Note from The Thrifty Couple: We hope that this article is helpful to you as you strive to save money on heating your water and keeping your water heater in good working condition for as long as possible! They are very simple steps to take that can save you loads in the long run!
Is your Water Heater Ready for Winter?
How many of us have ever considered where our hot water comes from?
Sure, it comes from the city or town’s water lines into our home’s individual water heater and then into our sinks and bathtubs when we turn on the faucet.
But a deeper understanding of how our water heaters work is helpful in understanding why it’s important to maintain them and realizing just how much we have to gain or lose by monitoring them on a regular basis.
Even if you’ve never taken a tally of your tank water heater before, with colder weather rolling in, there’s no time like the present. Here’s some more information on how your water heater works and some of the steps you can do now to ensure it’s working at optimum levels and as energy-efficiently as possible.
(Storage Tank) Water Heaters 101
Storage tank water heaters maintain a ready reservoir of hot water in amounts ranging from 2 to-80 gallons, with most homes using 40 or 50-gallon tanks. Then water is stored in the tank, it is constantly using energy to maintain the consistent temperature for which you have set it. Then, when you turn on the hot water tap, hot water draws from the top of the tank and your pipes replace the water at the bottom of the tank so that you are always working with a full tank of water. This is also why you can run out of hot water: If you use the hot water more quickly than the tank heats up the incoming cold water, you only have as much hot water as the storage tank held originally. In other words, if you have a 50-gallon tank, there are 50 gallons (at most) of hot water available before you must wait for the tank to reheat.
If you have a tankless water heater, you don’t have this constant temperature maintenance because there is no storage tank! Instead, water travels through the pipes and heats as it goes, presenting hot water ‘on demand’ on an as needed basis, in an unlimited supply. Of course this means tankless water heaters are more energy efficient than storage tanks. But even if you are not in the market for a tankless heater just yet, there are ways to maximize the storage system you have and it starts with insulation.
Insulate to Stifle Standby Heat Loss
One of the ways in which your storage water heater wastes energy is through standby heat loss. Since water is constantly heated, energy can be wasted even when you are not running the hot water tap. To avoid this (and other types of energy loss), apply insulation to your water heater through a storage tank blanket and insulating wraps for your pipes.
If your water heater lives inside your home, like in a utility closet or in the laundry room, you may decide to wait until the weather starts to heat up outside because you can actually benefit from the standby heat in the winter.
Basically, the heat that is lost from the tank serves to warm up the air around it and this can help keep your home’s internal temperature closer to the thermostat setting without making your HVAC unit work so hard to get there.
Those are the same reasons that will make it important to address your tank’s insulation in the late spring: You want to avoid making your HVAC work so hard to keep the air cool when the air conditioner is running! However, you’ll want to address these insulating issues now if your water heater resides in your garage like this one:
If you have not already wrapped your exposed pipes out in the garage (or even in a cold basement), make that priority number one. Simply put, when cold air surrounds those pipes, it brings the temperature down and the unit works even harder to warm it back up again.
One inexpensive DIY insulation installation involves polyethylene foam pipe insulation that is available in six foot increments for just over $1.
To find the right size, make sure that the inside diameter of the foam will fit snugly over the outside of your pipes. Simply cut lengths of the foam to cover the areas of exposed pipe, wrap the foam around the pipes and secure them with electrical tape at 6″ intervals.
You can significantly extend the life and efficiency of your storage water heater by performing the proper maintenance checks. Although your unit’s individual needs may vary, typical procedures include:
- Every 6 months: Perform a sediment flush of the tank. Sedimentary mineral deposits can build up over time and hinder the quality of water and functioning of your unit, so it is recommended that you completely flush out your tank periodically. Systems with soft water conditioners or naturally soft water need this done less often. Well water sources left untreated are usually mineral rich and tank flushing is a priority for long lasting water heaters.
- Every 6-12 months: Check the temperature and pressure safety valve.
- Every 3-4 years: Inspect the anode rod and replace it as needed.
What are some of the other ‘winter prep’ steps you’ve performed around the house recently?