The amount of energy you can save on hot water depends on the type of business you’re in. In an office or retail store, the amount may be negligible. But in operations like laundries, motels or restaurants, the savings can be dramatic.
There are four ways to reduce the money you spend on hot water:
In a well-designed and insulated system, you should expect that about 80 percent of the energy you consume will be delivered as usable hot water at the faucet. (Even the best systems lose some heat.)
Reduce Water Temperature
If you use hot water mainly for hand washing, chances are your tank has a setting that is higher than necessary.
To check the accuracy of your tank’s temperature gauge, you’ll need to test the hot water with a good thermometer at the faucet nearest your water tank, as well as at the dishwashers or washing machines if you use them.
The temperature gauge should be plainly visible on your tank, but in some cases you’ll have to remove a plate to see it. If you’re adjusting an electric water heater, be sure to shut off the power first.
Leaky faucets, showers and pipe joints lose large amounts of energy, but they’re relatively easy to repair.
It pays to take care of leaks as soon as you find out about them, because the pressure in the hot water system will usually make the problem worse over time. Your hardware store or building supplier can provide the materials you’ll need to make repairs.
Turn Off Hot Water Temporarily or Permanently
It often pays to shut off your water heater on weekends, during vacation periods and other periods of non-use.
You can install a seven-day timer to take care of this function automatically. A 24-hour timer is also a good idea. It will turn off your water heater at night after business hours, and turn it back on before your employees or customers arrive. A $30 timer will pay for itself in about a year.
If you only use hot water for restroom sinks, you can consider turning off your hot water altogether, at least during the summer. (Be sure you check local codes to see if this is allowed.)
Run Full Loads
In business as at home, it makes sense to use dishwashers and washing machines efficiently. That means waiting until you have full loads whenever possible.
Clean With Cooler Water
If you run a business where clothes washing consumes a lot of hot water, switch to detergents that work well in warm or cold water. (Heating water constitutes the largest energy expenditure in the washing process.) Even if you continue to use hot water for washing, you should be able to rinse at cooler temperatures.
Cut Off Circulation Pumps
Many systems have a circulation pump that keeps hot water available to all the outlets in your building all the time - even when no water is being used by them. As long as the pump is on, your heater is continually heating water.
If you can’t manually or automatically shut off the circulation pump when your business is idle, talk with a contractor about adding a control that will give you this option.
Drain Heater Sediment
Impurities in water are inevitable, and they cause sediment to build up in your tank. The result: heat transfer between the heating element and the water is slowed down, and you use more energy.
To solve the problem, open the drain valve on your water tank and release about five gallons of water.
In most areas, cleaning out sediment every six months is sufficient. If you have unusually hard water, check with your municipal water works for their recommendation.
Insulate Tanks and Pipes
In many businesses, hot water simply stands in pipes most of the time. You can make a big dent in this type of heat loss by seeing to it that your system is well insulated.
Ask your building supply house for the proper insulation to use on pipes, and buy an approved kit to safely insulate your water heater.
Install Heat Traps
If you don’t already have them, heat traps (or one-way valves) should be installed on the hot and cold water lines into your water heater. Heat traps prevent the loss of energy from hot water rising and cold water falling within the pipes. A $30 heat trap will save from $15-$30 per year.
Use Low-Flow Fixtures
You can reduce the output of showerheads significantly (from five gallons a minute to as little as two) without affecting comfort. Well-designed low-flow heads, which cost about $15 each, are a better choice than disks that restrict water flow.
Try Self-Closing or Sensor Faucets
If your hot water is frequently left on inadvertently, you can install faucets that close after a set amount of time. (Some local codes restrict their use.) For applications where large amounts of water are used, consider a foot-operated valve instead.
Use Flow Restrictors & Aerators
Installing inexpensive flow restrictors and aerators will reduce the amount of hot water your employees use in the kitchen and restrooms.
Consider a More Efficient Hot Water Heater
If you need to replace your water heater (the average life expectancy is 10-12 years), think carefully about how to get the most out of your new system. Always check Energy Guide Labels for efficiency information.
Heat Pump Water Heaters
This technology works on the same principle as a heat pump. In this case, warmth is taken from the air and used to heat water. These heaters are three to six times as efficient as conventional electric and gas water heaters.
Local Storage Heaters
If space permits, place your new heater as close as possible to the faucets or equipment that will consume most of your hot water. This prevents heat loss from long runs of pipe. It also makes sense for some businesses to replace their central water heater with several smaller storage tank heaters at different locations - near washing machines, restrooms, dishwashers, etc.
Waste Heat Recovery Systems
Waste heat recovery units - also called desuperheaters - draw heat from your air conditioner, heat pump or refrigeration system and use it to heat water. If you have ongoing refrigeration or other commercial processes, a waste heat recovery system can supply some or all of your hot water year-round. If you recover heat from an air conditioner or heat pump, your hot water can be virtually free during the cooling season.
On-demand Water Heaters
You can eliminate heat losses from your storage tank completely by eliminating the storage tank. In on-demand systems, a powerful electric or gas-powered heating element warms water as it is needed. The volume of hot water available per minute is limited, but energy savings of 20 percent to 30 percent are possible.
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