Is Your Water Heater an Energy Hog?

Reader Contribution by Sommer Poquette
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Do you love a hot shower after a long day? Most people do. However, do you have any idea how much that shower is costing you? A hot water heater, which is responsible for that relaxing shower you take after work, is typically the second largest energy expense in your home, accounting for 14 to 18 percent of your utility bills!

What Do You Know About Your Water Heater?

If you’re a hot shower addict and you’ve noticed that your utility bills are unusually high, it might be time to learn more about your water heater.

Here are five questions to ask to help determine if it’s the best fit for the needs of your household — or if it’s time to upgrade.

What’s the brand and Energy Star rating of your water heater? Start simply by looking at the brand of your current water heater and its average operating expense. Look for the sticker that says “Energy Guide,” which will tell you the average operating expense of the unit. Don’t see a sticker? Check the manufacturer’s website or calculate your costs at gov. Also look for the Energy Star rating — the higher the rating, the more money you’ll save in the long run.

How old is your water heater? Most water heaters last 10 to 15 years. If yours is older, there’s a good chance that it’s not as energy efficient as more modern models. If your water heater is more than a decade old and you’ve noticed leaking, cracking or popping sounds, it’s time to have a local plumber do an inspection — and it may be time to replace it.

Pro Tip:  As of April 2015, all new water heaters must comply with the Department of Energy’s new efficiency standards. The most common water heaters will get a modest boost in efficiency, while larger models (55 gallons and up) will shift to new technologies that allow owners to save up to 50 percent on their energy bills.

What size water heater do you have? Many people don’t realize that water heaters are not one-size-fits-all appliances. A smaller storage tank (30 to 40 gallons) is usually sufficient for two to three people. A 50-gallon tank works well for a family of four, while a larger family will require a larger tank (80-plus). If the tank is too small for your family, you’re likely to find yourself running out of hot water in the mornings, putting the system at risk for overheating when water supply is low — thus causing higher utility bills.

Pro Tip: Choose a water heater that fits your family size to save energy. Be sure to consider the growth of your family and think long-term. For an easy guide on choosing the capacity size for your family, The HomeDepot has a helpful infographic.

What type of fuel does your water heater use?  Natural gas, electric, propane or solar? If you have an electric water heater and your electric bill is high, there’s a reason: It costs three times more to run an electric water heater than a gas water heater! This alone might make you consider a new system for long-term savings.

What type of water heater is your unit? There are many different types of water heaters, including electric heat pump models, gas and electric tankless (heat on-demand) options. Figure out which type you have and learn about its pros and cons. You might not have the most appropriate unit for your home.

Is it Time to Shop for a New Water Heater?

After assessing your water heater, you may decide that it’s time for a replacement. There are just two more things to do before moving forward with your purchase:

• Consider the upfront cost of installing a water heater. The more energy-efficient your water heater, the more it will cost upfront. This is because it’s built to last longer and will offer huge cost savings in the long run. If you have different fuel types in your area, it’s a good idea to find out the cost saving value of each.
• Know the size of your water heater closet. The new, more efficient water heaters contain more insulation, which adds a few inches to the height and width. Be sure to measure the space you have in the area where you store your water heater to ensure the new one will fit.
• Check for rebates and tax credits
. For example, there’s currently a huge tax incentive for installing solar water heaters, valid through December 2016. Ask the salesman what rebates or credits are available when making your decision.

Upgrading your home’s water heater can not only reduce your family’s carbon footprint, but can save money on your bills each month. Most importantly, those hot showers will feel a lot more relaxing when you realize how much money you’re saving.

Sommer Poquette, the Green and Clean Mom, writes energy-efficiency tips for the home for The Home Depot. Sommer’s water heater advice is geared to providing homeowners with options to make informed decisions. To view water heaters available at Home Depot, you can click here. 

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