Getting the Most Out of Your Water Heater
We're all interested in reducing the amount of energy we consume in order to save money and the environment. The first energy sinks that come to mind include the amount of gasoline we put in our car and the light switches we forget to flick when we leave a room. While it's always a good idea to keep these forms of consumption in mind, there's a power-hungry appliance that we usually don't think about unless our shower turns cold. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), your home's water heater accounts for a quarter of your household energy use. Even though it's out of sight in the basement or in a closet, your water heater should be on your mind when you're attempting to reduce your energy costs.
Household water heaters have operated in the same way for many years. In short, a natural gas burner sits under an insulated metal storage tank. (Some kinds of water heaters operate without a tank.) The burner kicks on when the water level is low, bringing the water in the tank to the temperature dictated by the thermostat. In the interest of safety, water heaters are equipped with safety valves and exhaust ducts. The more hot water you use, of course, the more natural gas you will burn. Unfortunately, those long, luxurious showers come at a cost. The CEC estimates that an average homeowner whose utility charges 60 cents for each thermal unit of natural gas will pay $163 dollars each year, just to keep the hot water flowing through their homes.
Utility customers have a lot of options to reduce the amount of energy they consume to maintain their supply of hot water. Older water heaters are less efficient than newer models for several reasons. Appliances simply break down and their components just don't operate as well as they once did. Further, newer water heaters feature technology that uses less energy to heat the same amount of water. You can check your old unit's ENERGY STAR rating against a new model and calculate the savings you would put back into your pocket. The CEC claims that the average water heater will last 13 years. Even if you only cut a few dollars a month off of your energy use, a new water heater will almost pay for itself over the time you're using it.
Residential New York natural gas and electricity customers have other options. There are water heaters that are fueled by electricity and propane. The operational costs for these models are higher than those that operate on natural gas. On the other hand, propane water heaters are very useful for homes that are not on the grid. Electric water heaters are at a greater disadvantage. It takes a lot of electricity to create heat, so electric water heaters have far higher operational costs than other kinds.
We've all heard about the push toward renewable forms of energy. You can reduce your natural gas consumption by making use of a solar water heater. The United States Department of Energy points out that these models can be used in any kind of weather. (But you're probably going to get more hot water if you live in Arizona, rather than Seattle.) There are a few different kinds of solar water heaters, but they collect the sun's heat in the same way. In some ways, it's like the greenhouse effect. Sunlight falls on collectors that allow heat to enter, but not escape. This heat is transferred to the water that runs through the system. Flat-plate solar water heater collectors are even formed from black materials, as these colors absorb heat instead of reflecting it. (Remember; you probably think twice about wearing a black shirt on a hot day.)
Solar water heaters, just like solar electricity, are not currently powerful enough to replace all other energy technology. In most cases, a natural gas-fueled water heater serves as a backup to make sure that the home always has a supply of hot water.
If you're unable or unwilling to replace your water heater, there is plenty that you can do to make your current unit operate as efficiently as possible. Yes, you can limit the amount of time you're in the shower. The DOE also advises you to insulate the hot water pipes in your home to reduce heat loss. You can also put your water heater on a timer so it only works when you need it to. If you install heat traps on the copper pipes leading to and from your water heater, you'll pay for the devices with the energy you save. Best of all, you'll maximize the amount of hot water you can use while minimizing the amount of money you pay to your New York electricity company.