By Ken Sheinkopf
Reducing Hot Water Costs
Q| I see tips all the time on reducing a home’s water use, and I
think that’s a great thing to do, but I’m mostly interested in
lowering our use of hot water in particular. It’s that double wham-my of wasting water as well as wasting the power needed to heat the
water. What suggestions do you have for specifically using hot water
more efficiently? — W.O., Knoxville, Tenn.
A|If you’re a homeowner, I don’t have to tell you how much
water rates have increased in recent years in just about all parts
of the country. Saving water is critical to both lowering costs and also
to assuring that we have enough water for our needs in the future.
As you said, though, the costs and the problems get bigger when
you talk about saving hot water. You can save a great deal of money
by using less hot water at home. Here are some tips on ways to reduce
your water heating expense:
• Fix any faucet leak immediately. A leak of one drip per second
can waste 200 gallons (757 liters) of water every year.
• Put faucet aerators in kitchen and bathroom sinks. They’re
cheap, easy to install and they’ll save a lot of money on water usage.
• Do only full loads in your dishwasher. If you don’t use a dishwasher, put a pan in your sink and wash and rinse dishes with the hot
water in there rather than keeping the faucet running. If your kitchen
has a double sink, fill one side
with fresh water and the
other with rinse water.
• Install a low-flow
showerhead to cut
down the flow to
around 2. 5 gallons per
minute (many showerheads use as much as 5
to 8 gallons per
• Wrap your water
heater with a tank
blanket to cut down on
• Use foam insulation around hot water
pipes to and from the
tank to reduce standby
• Set your hot-water thermostat to
122°F ( 50°C). Many
tanks come from the
factory at 140°F ( 60°C)
— too hot for household needs and actually hot enough to cause
scalding in just a matter
• Run the clothes
Save energy and money by careful
washer only when you
insulation of your hot-water system
— and by changing the way you use
have a full load. New energy-efficient front-loading washers can cut
water use by more than 50 percent.
• When washing or shaving, fill the sink basin with hot water and
turn the faucet off, rather than letting the hot water run the whole
time. The same goes for shampooing and conditioning your hair in
the shower. Don’t let the water run when you’re not using it.
• When taking a bath, plug the tub before turning on the water
and then adjust the temperature as the tub fills. This will save much
more water than letting it run down the drain until it gets to the setting you want.
Simple ideas? Common sense? Yep, but are you doing these things?
I hear from many readers whose water bills are almost as much or even
greater than their electric bills every month. When you consider
that a lot of this water is heated and then wasted, it becomes money
just flowing down the drain.
Q| We’ve had a whole-house fan in our attic for many years and
while its noise occasionally bothers me, I think it’s working great
and saving us money. I asked a local contractor about them, and he
told me they didn’t put out enough power to make much difference.
Do you think that’s true? — M.L., Dayton, Ohio
A| No, I don’t. From what I’ve read about research on these products and what I’ve seen in their actual use on homes, I think that
solar-powered attic ventilator fans are absolutely terrific. I’ve been recommending them for years and I cannot recall a single complaint from
anyone about them (and believe me when I tell you that I hear from
my readers when I write something they don’t think is correct!).
Many homes rely on good ventilation in the attic to keep the living space cool. Keeping heat from building up in the attic is an
important step in keeping the home’s living space more comfortable
and less expensive to cool. Therefore, soffit and ridge vents are fairly common on homes. I’m sure your attic fan has been saving you a
lot of money in cooling costs over the years and helping you to
enjoy your home in hot weather. The biggest difference between
what you have and a solar-powered fan is that solar fans use no electricity at all, while your fan does. A fan powered by the sun is at its
peak power when the sun is shining the brightest, perfectly matching the product with the job it has to do.
There are a number of proven strategies for cutting down on attic
heat build-up, including attic radiant barriers, white or other light-colored roofs, tile roofs and, of course, good attic ventilation. While most
of the strategies used are passive (colors, materials and other building strategies that have no moving parts), the cost of operating an elec-tric-powered fan can take a big chunk out of the savings that come
from the enhanced ventilation. I saw one study that noted that there
are usually energy savings from the use of a powered fan only when
the attic is poorly insulated and the potential savings from ventilation are huge. In a house that is fairly energy-efficient, the cost of powering the fan becomes more significant.
Solar-powered ventilation fans have become more affordable over
time. Their purchase price looks a lot better when you realize that
they’re easy to install (no wiring is needed) and free to operate (no