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When you open
any valve, open
it all the way then
turn it back the
slightly. This will
help prevent it
from sticking in
the open position.
Finally, apply a tag
“Hot Water” and
“Cold Water” to
the control valves.
How do I locate
and test valves?
You are ready for any water emergency when you
know where the valves are located for all of your
faucets and appliances. Plan a family house tour with
husband, wife and older children. All should know what
to do if water emergencies arise when they are alone
in the house.
Start with the main water line valve, which totally
controls the flow of water in your home. Find the valve,
be sure it operates freely, and apply the tag to the
main water line. If it is especially hard to find, place a
second tag in a more visible spot. Continue the same
procedure with the kitchen. Find the valves below the
sink and test to see if they open and close easily. It
is especially important to make this check because
over a period of time a valve can become “frozen” if
not used for years. Usually a wrench applied to the
control wheel will free up the valve. Do this carefully
to avoid breaking the control head. If the control head
wheel just can’t be moved, it is usually best to have
it serviced by your plumber. Until this is done, make
a mental note to shut off the main water line valve if
this section of your plumbing gives you trouble. After
moving and freeing the valve, check for possible leaks
around the stem. Applying a wrench to the cap or
packing nut can stop minor leakage.
Continue the water tour -- the bathroom or bathrooms,
water heater, water softener -- every place in the home
where water is used. Label all valves with the proper
To repeat, locating the main shutoff valve is especially
important because when closed, it stops all water
throughout the house in seconds. Be sure that
everyone, including the children, knows where this
vital control is located.
Where are my kitchen
Below your kitchen sink you will probably
find shutoff valves for both the hot and cold water. In
most cases, the valves will be below the kitchen sink.
Where are my
Valves are provided for the lavatory, toilet, and bathtub.
The lavatory valves usually are below the fixture for
easy access. Most tub valves do not have shutoff
valves, but some can be behind an access plate in
the back of the faucet controls behind the decorative
cover. The toilet has a single cold-water valve normally
installed below the water tank.
Where are my washing
machine, dishwasher and
water heater valves?
Just about all that’s left, serviced by water, are the
washing machine, the dishwasher, and the water
heater. These, you will find, have shutoff valves
conveniently located on or near the appliance.
Where are my main
The water line coming in from the street is often
connected to the water meter followed by a master
shutoff valve for the entire home. Close this one valve
and you have shut off water throughout the house -- it’s
instant action for serious emergencies. If you need to
shut off the water at the main make sure the hot water
tank is turned down to pilot. Electric water heater tanks
require special attention, and it is best to enlist the aid
of a plumbing and heating professional. However, if the
emergency calls for the main water system to be shut
off, the electric water system must also be shut off. The
electric can be shut off at the main electrical fuse box
by either removing the fuse from the box or switching
the breaker to an “off” position. (Check and see if your
breakers are labeled.) The electricity to the hot water
tank should not be turned on until the water tank has
been refilled with water -- see the owner’s manual that
comes with the electric water heater.
What tools do I need for basic
Here’s all that is needed to make
simple plumbing repairs:
• Wrenches: medium pipe wrench and an adjustable
• Screwdrivers: in a range of sizes to fit faucets, valves
and other parts of the system.
• Stem screws for faucet handles usually call for
screwdrivers suitable for Phillips-type screws.
• Adjustable pliers.
• Rubber force cup or plunger (for drain and toilet
• Pipe joint compound: used when connecting
• Plumbers’ putty: used for reseating the drain on sinks
when leaks develop or when a new drain is installed.
What should I do to
safeguard my home when
I’m away on vacation?
Closing the main water shutoff valve before leaving
for a vacation is recommended. Emergencies do
arise when the house is unattended, and a periodic
visit by a neighbor is of value. In winter months,
a daily visit by a neighbor while you are gone is
suggested. If the home is vacated for an extended
period or a neighbor is not available, you can have
your water system drained to prevent freezing. This
should be done professionally by a qualified plumbing
and heating expert. If the main water supply is turned
off, the hot water tank and the furnace should be
turned down. Both appliances are equipped with pilot
When should I
service vs. replace
my water heater?
Industry statistics show that the average water heater
lasts 12 years. With regular maintenance and routine
repairs, some keep operating two or three times
as long. As with HVAC systems, however, it is not
always to your advantage to hang on to older units.
Modern high-efficiency water heaters often pay for
themselves in energy savings within 3 - 5 years.
Almost all components on a water heater can be
fixed or replaced except for the tank. Once the tank
rusts through, there is no way to rescue the water
heater. Replacement is the only solution. Water
heaters come with internal sacrificial anode rods to
protect against rusting. An anode’s sole purpose is to
corrode away so the steel of the tank can’t. Replacing
the anodes every 3 - 4 years (more frequently if
water is softened) will add considerably to the life
of the water heater. Another main cause of failure is
overheating from sediment build-up inside the tank.
Ask your plumber to inspect the anodes and sediment
periodically. Sometimes this can be done as part of
an annual service agreement.
