Beat Energy Costs: Hot Water

by Janean Nusz

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Hot water. It is something we all like, unless it applies to our checkbook. According to the US Department of Energy, heating water accounts for almost 13% of your energy expenses and is, in most households, the third largest energy expense in homes across America. Given these statistics, you can certainly see that heating water can be expensive, and with today's high energy costs, you'll need to find ways to cut these costs.

One way is quite simple, use less water! You can do this by repairing leaky faucets in a timely manner and installing low-flow faucets and shower heads. Have family members take showers, instead of baths, whenever possible. You may be surprised to realize that a family of four, showering just five minutes a day each day with a regular-flow shower head, uses almost 700 gallons of water in one week! That amount can be cut in half if you use a low-flow shower head. Consider that most, if not all, of that 700 gallons of water had to be heated before it was used, and you'll realize that the savings of 350 gallons will look quite good to your budget and will more than make up for the cost of the new showerhead.

To reduce water consumption further, be sure to buy cost-effective low water and energy usage dishwashers and washing machines whenever you have to replace an appliance. These will use less hot water, and save you money over time.

Other ways to cut costs is to lower your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees, insulate your water heater storage tank and provide regular maintenance for the unit at least every three months. The maintenance can be as simple as draining one quart of water to remove the sediment build up inside the tank. Removing the sediment will improve heat transfer rates and keep the efficiency of your water heater at a high level. In areas with a high-mineral content in the water supply, it may be advisable to do this at least once a month. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions before draining the heater for maintenance and insulating, as you won't want to damage the unit. Most water heaters, when maintained properly, can last 10-12 years. Remember though, when your water heater has squeezed out its last drop of hot water, and it's time to finally purchase a new one, be sure to compare the Energy Guide labels and purchase the most efficient model with best Energy-Star rating.

To save money over the long haul, consider these alternatives:

  • Research switching to a heat pump water heater. In some areas, they can be very inexpensive and effective.
  • Consider solar power water heating if you have any open south-facing, unobstructed areas close to your home. Many solar models are environmentally friendly, reducing the amount of harmful gas emissions that come from their electrically-powered competitors. In a 20-year study, a single solar water heater was shown to have produced 50 tons less of carbon dioxide emissions than a regular, electric water heater. And, solar water heaters are, of course, energy friendly, and can even be installed on your roof! An estimated 1.5 million people in the US have opted for solar power water heaters, and when surveyed, 94% said it was a good, cost-effective investment. Some states also offer a renewable energy credit or rebate on taxes for installing solar power devices. Check with your accountant to find out if your state qualifies, or look up your state on the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy website.
  • Think about installing a drain waste water heat recovery system. Studies show that these systems can result in a savings of 25-30% for water heating.

Use these tips to start beating the rising costs of energy. They'll help keep your checkbook out of hot water while keeping your family supplied with it.

Hot Water Usage Statistics for an Average Household

Washing Clothes

32 gallons


20 gallons


12 gallons

Food Preparation

5 gallons

Janean Nusz is a freelance writer and designer. Check out her website Author's Art at for more information.

Take the Next Step

  • Get to your local department store and invest in a low flow shower head.
  • Maintain your water heater. Here's a simple how to - from
  • Consider solar electricity! For more information read Mr. Solar's Intro to Solar Electricity.
  • Join those who 'live better...for less' - Subscribe to The Dollar Stretcher newsletter, a weekly look at how to stretch both your day and your dollar! Subscribers get a copy of our ebook Little Luxuries: 130 Ways to Live Better...For Less for FREE!

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