January 7, 2010

Easy Resolutions to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

By James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Part II: Heating Water

A charming colloquialism has worked it way into our language. I often hear people refer to a “hot-water heater.” In fact, it is a cool-water heater; hot water really does not need to be heated at all! Whatever you call it, the water heating system in the average home can consume up to 20% of your energy expenditure.

Last time we looked at no-cost and low-cost ways to make your HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) system work more efficiently. Hopefully you’ve made a few changes and have started seeing a difference in your energy costs. Now we will explore ways to make your current water heating system run smoothly and efficiently. We will start with a few tips and tricks that won’t cost you much at all:
1. If your water heater is older than 10 years, it is probably time to replace it with an energy-efficient (EnergyStar® rated) model. Also, if your household has changed since the unit you are currently using was purchased, perhaps it is time to down-size. Certainly a young family of four will use much more hot water than a couple with an “empty nest.”

2. Locate the owner’s manual. If you have misplaced it, it is likely that it will be available online or from the dealer. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the anatomy of your system, locate the thermostat. Setting the temperature to 120ºF will provide you with plenty of hot water for bathing and washing clothes. Dishwashers are designed to work best at 140ºF and newer models have pre-heating elements. You may need to determine if your dishwasher has one of these elements. Speaking of elements… be aware that most tank-style water heaters have two heating elements and it is important that they are both set to the same temperature.

3. Drain about a quart of water out of the storage tank every three months or so. In our hard-water area, sediment can build-up and cause to unit to run less efficiently.

4. Install a timer, so the unit will not be working when you don’t need it (for instance overnight or during the day if you are out of the house.) This would function like the programmable thermostat recommended for HVAC efficiency.

5. Take advantage of Progress Energy’s EnergyWise program (part of the very popular Save the Watts campaign.) In this arrangement, Progress will install a device to electric equipment in your home (your choice, usually HVAC and / or water heater.) This device is controlled by Progress Energy and can cut power to devices in the event of an unusually high energy demand in the community. Progress Energy suggests that you could save over $145 a year by participating in this program.

6. Insulating the unit and pipe work to prevent heat loss though these areas. Older units are particularly poorly insulated, newer models are usually pre-insulated. UF suggests insulating the first 3 – 4 feet of pipe work leaving the storage unit.

7. And of course, practice water water saving techniques: use low-flow faucets and showerheads, take quick showers, wash full loads in the clothes and dish washers, etc. it will all add up.
If you do decide to replace your water heating system, you have an abundance choice. Depending on your lifestyle, number of people living in your home, and other factors, different systems may be best for you.

Perhaps it is time to make the change to solar water heating. If you install a solar water heater before December 31st of this year, you will qualify for Federal Tax Incentives of 30% of the cost of the project. In Florida solar equipment is, at the time of this article, exempt from state sales tax. But this may not last forever. In addition, Progress Energy will give you $450 in upfront credit if you install a solar system, and $60 in credits every year.

For more information on the different types of water heaters and how to choose the one that is right for you, see Energy Efficient Homes: Water Heaters from the University of Florida.

Energy Efficient Homes: Easy Steps to Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency -

Energy Efficient Homes: Water Heaters -

EnergyStar®’s Residential Water Heaters -

Progress Energy’s Home Energy Check -

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