When should I
service vs. replace
Automatic dishwashers are another appliance that
should last a decade or more - though here, too, you
often can save money by buying a newer energyefficient
unit. Brand new units can be bought for $400
- $600, while repairs of various mechanisms typically
run $150 and up. If your dishwasher is getting near
the 10 - year mark, a major repair may be a signal
that other components are also on their last legs. It
won’t take many service calls to pay for a brand new
When should I
service vs. replace
Stoppages and minor malfunctions are worth
repairing. But if the motor goes our, or the blades
break, you are better off replacing the entire unit.
Especially if you deal with a plumbing company that
warrants the product for 5 - 10 years or even longer.
When should I
service vs. replace
Unless you crack the porcelain, a toilet can easily
last a lifetime. What will wear out are the flushing
mechanisms comprised of moving parts. Leakage
may occur from the wax ring seal by the floor, but
that can be fixed short of replacement.
Toilets commonly replaced for reasons other
Water conservation is one. Modern toilets operate
with 1.6 gallons per flush or less, compared to 3.5
gallons for older standard models. (A few 5-gal. and
7.5-gal. flush versions from many decades ago also
are still in operation here and there.) Depending on
the water rates, sometimes you can save money by
replacing a toilet.
Styling and quieter flushing are two other reasons to
replace. This is a matter of homeowner choice than
When should I service vs.
replace my faucets?
Replacing a cartridge, washer or other internal
component can repair leaky faucets. Tarnishes
and nicks are harder to fix. Good faucets will give
at least 5 or often 10 or more years of trouble-free
operation. Plumbers can keep them operating almost
indefinitely, but here too most people would rather
pay a few more bucks for a replacement that offers
styling and convenience. Decades ago plumbers
repaired more faucets than they replaced. For most
companies the opposite now holds true today.
How can I prevent
Basement flooding due to sewer backup is an all
too frequent occurrence in certain areas during
heavy rainstorms. Many people are not aware
that they can modify the plumbing in their houses
to positively prevent sewage from entering their
Three different approaches are common and the
one you choose depends on the piping layout of
your house. Determine what plumbing arrangement
your home has: In the most basic type of basement
plumbing, the basement drains are joined directly
to the sewer pipe before it leaves the house.
This plumbing is found in many older homes with
basements and no sump pumps. Both sewage and
footing drain water enter the sanitary sewer.
Excessive footing drain flow from a residence may
or may not cause flooding in that particular home.
The footing drain flow contributes to any sewer or
basement flooding that may occur.
Your home may also have one of the following
basement plumbing enhancements. Whatever
your current plumbing arrangement, there usually
are further steps that can be taken to prevent
Upgrade #1: Add a Sump PumpA sump pump is needed as part of any corrective
measure. The sump pump removes the footing drain
water from around the basement wall and discharges it
to the surface of the ground, a ditch, or a storm sewer,
depending on the surface grading around the house.
Many communities require that new homes include
sump pumps. Sump pumps in new homes usually
discharge to the storm sewer system. To protect a
basement from flooding due to sewer backup, the
plumbing fixtures and floor drain in the basement
also need to be disconnected from the municipal
sewer. A sump pump, including the basement fixture
disconnection, can be installed in existing homes for
about $1600 or more. Each home is different.
Upgrade #2: Add a Sump Pump and ValvesIf a sump pump is not sufficient, a check valve and
a shut-off valve can be installed to provide a good
measure of protection from basement flooding. These
valves can isolate the house plumbing from the public
sewer in the street. The check valve includes a flapper
that shuts when water level in the public sewer is
high enough to flow back into the house. The shut-off
valve can be manually closed as an added measure of
protection. The shut-off valve will also need to be closed
if debris becomes lodged in the check valve preventing
its full closure. The homeowner will need to discontinue
or, at least, sharply curtail the use of the sanitary
facilities while the potential for flooding exists. During
this time, showers, the clothes washer, and dishwasher
cannot be used. Both the sump pump and the valves
can be installed for a total cost of about $2800 or more.
Each home is different.
Upgrade #3: Add a Sump Pump and an
Ejector PumpAn ejector pump can provide still further protection. An
ejector pump can be installed to pump the sewage into
the public sewer whether it is flooded or not. If there is
a power failure, the homeowner will need to discontinue
use of the sanitary facilities. Both the sump pump and
the ejector pump can be installed for a total cost of about
$4400 or more.
How do I reduce my home’s
water heating costs with
Energy-Efficient Water Heating?
The next time you pay your utility bill, try one simple
calculation. Divide the total amount by seven. The result
is the amount you spend to heat your water. (If you
receive separate utility bills for gas and electricity, use the
gas bill for this calculation if you have a gas water heater;
use the electric bill if you have an electric water heater.)
Of course, you may think this cost is a small price to
pay for the convenience of a hot shower. But during
the course of a year, this cost adds up. And when you
consider that 95 million households in this country pay the
same percentage, it is easy to see how much money—
and energy—is used to heat water.
