Our water heater supplies ample hot water, but it takes a long time to reach the bathrooms. Are there simple fixes I can do myself to get hot water quicker?—Mike M.
You are wasting more than just time: you are paying for thousands of gallons wasted down the drain each year. Other than water used for flushing toilets, waiting at the faucet is the next greatest water consumer.
There is also a hidden energy loss. All the water that goes down the drain is at room temperature—about 68 degrees during the winter. This water enters your house at about 45 degrees, depending upon your climate and water source. The energy used to heat the water from 45 to 68 degrees goes down the drain with the water.
Setting the water heater temperature higher just increases your water heating costs. There are, however, add-on kits that bring hot water to faucets within 15 seconds. Starting prices range from about $50 for a simple valve to $180 for an automatic system.
A complete automatic quick-delivery system is the most efficient. These kits are designed for do-it-yourself installation and include the fittings, pipes, and hardware. They are mounted underneath the bathroom sink.
To install one yourself, disconnect the existing pipes from the hot and cold water supply valves. Attach one set of the flexible pipes from the valves to the system. Attach the second set of pipes from the system back to the faucets. Plug the cord into an electrical outlet. Most models consume only a couple of dollars’ worth of electricity annually.
These automatic systems consist of a tiny high-volume pump, a diverter valve, and a temperature sensor. When you need hot water, the pump starts running and quickly draws hot water from the water heater tank through the standard plumbing.
Instead of wasting the cold water in the plumbing down the drain, the diverter valve connects the water lines inside the unit. The water that used to go down the drain goes back into the cold water line, making a loop back to the water heater.
As soon as the hot water reaches the control unit under the sink, the temperature sensor shuts off the pump and switches the diverter valve back to the standard position. Since the hot water from the water heater tank moves so quickly to the faucet, it is hotter than usual because it has not had time to cool down in the pipes.
It is best to locate the system in the bathroom farthest from the water heater. In this location, it fills that entire hot water pipe in that branch of the plumbing. That way, you will also get hot water much faster to other bathrooms on that plumbing branch.
There are several types of controls for these kits. With a demand control, you push a button to start the unit when you want hot water. Additional wireless remote-demand buttons can be mounted in other rooms.
Another design uses a timer to start and stop the unit. This may be 6 a.m. if this is when your family awakes. For efficiency, you will want to set the time period as short as needed.
If all of your hot water lines are above the water heater, you can install a low-cost valve to keep hot water continuously trickling through the system. This can waste energy unless you are able to insulate the pipes. Another option is a small, well-insulated 110-volt mini tank-type water heater under the sink.
Write for Utility Bills Update 429, buyer’s guide of 13 demand/timer quick-delivery hot water kits. Include $3.00, a business-size SASE, and Update number. Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Go to www.dulley.com to instantly download.