Improving water conservation in your home can help you save not just on water bills, but also on expenses for heating water. Below are some ideas you can try to boost your water conservation efforts.
Removing Sediment Buildup
Draining sediment from a water heater's tank is an energy-saving procedure anyone can do quickly and easily. Periodically removing accumulated sediment helps conventional water heaters operate at optimum efficiency. The sediment consists of hard-water minerals and other debris that enter the storage tank along with the incoming water. As the water is heated, the minerals separate from the water and fall to the bottom of the tank.
Over time, the mineral deposits build up to the point that they act as insulation on the bottom of the tank, isolating the water from effects of the burner firing below (on gas and oil units) and sometimes stacking up high enough to cover the heating element on electric water heaters. The harder it is for heat to get through the sediment layer, the longer the burner has to fire or the electric elements have to run in order to heat the water.
The solution is to remove the sediment layer. You do not have to turn off the power source (electricity, gas, or oil) to the water in order to drain the sediment.
A small drain valve is on the outside of the water heater tank's jacket near the bottom. It looks like a miniature hose bibb on the outside of a house. Attach a short length of standard garden hose to this valve, stick the free end of the hose into either a floor drain nearby or a large bucket, and open the valve.
Water will flow from the bottom of the water heater and out the valve and through the hose, taking sediment along with it. After draining five gallons or so from the tank, shut off the valve, disconnect the hose, and empty the bucket (if you used one) into a sink or toilet. You've not only improved the efficiency of your water heater, but you've also extended its service life.
What is the reason? There is a thin film of water that is trapped between the sediment and the bottom of the tank. When the burner fires, the thin layer of water heats to an abnormally high temperature that deteriorates the tank's glass lining, speeding up its rusting process. Accumulated sediment is also responsible for the popping, banging, rumbling, and percolating noises often heard from a water heater as the burner fires or the elements heat up.
Depending on the mineral content of your water, a water heater tank should be drained of its sediment at least twice a year, and more often in hard-water areas.
What does pipe insulation do? It keeps heat inside the pipes where it belongs, rather than radiating out into the air. The result is that hot water reaches distant bathrooms faster than it would otherwise, reducing the volume of water that has to flow down the pipe for hot water to effectively arrive. And once hot water fills the pipe, it stays there for a long time. So if you use a hot water tap again shortly after the first usage, it's likely that the water will still be sufficiently hot.
In addition, pipe insulation helps reduce "standby" heat losses at the water heater. Standby heat losses occur while the water heater is just sitting there doing nothing at all. Over a period of time, heat radiating from the water heater's tank and the pipes entering and exiting the top of the unit reduce the temperature of the water inside the tank. Eventually, the thermostat is activated and the burner fires or the electric elements switch on. The water heats up again, only to cool down gradually through the cooling effects of the tank and pipes. It's an endless cycle, exacerbated by the heat loss through the pipes at the top of the water heater. So, although the hot water pipes are the logical ones to insulate, insulating the first five feet or so of the cold water pipe at the water heater is a good idea, too. That helps reduce the loss of heat that migrates up the pipe from the water heater tank.
Although insulating the pipes at the water heater might eliminate only one burner firing or element activation a day, at today's gas and electric prices, that can add up to substantial savings over the course of a year.
It may also be worthwhile to insulate another cold water pipe in your house -- the water service entry pipe from a municipal supply or well -- though not for energy-efficiency reasons. Throughout the winter and into the spring, water coming into the house through that pipe is cold. If the air is humid enough, condensation can form on the outside of the pipe and drip down onto carpets, suspended ceiling tiles, and anything else along its path. Covering the exposed pipe with foam insulation isolates the pipe from the humid air, preventing condensation from forming.
Insulating water pipes used to involve a large roll of itchy fiberglass insulation, a lot of time, and a lot of cutting and fitting the wrapping around obstructions. And even after all that work, the insulation was so thin that it didn't do much good. Insulating the water pipes in your home these days is simpler, quicker, and more effective.
The closed cell foam pipe insulation available at plumbing supply houses and home centers not only insulates far better than the old fiberglass material, but it's also easy to install. Each piece is slit along its length, allowing the insulation to simply snap over the pipe. The foam is so soft that it can be cut with a kitchen knife or a pair of heavy scissors.