Several measures can help you decrease water-heating
costs in your home. Some specific actions include
reducing the amount of hot water used, making your
water-heating system more energy efficient, and using
off-peak power to heat water.
How do I reduce the
amount of hot water used?
Generally, four destination points in the home are
recognized as end uses for hot water: faucets,
showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. Now,
you do not have to take cold showers, dine on dirty
dishes, or wear dirty clothes to reduce your hot-water
consumption. Less radical measures are available that
will be virtually unnoticeable once you apply them.
Simply repairing leaks in faucets and showers can save hot
water. A leak of one drip per second can cost $1 per month,
yet could be repaired in a few minutes for less than that.
And some apparently insignificant steps, when practiced
routinely at your household, could have significant results.
For example, turning the hot-water faucet off while shaving
or brushing your teeth, as opposed to letting the water run,
can also reduce water-heating costs.
Another option is limiting the amount of time you spend in
Other actions may require a small investment of time
Installing low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators
can save significant amounts of hot water. Low-flow
showerheads can reduce hot-water consumption for bathing
by 30%; yet still provide a strong, invigorating spray.
Faucet aerators, when applied in commercial and
multifamily buildings where water is constantly circulated,
can also reduce water-heating energy consumption.
Older showerheads deliver 4 to 5 gallons (15.1 to 18.9 liters)
of water per minute. However, the Energy Policy Act of 1992
sets maximum water flow rates at 2.5 gallons (9.5 liters)
per minute at a standard residential water pressure of 80
pounds per square inch (552 kilopascals).
A quick test can help you determine if your shower is a
good candidate for a showerhead replacement. Turn on
the shower to the normal pressure you use, hold a bucket
that has been marked in gallon increments under the spray,
and time how many seconds it takes to fill the bucket to the
1-gallon (3.8-liter) mark. If it takes less than 20 seconds,
you could benefit from a low-flow showerhead. A top-quality,
low-flow showerhead will cost $10 to $20 and pay for itself
in energy saved within 4 months.
Lower quality showerheads may simply restrict water flow,
which often results in poor performance. Because of the
different Uses of bathroom and kitchen faucets, you may
need to have different water flow rates in each location.
For bathroom faucets, aerators that deliver 0.5 to 1 gallon
(1.9 to 3.8 liters) of water per minute may be sufficient.
Kitchen faucets may require a higher flow rate of 2 to 4
gallons (7.6 to 15.1 liters) per minute if you regularly fill the
sink for washing dishes. On the other hand, if you tend to let
the water run when washing dishes, the lower flow rate of
0.5 to 1 gallon per minute may be more appropriate.
Some aerators come with shut-off valves that allow you to
stop the flow of water without affecting the temperature.
The next time you pay your utility bill, try one A relatively
common assumption is that washing dishes by hand saves
hot water. However, washing dishes by hand several
times a day could be more expensive than operating
some automatic dishwashers. If properly used, an efficient
dishwasher can consume less energy than washing dishes
by hand, particularly when you only operate the dishwasher
with full loads.
The biggest cost of operating a dishwasher comes from the
energy required to heat the water before it ever makes it to
the machine. Heating water for an automatic dishwasher
can represent about 80% of the energy required to run this
appliance. Average dishwashers use 8 to 14 gallons (30.3
to 53 liters) of water for a complete wash cycle and require
a water temperature of 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for
optimum cleaning. But setting your water heater so high
could result in excessive standby heat loss. This type of
heat loss occurs because water is constantly heated in the
storage tank, even when no hot water is used.
Furthermore, a water heater temperature of 120 degrees F
(48.9 degrees C) is sufficient for other uses of hot water in
the home. The question, then, is must you give up effective
cleaning for hot-water energy savings? The answer is
no. A “booster” heater can increase the temperature of
the water entering the dishwasher to the 140 degrees F
recommended for cleaning. Some dishwashers have built-in
boosters that will automatically raise the water temperature,
while others require manual selection before the wash cycle
begins. A booster heater can add about $30 to the cost of
a new dishwasher but should pay for itself in water-heating
energy savings in about 1 year if you also lower your water
Reducing the water heater temperature is not advisable,
however, if your dishwasher does not have a booster heater.
Another feature that reduces hot-water use in dishwashers
is the availability of cycle selections. Shorter cycles require
less water, thereby reducing the energy cost. The most
efficient dishwasher currently on the market can cost half
as much to operate as the most inefficient model. If you
are planning to purchase a new dishwasher, check the
EnergyGuide labels and compare the approximate yearly
energy costs among brands. Dishwashers fall into one of
two categories: compact capacity or standard capacity.
