In a typical household, water heating is the second-most-expensive utility cost. But you can make it a very distant second by choosing a water heater built for sustainability as well as dependable hot water delivery.
If your water heater is in the eight- to 12-year-old range, you’re due for an upgrade. When shopping for a replacement, you’ll find a number of water heater choices rated and approved by Energy Star. Here’s a quick review of the greenest water heater options and how they rate.
- High-efficiency tank water heater: High-efficiency gas storage water heaters make use of better insulation, heat traps, burners and the addition of a power vent for an efficiency increase of 7.5 percent or more. That’s a savings of about $30 a year, and you can save around $360 over the 13-year lifetime of the unit.
- Heat pump water heater: A newer technology in water heating, the heat pump water heater uses electricity to move heat from one place to another rather than generating that heat directly—kind of the reverse of a refrigeration system. It’s super-efficient, able to cut household water heating costs by more than half and, when compared with standard electric water heaters, saves nearly $300 a year on electric bills. These savings also compensate for the higher ticket price of a heat pump water heater, paying for the difference in cost in the first three years of use.
- Solar water heater: Solar water heaters come in a range of designs, but all include a collector and storage tank to transform sunshine into convenient hot water, and most are designed for use with a gas or electric back-up water heater. Circulation systems may either involve pumps or be of the passive, pump-free variety, using natural convection to move water from the solar collectors to the storage tank as it’s being heated. Go with an Energy Star solar water heater, and you’ll reduce your water heating bill by half.
- Tankless hot water heater: Going tankless saves energy, space and gives you heated water on demand. Rather than paying to keep a tankful of heated water hot, a tankless unit generates hot water as it’s needed. You never have to worry if you’re at the back of the household shower queue, because you’ll get just as much hot water as everybody in front of you. The compact design of tankless hot water heaters makes them great assets for creating multiple water heating “zones” in a home. What’s more, they can save you around $100 year on gas bills and have a 20-year life expectancy.
Whatever kind of model you choose, retrofitting your water heating source for a sustainable future is a great green move. Work with a trusted plumbing professional to determine the water heater size and variety that will work best for your household needs, and remember that zoning your water heating will only add more efficiency.