Don’t get soaked: Knowledge saves energy, money when it comes to water heaters

By: Brad D. Bates | C&G Newspapers | Published July 25, 2012

It can be hard enough to keep your cool as temperatures reach 100 degrees, but improper water-heater maintenance can cause homeowners to overheat.

Water heaters, which use the third-most energy of any appliance in the home, don’t get a break during summer months or winter, so they need as much, if not more, attention than furnaces and air-conditioning units.

“I don’t see anything seasonal in water heaters because they sit in a basement year-round and see the same conditions year-round,” said Mike Hinton of Mike’s Heating and Cooling in Shelby Township. “But when they go, they go.”

Something as simple as ensuring a heater’s thermostat is efficiently set or more advanced methods, such as insulating the heater and hot water pipes or installing an automatic timer on electronic water heaters, can ensure a heater is running properly and efficiently.

“They have programmable thermostats that lower the temperature at night while you sleep and then goes back up in the morning,” Hinton said of the Michigan-made, gas-powered Bradford White heaters his company sells that come equipped with programmable thermostats.

“It’s just like a programmable thermostat for your furnace or air conditioner because you don’t need to spend money heating that water when no one is using it.”

Routine maintenance measures, such as removing sediment that can build up by draining roughly a quart of water from the tank four times a year, can help ensure a heater’s efficiency.

Regardless of the maintenance performed, though, water heaters usually have to be replaced once every 10 years.

And Hinton said new homebuyers should expect to add the cost of a new heater to any home purchase if it’s equipped with a heater that is seven years old or more.

“If your water heater is more than five years old, you may need to replace it in the near future. If it is more than 10 years, definitely consider replacing it before it stops functioning,” Kathi Jones-Cutler of the Cutler Group Realtors said in her monthly online newsletter at www.cutlerteamsells. com.

“Water heaters are an enclosed mechanism and therefore cannot be repaired. It is always good to know which replacement model you will select if your water heater stops working.”

When in the market for a new water heater, homeowners should be mindful of the different types of heaters — four main subgroups are traditional tank-style heaters, demand heaters, heat-pump heaters and tankless heaters — and the way their features and options mesh with the home’s requirements.

“When you’re choosing what kind of heater, you need to ask yourself, ‘How many people do you have in the house’ and ‘when do they take showers,’” Hinton said, noting bigger households that see heavy water use in a set time may need heaters with a greater capacity.

When purchasing a new heater, homeowners need to familiarize themselves with the options that are available and which ones suit their home and needs.

“You can put in things like safety switches, so if there is a leak, the heater shuts off the water supply, so your basement doesn’t get flooded,” Hinton said. “There’s a lot of stuff out here now, and the money adds up. … If you spend a few extra dollars, though, it can really be worth it. The ones that are little more expensive are usually made in the U.S., and they last longer than the ones made elsewhere.”

Buyers should also familiarize themselves with energy ratings to better understand the efficiency and true value of the heater pre-purchase.

“Pay attention to the yellow energy-guide sticker,” Jones-Cutler said. “Consumers often merely glance at the statistics and underestimate the power of the information.

“The (first hour) rating will tell you approximately how much hot water the heater can provide during a busy hour in your home,” Jones-Cutler added.

“The (energy factor) rating on the energy-guide label tells you how efficiently the water heater operates and explains how much energy is wasted during the heating process. Look for water heaters with the highest EF for the type that you are purchasing.”

There are also steps homeowners can take to ensure the efficiency of heaters new and old, such as monitoring hot water use and reducing time spent in the shower, which can help ease the burden on their heater and wallet.

“If you set your water heater at 118 degrees, it will save on energy, and that will save you money,” Hinton said, noting that has more tips on saving energy and money.