Although compact-capacity dishwashers may appear to be
more energy efficient, they hold fewer dishes and may force
you to use the appliance more frequently than you would
use a standard-capacity model. In this case, your energy
costs could be higher than with the standard-capacity
Like dishwashers, much of the cost—up to 90%—of
operating washing machines is associated with the energy
needed to heat the water. Unlike dishwashers, washing
machines do not require a minimum temperature for
optimum cleaning. Either cold or warm water can be used for
washing most laundry loads; cold water is always sufficient
Make sure you follow the cold-water washing instructions
for your particular laundry detergent. Washing only full
loads is another good rule of thumb for reducing hotwater
consumption in clothes washers. As you would
for dishwashers, consult the EnergyGuide labels when
shopping for a new washing machine. Inefficient washing
machines can cost three times as much to operate as
efficient machines. Select a machine that allows you to
adjust the water temperature and water levels for the size of
the load. Also, front-loading machines use less water and,
consequently, less energy than top loaders.
However, in this country, front loaders are not as widely
available as top loaders. Keep in mind that the capacity of
front loaders may be smaller than that of most top-loading
machines. Smaller capacity washing machines often have
better EnergyGuide ratings. However, a reduced capacity
might cause you to increase the number of loads you wash
and possibly increase your energy costs.
Faucets, showerheads, dishwashers, and washing machines
are only destination points for hot water in your home. The
journey of your hot water before it reaches these outlets can
be fraught with opportunities for energy losses. Fortunately,
you can reduce the incidence of water heat loss from the
point of departure to the point of arrival by applying a few
Reducing hot-water usage is primarily a matter of common
sense and exerting a little extra effort to not be wasteful.
Once you have applied a few simple, low-cost measures for
reducing hot-water consumption, you may want to consider
water-heating system improvements if you wish to further
reduce your energy bill.
Lower Your Water
One simple step for reducing water-heating energy costs
is lowering the thermostat setting on your water heater.
Although some manufacturers set water heaters at 140
degrees F (60 degrees C), 120 degrees F (48.9 degrees
C) is satisfactory for most household needs. Furthermore,
when heated to 140 degrees F, water can pose a safety
hazard (i.e., scalding). For each 10 degrees F (5.6 degrees
C) reduction in water temperature, water-heating energy
consumption can be reduced 3% to 5%.
If your dishwasher does not have a booster heater, lowering
the water-heating temperature is not recommended.
Also, many dishwasher detergents are formulated to
clean effectively at 140 degrees F and may not perform
adequately at lower temperatures. (See previous discussion
on Automatic Dishwashers.) On gas water heaters,
thermostats are usually visible. Electric water heaters, on
the other hand, may have thermostats positioned behind
screw-on plates. As a safety precaution, shut off electric
current to the water heater before removing the plates.
Keep in mind that electric water heaters may have two
thermostats to adjust—one each for the upper and lower
heating elements—and adjusting these is tricky.
Talk to your local water-heating professional for help with
this. When you plan to be away from home for an extended
period of time (at least 3 days), turning the water heater
thermostat down to the lowest setting, or even turning
the heater off completely, can help you achieve additional
savings. Be sure you know how to relight the pilot light on
your gas heater, though, before you turn it off.
Install a Timer and Heat Traps
Another possibility for electric water heaters is installing a
timer that can automatically turn the heater off at night and
on in the morning. At a $30 selling price and a do-it-yourself
installation, a simple timer may pay for itself in energy saved
in about 1 year. More expensive, multisetting timers are also
available. Timers for gas water heaters are not as useful or
cost effective as those designed for electric water heaters.
This is because the pilot light supplies some heat during the
night, offsetting some of the energy savings achieved by
using the timer. If heat traps were not initially installed with
your water heater, adding them is another way of reducing
water-heating energy loss.
Heat traps, or one-way valves, allow water to flow into the
tank and prevent unwanted hot-water flow out of the tank.
Heat traps cost about $30, but they may require professional
installation, which could be expensive. However, if installed
at the same time as a new water heater, heat traps are much
more cost effective. Most new water heater models have
factory-installed traps, saving you the time and expense of
installing one yourself.
Insulate Hot-Water Pipes
and the Storage Tank
When you turn on a hot-water faucet during cold weather,
it may take several seconds for the water to become hot.
This happens because the water travels through pipes
from the water heater to the faucet, and some of the pipes
may pass through unheated sections of the house, such
as the basement. As a result, the hot water loses some of
its heat to the surrounding space.
Insulating hot water pipes wherever they are
accessible—especially in unheated areas, can reduce
this heat loss. Use quality pipe insulation wrap, or
neatly tape strips of fiberglass insulation around the
pipes. Eventually the water will cool, but it will remain
warmer much longer inside insulated pipes. Insulating
your water-heater storage tank is a fairly simple and
inexpensive improvement that can help maintain the
water temperature at the thermostat setting. Some newer
models of water heaters are well insulated and do not
need an added layer, but a heater that is warm to the
touch needs additional insulation.
