There are many ways to reduce your water heating bill. Just evaluate the heating system you have in place now. Traditional storage water heaters are the least efficient type of system, and offer the best opportunity for improvement. Tank type water heaters typically only last about 7-10 years. When yours is ready to replace, consider replacing it with a tank less, on-demand water heater, if you are on a tight budget. If your water heater is electric, you can make big reductions in utility costs by switching to gas. However, if your electricity is coming from a renewable source, such as solar panels, this would obviously be a better alternative than gas. Other ways to save are by turning the water heater thermostat down and insulating the hot water line from the heater to the points of use. You may also consider installing a hot water recirculating pump. Although solar water heaters are more expensive, there are many incentives and rebates available to reduce the initial investment. The biggest advantage of a solar water heater is that, once the savings in utilities have paid for the system, hot water is free from that point on.
WAter heating systems can conserve energy in three ways: demand, standby, and distribution. Each one has its own methods.
The vast majority of North American homes have storage water heaters that include an insulated tank and a gas burner or electric element. When comparing tank water heaters to the alternatives, one might ask "why would anyone want to use these inefficient devices?" You have to remember that they were developed when energy was really cheap. Recent improvements in storage water heaters include better tank insulation and improved combustion systems.
Tank-less or on-demand systems include a large gas burner or electric element but no tank. These heat water only as you use it. They are more expensive to purchase than storage water, but they use less energy since they don't incur the standby losses of storage systems.
Water can also be heated by the sun, thus using no fuel or electricity for heating. They may use electricity for pumping water and control electronics. These are the most expensive systems, but costs can be re-couped over time with reductions in carbon production. Solar water heaters typically come with a storage tank to keep the water hot at night. Just like an off-grid photovoltaic system needs batteries to store electricity for night lighting. The solar hot water storage tank should be well insulated if you are in a cold and/or mostly overcast climate.
You also have hybrid water heaters that combine two of the above technologies to make water heating even more efficient.
Water heaters have a limited life that is dependent on type and quality, pH of the local water, and the average temperature settings. When it's time to replace your storage tank water heater, you'll have the opportunity to install a more efficient system.
Most of us replace our water heaters when when the current one is broken. Because we want reduced downtime, we replace it very quickly with comparable equipment. If your water heater is more than 10 years old and still functioning, consider shopping for a replacement now. There are also many government incentives to help defray the costs. Here are some alternatives.
Tankless water heaters perform their task on demand rather than ahead of time. When you turn on your hot water spigot, the tankless heater detects the flow of water and kicks into action. After a number of quick calculations to determine how hot to make the water, the heating element switches on and heats the water as it passes through the device. When you turn off the faucet, the heater goes into shut down mode. The main advantage of a tankless heater is that it saves source energy by not being on continuously, only when needed. The other main advantage is that they never run out of hot water. There is no cold water shock if you are the third or fourth person in line to take a shower.
There are several types of tankless water heaters. The source energy could be natural gas, electricity, or propane. Some are designed to heat water for every sink and shower in the home. Others are mounted locally near the single faucet or shower head.
Cost-wise, tankless water heaters are more than storage tank water heaters and less than solar water heaters. It's a good compromise if you are on a budget and want to save the environment.
Solar water heaters come in many sizes, shapes, and functions. Some heat water directly. Others heat another liquid with a lower boiling point, then exchange the heat indirectly with water. Solar water heaters typically use black boxes or black tubes to adsorb maximum sunlight to the liquid. An insulated case is usually topped with clear glass, called glazing. The black color and clear glass provide a one-way path for sunlight to be converted to heat and then retained within the insulated box. Cold water or other liquid is pumped into the box at one end, is heated, and then comes out the other end as hot water or liquid. Find out more about solar water heaters.
Creating a do it yourself (DIY) solar water heater is relatively simple. You just need to make sure the box is sealed and well insulated. There many individuals who have posted their diy solar water heating projects on the Internet. If you are a good hands on person, this may be a tempting project to pursue.
Electric water heaters are normally used where no other source is available or the electricity is being provided by a renewable source. You'll typically pay about double for electric hot water than for gas heated. However, they are available in storage water heater, tankless water heater, and hybrid water heater formats.
Geothermal water heaters, also called ground water heating, typically come as a package deal with your domestic geothermal cooling and heating. Domestic geothermal heating and cooling take advantage of the fact that a meter or two beneath your property, the earth's temperature remain constant year around. By running tubes into the earth, and circulating fluids through, warm temperatures can be brought into the home during the winter and cool temperatures can be brought in during the summer. For geothermal water heating, a fluid with a low boiling point is pumped into the ground, then heat exchanged with water to make it hot. For more on geo-thermal home systems take a look at our geothermal heating and cooling primer.
Hybrid water heaters combine the best of both the storage water heater and tankless water heater. It keeps a small amount of water warm to reduce the lag created by tankless water heaters when water has not been used for a while. Then it behaves like a tankless water heater, turning on when demanded, when in frequent use. It is more efficient than both storage water heaters and tankless water heaters, but more expensive.
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