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Energy Saving Tips For Old Water Heaters

My 80-gallon electric water heater is getting old, but it does not leak. Since it is old, I imagine there are some things I can do to make it operate more efficiently. What improvements do you recommend?—Ron H.

To find out if your water heater is wasting energy, hold your hand against the tank’s top and upper sides. If these areas feel warm, adding an insulation wrap kit will help lower your energy use. When buying a kit (about $20) from a home improvement store, be sure to choose one with an insulating value of at least R-10.

You can also go the do-it-yourself route if you have some old leftover fiberglass wall insulation. Wrap it around the tank with the vapor barrier facing to the outside. Putting a layer of reflective radiant barrier over the insulation will also help. It’s important to tape and seal the joints in the insulation where the top meets the sides to create an airtight barrier.

Adding tubular foam insulation to your hot water outlet pipe can also lower your energy use. The foam is split lengthwise, making it easy to slide onto the pipe. Measure your pipe’s diameter to buy the correct size for a snug fit.

Don’t forget the thermostat
Next, check the temperature of the hot water at a faucet where you use the most hot water. If you keep your thermostat set so high that you have to mix a lot of cold with it to tolerate the temperature, it is too hot. I keep the water temperature at my house at only 110 degrees. Most laundry detergents work well in cold water and dishwashers have built-in preheaters, so the cooler thermostat setting will be fine. Be sure to turn off the electricity to the water heater before making any adjustments to the thermostat.

If your family’s schedule means that no one is home for regular long periods of time, such as during the work and school day, installing a water heater timer could be an efficient choice. A timer keeps the heating elements from coming on when no one needs hot water. The temperature should not drop much on a well-insulated tank. Check with your electric co-op about how this can help save energy.


Check the rating number for the best barrier material
When it’s time to replace your old water heater, 12-year warranty models usually have better interior insulation, plus electronic digital controls to simplify setting the temperature, and often include a vacation mode for greater energy savings. Be sure to consider the latest heat pump models—although they may cost more to buy, their lower monthly energy bills quickly make up the difference.

Mail requests and questions to JAMES DULLEYKentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit

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