Easy-to-install, pre-cut blankets (or jackets) for electric
water heaters are widely available and range in cost from
$10 to $20. Your local utility company may offer them at a
lower price, give you a rebate, or even install them at no
cost. When properly installed, a water heater blanket on
an electric water heater will pay for itself in energy saved
within 1 year. Installation is more difficult on gas- and oilfired
Ask your local furnace installer for instructions. If your
water heater is at least 7 years old, you should carefully
evaluate your water-heating needs and investigate the
types of heaters that could replace your current one.
Although most water heaters last 10 to 15 years, early
investigation and timely replacement can ensure a wiser
Power to Heat Water
Most consumers use more hot water in the evenings and
mornings than at other times of the day. For those who
have an electric water heater, this usage contributes to
the electric utility company’s “peak load,” or the largest
amount of power demand that they have to meet on
a daily basis. Some utilities are required to offer their
customers “time of use” rates that vary according to the
demand on their system.
Lower rates may be charged at “off-peak” times and
higher rates at “on-peak” times. You may be able to lower
your electric bills if you can take advantage of these rate
schedules. Check with your local electric utility to find out
if it offers time-of-use rates for residential customers, and
if so, what the rate schedules are. Some utilities even
offer incentives for customers who allow their utility to
install control devices that shut off electric water heaters
during peak demand periods.
Simple Actions, Big Results
Some ways to save on water-heating bills require greater
financial investments than others. You may wish to consider
the no- or low-cost options before making large purchases.
Also allow for circumstances that may be unique to your
household when deciding on the appropriate options (e.g.,
a small-capacity washing machine could meet the needs of
a one-person household efficiently).
Although it is not feasible to eliminate water heating in your
home, it is possible to substantially reduce water-heating
costs without sacrificing comfort and convenience.
How do I install an
insulation blanket on an
electric water heater?
Note: Installation is more difficult on
gas- and oil-fired heaters. Ask your local
furnace installer for instructions.
Cut the tank top insulation to fit around the piping in the
top of the tank. Tape the cut section closed after the top
has been installed.
Fold the corners of the tank top insulation down and tape
to the sides of the tank.
Position the insulating blanket around the circumference
of the tank. For ease of installation, position the blanket
so that the ends do not come together over the access
panels in the side of the tank. Some tanks have only one
Secure the blanket in place with the belts provided.
Position the belts so they do not go over the access
panels. Belts should fit snugly over the blanket but not
compress it more than 15% to 20% of its thickness. The
installation is easier with two people. If working alone,
use tape to hold the blanket to the top until you get the
belts into position.
If your water heater has the temperature/pressure relief
valve and the overflow pipe on the side of the tank
instead of on the top, install the blanket so these items
are outside of the blanket. Depending on the piping
arrangement and location, you may need to compress, or
even cut, the blanket.
Locate the four corners of the access panel(s). Make
an x-shaped cut in the insulating blanket from corner to
corner of each access panel.
Fold the triangular flaps produced by the cuts underneath
the insulating blanket. Repeat steps 6 and 7 for the
The blanket must not be installed on a leaking tank.
How do I repair a leaky faucet?
Leaky faucets can be both annoying and a preventable
waste of money. Most leaks occur commonly in faucets,
pipe joints and the toilet. Anyone can follow a few simple
plumbing steps to solve this common household problem.
Look closely at where the leak is centralized. Is the drip
in the faucet or could it be that the water is leaking in the
handle? Always start any plumbing repairs by turning off
water shut off valve to your home so you can work on the
pipes without water flowing through them.
Bathroom and kitchen faucets will often leak due to the
washer or O-ring wearing out. Washer are made of rubber
and sometimes metal. The washers are discs that seal
and restrict the flow of water when the handle is turned.
This type of faucet is known as a compression faucet. To
replace a washer, remove the decorative cap by screwing
it off or pulling it depending on its design. Next, unscrew
the packing nut that holds the valve in place by turning it
counterclockwise. Value washers come in many various
sizes and shaped. I would suggest that you take the valve
stem with you to the hardware store to add in matching
the exact size needed to the old washer. After replacing
the washer if your faucet still leaks, the seat may have
FIXING A DAMAGED
If the washer has become to worn prior to replacement,
the metal will grind against metal and damage the valve
seat. Water particles and mineral deposits can become
trapped between the seat and the washer so that closing
and opening the faucet handle grinds the particles
inside and damages the seal beyond simple washer
replacement. Hardware stores have a seat-grinding tool
that is commercially available for do-it-yourself home
repair. The tool comes with easy steps on hoe to reshape
the damaged seat to accept the new washer properly.
Leaks along a pipe joint are the easiest to locate and
generally the fastest to fix. Pipe clamps are an effective
way to temporarily fix a leaking pipe and come available
in a repair kit. They consist of a neoprene sleeve and
screw hinge. You insert the rubber gasket the kit between
the pipe and the clamp and slowly tighten the screws
until the leak stops. Manufacturers suggest this method
of repair will last 5-10 years. Another way to patch a leak
on a pipe joint is to apply plumbers’ two-part epoxy putty
around the leaky joint. This method is not as effective as
a line-clamp repair made on a straight section of pipe and
will not make a proper bond if your pipe is rusty.
