As cold weather settles in this winter, you may notice big changes in your heating bills. This year they’re expected to rise by 17.5 percent across the United States, based on predicted colder-than-average weather and higher fuel prices.
Water heaters make up 15 to 20 percent of our home energy bills. According to the Department of Energy, conserving hot water can make these price increases a little less biting.
“Simple things like taking shorter showers, taking fewer baths and not rinsing dishes before loading them into the dishwasher can make a huge difference over time,” says Mallory Micetich, a home expert at Angi. “Also washing your clothes in cold or tap-water temperature water is a great way to significantly reduce your hot water usage.”
Here are additional ways to conserve hot water and reduce your utility bills this winter.
Only run a full dishwasher. If you only have a few dishes, it might make more sense to handwash them. When rinsing, run the faucet only partially open instead of full throttle.
“Even my kids are learning this tip in school, since it’s a simple and effective way to use less water,” says Jessie Cannizzaro, master plumber and owner of Milestone Plumbing in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
“This one’s a no-brainer,” says Cannizzaro. A drippy faucet wastes water and energy. Check for leaks in toilets, pipes, faucets, appliances and the water heater.
When a water heater is far from your faucet, it wastes water and energy because you have to run your tap awhile before hot water arrives.
Instead, install a recirculation line with a pump and a timer. A recirculation line is a separate pipe creating a loop from the water heater to far-away plumbing fixtures. It constantly circulates water in the hot water pipes back into the heater. That way, every time you turn on the water, hot water is always there.
Insulate your water heater with a water-heater blanket, and wrap any exposed water lines and pipes with water-line insulation or blankets.
Water Heater Temperature
Often water heaters are set to a hotter temperature than you need. Lowering it will save money. But don’t go below 120 degrees or you risk harmful bacteria growing in your heater, water lines or pipes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), low-flow faucets and showerheads, like those with the WaterSense label, can reduce water flow by 30%.
“Low-flows can save hot water, but only if you use them the right way,” says Cannizzaro. “If you’re just going to run a shower or faucet longer, you’re not necessarily making a difference in your energy bill.”
Old Water Heaters
Replace old water heaters, which lose efficiency with age. The expected lifespan of traditional tank water heaters varies by model, maintenance and where you live. Generally if your tank is more than 12 to 15 years old, it’s time to replace it. To determine its age, look for the date on the manufacturer’s label on the side of the unit, or look up the serial number online.
Old water heaters may collect sediment that will rob the tank of heat, especially if it collects near the heating element. “This is often accompanied by a noise that sounds like popcorn popping when the burner ignites,” says Cannizzaro.
You can drain the tank to get rid of sediment. But if it’s gone too long between drainings, it may not fix the problem. Plus, you could also have corrosion within the tank.
New technologies are often more efficient. Save water and energy by upgrading to an Energy Star-certified dishwasher and washing machine, which will also save you thousands of gallons of water each year.
For water heaters, tankless and heat pump models can make a difference in energy use as well. Before you decide, consult a plumber in your area to learn your best options. Up-front and maintenance costs vary by region and the particulars of your home.
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