
cycle and require a water temperature of 140º F for optimum
cleaning. But setting your water heater this high could result in
excessive standby heat loss. Standby heat loss occurs because water is
constantly being heated in the storage tank, even when no hot water is
actually being used. Furthermore, a water heater temperature of
120º F is sufficient for other home hot water uses.
A “booster” heater can increase the water temperature as it enters the
dishwasher to the 140º F recom-mended for thorough cleaning. Some
dishwashers have built-in boosters that will automatically raise the
water temperature, while others require manual selection of this option
before the wash cycle begins. A booster heater can add about $30 to the
cost of a new dishwasher but it should pay for itself in water heating
energy savings in about one year if you also lower your water heater
temperature. Reducing the water heater temperature is not advisable,
however if your dishwasher does not have a booster heater.
Another way to reduce hot water use in your dishwasher is taking full
advantage of cycle selections. Shorter cycles require less water,
thereby reducing the energy costs. The most efficient dishwasher
currently on the market can cost half as much to operate as the most
inefficient model. If you are planning to purchase a new dishwasher,
check the EnergyGuide and EnergyStar® labels required by the
government and compare the approximate yearly energy costs among brands.
Dishwashers fall into one of two categories: compact capacity or
standard capacity. Although compact capacity dishwashers may appear to
be more energy efficient, they hold fewer dishes and may require you to
use the appliance more frequently than you would use a standard
capacity model. In this case, your energy costs could be higher with a
compact machine than with the standard capacity dishwasher.
Clothes Washing Machine
The clothes washer is second only to bathing in hot water consumption.
A standard size clothes washer uses about 25 gallons of hot water when
operated in hot water/warm rinse mode. A large capacity washer can use
as much as 40 gallons of hot water, so the best way to lower energy
costs is to reduce the amount of hot water you use. According to the
Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), only about 10% of the energy used
by your washer goes to operate the motor: 90% of the cost is heating
The average household washes about 50 pounds of laundry per week, more
than 6,000 articles a year, since the average person generates well
over a quarter of a ton of dirty clothes per year. The hot water demand
for these activities is very high.
One approach to reducing demand is to use the warm wash/cold rinse
setting on your washing machine. This can save about 65% of the energy
you would use with the hot/warm rinse. But you should note that
perspiration and oily stains could be difficult to remove from
synthetic fabrics without using hot water. And, in addition to
cleaning, hot water helps destroy bacteria.
When looking for a new washing machine, look for an energy-efficient,
low water volume model. The new high-efficiency (HE) washers are the
biggest news in decades. You can save energy and water and still get
clothes cleaner than before. The SDA says HE washers use only 1/3 to
2/3 the water used by traditional washers so energy use can be 1/3 to
1/2 that of traditional washers. They suggest using high-efficiency
detergents specifically formulated for this type of washer.
Hot Water Heater
Most hot water heaters last for10 -15 years. It’s best to start
shopping for a new one if yours is more than seven years old. A new
energy-efficient water heater may cost more initially than a standard
water heater, but the energy savings will continue during the lifetime
of the appliance.
Lowering the thermostat on your water heater cuts the cost of energy
use, but if you have a dishwasher, it should not be set lower than
140º F for good dish cleaning unless your dishwasher has a booster
heater. It should not be set lower than 130º F for hot water wash
of laundry with greasy soils.
When hot water is wanted at a faucet, cold water already in the pipes
must be drawn before hot water comes out. Then, when the water is shut
off, the hot water in the pipe cools off, so that heat is lost. This
loss can be reduced by:
• Locating the water heater close to where the heaviest use occurs
(this reduces the length of the pipes)
• Insulating the hot water pipes by wrapping them with insulation
Cover your hot water pipes with pipe insulation wherever they are
accessible, especially within three feet of the hot water tank. Be sure
to keep foam insulation at least six inches from the flue of a gas hot
water heater. If you use split rubber foam pipe insulation, use the
right size so the split closes; put the split on the underside and tape
Studies have shown that 20 – 30% of the heat added to water by the hot
water heater is lost through the walls. If the outer wall of your
heater feels warm to the touch, it is losing heat. Adding insulation to
the outside can cut up to half of this loss. Batt insulation can be
fastened around the sides and top of electric water heaters. Only
specially designed insulation jackets should be used on gas water
heaters and the installation instructions must be followed very
One caution when adding insulation to an existing oil or gas fired
water heater is be sure your tank has a good pressure relief valve. A
pilot light continues to heat water all the time so if no hot water is
drawn for a long period of time, the water may be overheated.
Once a month, draw off water from the spigot at the bottom of the
heater tank until the water runs clear. Sediment on the water heater
will prevent it from operating efficiently. When you leave home for
more than a day, turn down the temperature setting. Or if leaving for
more than two or three days, turn off the heater. It will take about
two hours to heat back up again when you turn it on, so don’t plan to
take baths or wash clothes immediately upon returning from a trip.
Off Peak Heating
Electric water heaters don’t actually use less electricity in off peak
hours, but it’s cheaper for the utility company to produce electricity
in those hours (usually at night), so some utilities offer lower rates
during those times. If your electric utility company does this,
schedule large uses of hot water such as laundry during the evening, or
turn on the dishwasher before going to bed.
Energy Tips - Controlling Costs for Home Hot Water Production and Use,
Michigan State University
Savers, U.S. Department of Energy, DOE/GO 10098-584.
Energy Facts, Michigan State University Bulletin E-1146
Hot Water Conservation, EB 1858e, Cooperative Extension, Washington
The Soap and Detergent Association, 1500 K Street NW, Washington, D.C.,
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status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and
June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Thomas G. Coon, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing,MI 48824. This
information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial
products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or
bias against those not mentioned.
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