If your pipe is leaking more than an occasional drip the
problem is more serious and you may need to call a
professional plumber. Do not assume that the leak will fix
itself or diminish over time. Leaks generally lead to bigger
problems and could result in an expensive repair bill if not
taken care right away.
How do I select a
new water heater?
Many homeowners wait until their water heater fails before
shopping for a replacement. Because they are in a hurry to
regain their hot water supply, they are often unable to take
the time to shop for the most energy-efficient unit for their
specific needs. This is unfortunate because the cost of
purchasing and operating a water heater can vary greatly,
depending on the type, brand, and model selected and on
the quality of the installation. To avoid this scenario, you
might want to do some research now before you are faced
with an emergency purchase. Familiarize yourself today
with the options that will allow you to make an informed
decision when the need to buy a new water heater arises.
Types of Water
Within the last few years, a variety of water heaters have
become available to consumers. The following types of
water heaters are now on the market: conventional storage,
demand, heat pump, tankless coil, indirect, and solar. It
is also possible to purchase water heaters that can be
connected to your home’s space-heating system.
A variety of fuel options are available for conventional
storage water heaters electricity, natural gas, oil, and
propane. Ranging in size from 20 to 80 gallons (75.7
to 302.8 liters), storage water heaters remain the most
popular type for residential heating needs in the United
States. A storage heater operates by releasing hot water
from the top of the tank when the hot water tap is turned
on. To replace that hot water, cold water enters the bottom
of the tank, ensuring that the tank is always full. Because
the water is constantly heated in the tank, energy can be
wasted even when no faucet is on. This is called standby
heat loss. Newer, more energy-efficient storage models
can significantly reduce the amount of standby heat loss,
making them much less expensive to operate. To determine
the most energy-efficient model, consult the EnergyGuide
label required on storage water heaters. EnergyGuide labels
indicate either the annual estimated cost of operating the
system or energy efficiency ratings.
It is possible to completely eliminate standby heat losses
from the tank and reduce energy consumption 20% to 30%
with demand (or instantaneous) water heaters, which do
not have storage tanks. Cold water travels through a pipe
into the unit, and either a gas burner or an electric element
heats the water only when needed. With these systems,
you never run out of hot water. But there is one potential
drawback with demand water heaters -- limited flow rate.
Typically, demand heaters provide hot water at a rate of 2 to
4 gallons (7.6 to 15.2 liters) per minute. This flow rate might
suffice if your household does not use hot water at more
than one location at the same time (e.g., showering and
doing laundry simultaneously). To meet hot water demand
when multiple faucets are being used, demand heaters
can be installed in parallel sequence. Although gas-fired
demand heaters tend to have higher flow rates than electric
ones, they can waste energy even when no water is being
heated if their pilot lights stay on. However, the amount of
energy consumed by a pilot light is quite small.
Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from
one place to another instead of generating heat directly.
To heat water for homes, heat pump water heaters work
like refrigerators in reverse. Heat pump water heaters can
be purchased as integral units with built-in water storage
tanks or as add-ons that can be retrofitted to an existing
water heater tank. These systems have a high initial cost.
They also require installation in locations that remain in the
40-degree to 90 degree F (4.4 degrees to 32.2 degrees
C) range year-round and contain at least 1000 cubic feet
(28.3 cubic meters) of air space around the water heaters.
To operate most efficiently, they should be placed in areas
having excess heat, such as furnace rooms. They will not
work well in a cold space.
Tankless Coil and
Indirect Water Heaters
A home’s space-heating system can also be used to heat
water. Two types of water heaters that use this system
are tankless coil and indirect. No separate storage tank is
needed in the tankless coil water heater because water
is heated directly inside the boiler in a hydronic (i.e., hot
water) heating system. The water flows through a heat
exchanger in the boiler whenever a hot water faucet
is turned on. During colder months, the tankless coil
works well because the heating system is used regularly.
However, the system is less efficient during warmer
months and in warmer climates when the boiler is used
less frequently. A separate storage tank is required with
an indirect water heater. Like the tankless coil, the indirect
water heater circulates water through a heat exchanger in
the boiler. But this heated water then flows to an insulated
storage tank. Because the boiler does not need to operate
frequently, this system is more efficient than the tankless
coil. In fact, when an indirect water heater is used with a
highly efficient boiler, the combination may provide one of
the least expensive methods of water heating.
Through specially designed systems, energy from the sun
can be used to heat water for your home. Depending on
climate and water use, a properly designed, installed, and
maintained solar water heater can meet from half to nearly
all of a home’s hot water demand. Two features, a collector
and a storage tank, characterize most solar water heaters.
Beyond these common features, solar water-heating
systems can vary significantly in design. The various
system designs can be classified as passive or active and
as direct (also called open loop) or indirect (also called
closed loop). Passive systems operate without pumps and
controls and can be more reliable, more durable, easier
to maintain, longer lasting, and less expensive to operate
than active systems.
