Change how you heat the water for your home!

August 26, 2008 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Did you know that your lowly water heater is the second largest user of power in your home after you air conditioner and heater system?  Makes you want to check into that often neglected piece of equipment, doesn’t it?

If you are like me you don’t even think about your water heater until you get that cold shower one morning, usually in the middle of winter! Well like any other basically mechanical system, water heaters perform better and more efficiently with a little care and maintenance. First thing is to locate the device as in some homes they are installed in somewhat inaccessible spots.  I had a townhouse once where it was installed in the attic crawl space!  As you can imagine when it came time for replacement it was quite a bit of fun.

Once you have located it take a few minutes to clean out the space of spiders, trash and whatever else has wandered into the space.  This will make it much more pleasant to work on the unit and safer too if your area is as prone to black widow spiders as mine is. Next check the unit for leaks and missing parts.  Yes those bothersome shields around the burner are important! Check the settings and then take a peak at the burner compartment long enough to see the burner come on.

What you are looking for is a steady pilot light flame and whether the burner completely lights.  Incomplete burner ignition is probably due to debris which can be cleaned later.  If your burner needs cleaning turn the gas controls to the off position and use a small wire brush to gently remove any debris from the burner.  If the pilot light isn’t staying on you may need to replace the thermocouple a fairly simple procedure. A simple explainer is to be found here: http://www.masterplumber.net/thermocouple.htm

The instructions above obviously apply to a natural gas unit.  On an electric unit there are no burners or pilot to check.  The only maintenance I would suggest are the remaining steps for a gas unit in addition to the checking for leaks.  On both types of units you should yearly make an attempt to flush any sediment out of the tank by draining it under pressure.  In my experience five minutes or so of this is enough.  This will allow your heater to perform at maximum efficiency.

Now if you want to take additional steps toward efficiency there are several options.  The first and easiest is the installation of a water heater blanket. This piece of fiberglass insulation is designed to fit around a water heater to provide an additional barrier to heat loss of the already heated water.

The next level interms of cost is to replace your existing unit with what is called a tankless water heater.  These are simply an on demand water heating system.  While somewhat expensive up front they provide significant savings over the life of the unit. A good general purpose explainer can be found here: http://www.tanklesswaterheaterguide.com/

Now you could make this system more efficient if you were trying to heat already warm water, right?  That is of course the concept behind solar water heating (http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/electricity/index.cfm/mytopic=12850).  By preheating the water you have to expend less time and energy heating it up to the desired temerature.

Lastly tonight I give you a hint at the future by an interview conducted by the folks at the Alternative Energy blog: http://alternativeenergy.com/profiles/blog/show?id=1066929%3ABlogPost%3A43045 where they talk to a spokesperson from General Electric about a hybrid water heater that uses a heat pump technolgy to heat water in low demand periods.

Excerpt: “The Hybrid product is designed to combine a very efficient heat pump system, which extracts heat from the surrounding area and moves it into the water more efficiently than a standard electric resistant heating element.

It is a hybrid because it does still have resistant elements in the tank of water. So if you have very high demands for water, this product will be able to produce the same quantity of hot water you are use to with the standard product. But in times of lower water demand, lower draws, it would use the heat pump system to reduce the amount of electricity it takes to heat the water.

As always I thank you for your time and interest. Please take the time to Digg, Stumble Upon or add to the other social network of your choice to help me spread the word about these issues. Please forward any questions or suggestions to: askthefm@gmail.com

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