Active solar water heaters incorporate pumps and controls
to move heat-transfer fluids from the collectors to the
storage tanks. Both active and passive solar water-heating
systems often require conventional water heaters as
backups, or the solar systems function as preheaters for
the conventional units. A direct solar water-heating system
circulates household water through collectors and is not
appropriate in climates in which freezing temperatures
An indirect system should not experience problems with
freezing because the fluid in the collectors is usually a
form of antifreeze. If you are considering purchasing a
solar water-heating system, you may want to compare
products from different manufacturers. The Solar Rating
and Certification Corporation provide a benchmark for
comparing the performance of some solar water heating
The SRCC publishes performance ratings of both solar
water-heating systems and individual solar collectors.
These published ratings are the results of independent,
third party laboratory testing of these products. All systems
and collectors that have been certified by the SRCC will
bear the SRCC label.
Keep in mind, though, that simply having an SRCC
label does not imply that the product has a superior
performance. Carefully compare SRCC label information
on different brands and models to ensure that you are fully
aware of projected performance.
The Florida Solar Energy Center also provides information
on solar manufacturers and contractors. It also maintains
solar equipment testing facilities and publishes
performance ratings for solar water heating systems. Just
choosing a solar water heater with good ratings is not
enough, though. Proper design, sizing, installation, and
maintenance are also critical to ensure efficient system
Although the purchase and installation prices of
solar water heaters are usually higher than those of
conventional types, operating costs are much lower. For
more information about solar water-heating systems,
contact the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
As with any purchase, balance the pros and cons of the
different water heaters in light of your particular needs.
There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a
new water heater. This publication has already described
different system configurations. Some other considerations
are capacity, efficiency, and cost.
Although some consumers base their purchases on
the size of the storage tank, the peak hour demand
capacity, referred to as the first-hour rating (FHR) on the
EnergyGuide label, is actually the more important figure.
The FHR is a measure of how much hot water the heater
will deliver during a busy hour, and it is required by law to
appear on the unit’s EnergyGuide label. Therefore, before
you shop, estimate your household’s peak hour demand
and look for a unit with an FHR in that range. Gas water
heaters have higher FHRs than electric water heaters of
the same storage capacity. Therefore, it may be possible
to meet your water-heating needs with a gas unit that
has a smaller storage tank than an electric unit with the
same FHR. More efficient gas water heaters use various
nonconventional arrangements for combustion air intake
and exhaust. These features, however, can increase
Once you have decided what type of water heater best
suits your needs, determine which water heater in that
category is the most fuel efficient. The best indicator of
a heater’s efficiency is its Energy Factor (EF), which is
based on recovery efficiency (i.e., how efficiently the
heat from the energy source is transferred to the water),
standby losses (i.e., the percentage of heat lost per hour
from the stored water compared to the heat content of
the water), and cycling losses. The higher the EF, the
more efficient the water heater. Electric resistance water
heaters have an EF between 0.7 and 0.95; gas heaters
have an EF between 0.5 and 0.6, with some highefficiency
models around 0.8; oil heaters range from 0.7
to 0.85; and heat pump water heaters range from 1.5 to
2.0. Product literature from manufacturers usually gives
the appliance s EF rating. If it does not, you can obtain it
by contacting an appliance manufacturer association (see
Source List). Some other energy efficiency features to
look for are tanks with at least 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters)
of foam insulation and energy efficiency ratings shown on
the EnergyGuide labels.
Another factor uppermost in many consumers’ minds is
cost, which encompasses purchase price and lifetime
maintenance and operation expenses. When choosing
among different models, it is wise to analyze the life-cycle
cost -- the total of all costs and benefits associated with a
purchase during its estimated lifetime. More information
on conducting life cycle cost analyses is available from
EREC. Units with longer warranties usually have higher
price tags, though. Often, the least expensive water
heater to purchase is the most expensive to operate.
Why would I want a Demand
(Tankless or Instantaneous)
Water heating accounts for 20% or more of an average
household’s annual energy expenditures. The yearly
operating costs for conventional gas or electric storage tank
water heaters average $200 or $450, respectively.
Storage tank-type water heaters raise and maintain the
water temperature to the temperature setting on the tank
(usually between 120° -140° F (49° -60° C). Even if no hot
water is drawn from the tank (and cold water enters the
tank), the heater will operate periodically to maintain the
water temperature. This is due to “standby losses”: the heat
conducted and radiated from the walls of the tank—and
in gas-fired water heaters—through the flue pipe. These
standby losses represent 10% to 20% of a household’s
annual water heating costs.
One way to reduce this expenditure is to use a demand
(also called “tankless” or “instantaneous”) water heater.
Demand water heaters are common in Japan and Europe.
They began appearing in the United States about 25 years
ago. Unlike “conventional” tank water heaters, tankless
water heaters heat water only as it is used, or on demand.
A tankless unit has a heating device that is activated by
the flow of water when a hot water valve is opened. Once
activated, the heater delivers a constant supply of hot water.
The output of the heater, however, limits the rate of the
heated water flow.
Gas and Electric
Demand Water Heaters
Demand water heaters are available in propane (LP), natural
gas, or electric models. They come in a variety of sizes for
different applications, such as a whole-house water heater,
a hot water source for a remote bathroom or hot tub, or as a
boiler to provide hot water for a home heating system. They
can also be used as a booster for dishwashers, washing
machines, and a solar or wood-fired domestic hot water
system. You may install a demand water heater centrally or
at the point of use, depending on the amount of hot water
required. For example, you can use a small electric unit as a
booster for a remote bathroom or laundry. These are usually
installed in a closet or underneath a sink.
The largest gas units, which may provide all the hot water
needs of a household, are installed centrally. Gas-fired
models have a higher hot water output than electric models.
As with many tank water heaters, even the largest whole
house tankless gas models cannot supply enough hot water
for simultaneous, multiple uses of hot water (i.e., showers
and laundry). Large users of hot water, such as the clothes
washer and dishwasher, need to be operated separately.
Alternatively, separate demand water heaters can be
installed to meet individual hot water loads, or two or more
water heaters can be connected in parallel for simultaneous
demands for hot water. Some manufacturers of tankless
heaters claim that their product can match the performance
of any 40-gallon (151 liter) tank heater.
Selecting a Demand
Select a demand water heater based on the maximum amount of hot water to meet your peak demand. Use the following assumptions on water flow for various appliances to find the size of unit that is right for your purposes: Faucets: 0.75 gallons (2.84 liters) to 2.5 gallons (9.46 liters) per minute. Low-flow showerheads: 1.2 gallons (4.54 liters) to 2 gallons (7.57 liters) per minute. Older standard showerheads: 2.5 gallons (9.46 liters) to 3.5 gallons (13.25 liters) per minute. Clothes washers and dishwashers: 1 gallon (3.79 liters) to 2 gallons (7.57 liters) per minute.
Unless you know otherwise, assume that the incoming potable water temperature is 50° F (10° C). You will want your water heated to 120° F (49° C) for most uses, or 140° F (60° C) for dishwashers without internal heaters. To determine how much of a temperature rise you need, subtract the incoming water temperature from the desired output temperature. In this example, the needed rise is 70° F (39° C).
List the number of hot water devices you expect to have open at any one time, and add up their flow rates. This is the desired flow rate for the demand water heater. Select a manufacturer that makes such a unit. Most demand water heaters are rated for a variety of inlet water temperatures. Choose the model of water heater that is closest to your needs.
As an example, assume the following conditions: One hot water faucet open with a flow rate of 0.75 gallons (2.84 liters) per minute. One person bathing using a showerhead with a flow rate of 2.5 gallons (9.46 liters) per minute. Add the two flow rates together. If the inlet water temperature is 50° F (10° C), the needed flow rate through the demand water heater would need to be no greater than 3.25 gallons (12.3 liters) per minute. Faster flow rates or cooler inlet temperatures will reduce the water temperature at the most distant faucet.
Using low-flow showerheads and water-conserving faucets are a good idea with demand water heaters. Some types of tankless water heaters are thermostatically controlled. They can vary their output temperature according to the water flow rate and the inlet water temperature. This is useful when using a solar water heater for preheating the inlet water. If, using the above example, you connect this same unit to the outlet of a solar system, it only has to raise the water temperature a few degrees more, if at all, depending on the amount of solar gain that day.
Cost Demand water heaters cost more than conventional storage tank-type units. Small point-of-use heaters that deliver 1 gallon (3.8 liters) to 2 gallons (7.6 liters) per minute sell for about $200. Larger gas-fired tankless units that deliver 3 gallons (11.4 liters) to 5 gallons (19 liters) per minute cost $550-$1,000.
The appeal of demand water heaters is not only the elimination of the tank standby losses and the resulting lower operating costs, but also the fact that the heater delivers hot water continuously. Gas models with a standing (constantly burning) pilot light, however, offset some of the savings achieved by the elimination of tank standby losses with the energy consumed by the pilot light. Moreover, much of the heat produced by the pilot light of a tank-type water heater heats the water in the tank; most of this heat is not used productively in a demand water heater. The exact cost of operating the pilot light will depend on the design of the heater and price of gas, but could range from $12 to $20 per year.
Ask the manufacturer of the unit how much gas the pilot light uses for the models you consider. It is a common practice in Europe to turn off the pilot light when the unit is not in use. An alternative to the standing pilot light is an intermittent ignition device (IID). This resembles the spark ignition device on some gas kitchen ranges and ovens. Not all demand water heaters have this electrical device. You should check with the manufacturer for models that have this feature. Life Expectancy Most tankless models have a life expectancy of more than 20 years. In contrast, storage tank water heaters last 10 to 15 years. Most tankless models have easily replaceable parts that can extend their life by many years more.