When it comes to making the home more energy efficient, your water heater should be a bigger concern than most people give it. According to energy.gov, your water heater accounts for as much as 12 percent of your home’s energy usage. Unfortunately, more time is spent encouraging people to buy new water heaters, install solar heaters, etc., and not much time is spent explaining the virtues of installing a water heater timer.
Types of Hot Water Heater Timers
Water heaters can be controlled using a wide variety of devices, ranging from a simple On/Off switch to controllers that can be accessed from anywhere using your smartphone. The type of timer used is often determined by the application, such as residential or industrial, but there are no hard and fast rules regarding which types must be used in which settings. The most common types of water heater timers include:
While a simple On/Off switch is not technically a timer, it is an efficient, manual method of reducing energy costs related to your water heater. Since it takes a while for water to heat, this method requires more planning than any other, making it quite a bit less efficient.
This type of timer has to be activated similar to the switch method, but has the advantage of automatically turning itself off after your desired length of usage. This method is more efficient than a switch, but still requires forethought and manual execution.
For household use, a programmable timer is probably the most efficient method of all. This type of timer allows you to create various presets– the number is determined by the device installed– that control power to your water heater. For example, you could set one timer for weekdays when no one is home and another for the weekend when the whole family is using hot water.
A box timer is the most common and in our opinion, the best water heater timer style. These digital and electronic water heater timers have the advantage of allowing you to set different usage periods based on the hour and day of the week or month. Intermatic water heater timers are far and away the most well-known and trusted brand out there. For situations where the amount of hot water needed varies according to the day, a box timer is highly recommended in most situations.
WiFi and Z-Wave Timers
Smart homes rely on smart technology, and there are devices available to turn your water heater on or off, or even set a particular timer function, straight from your phone. This type of connected timer is more expensive than other types, but offers you total control over the system, no matter where you go.
Timers for Gas Water Heaters
Even if your water heater uses some type of gas as the primary fuel source, it probably relies on electricity to determine when to turn on or off. To this end, there are various types of timers available, up to and including WiFi and Z-Wave timers.
Benefits of a Water Heater Timer
A water heater timer will save you a bit of money under any circumstances, but offer greater savings on tanks that are not inside a heated are of your home, or in areas where utility costs are determined by peak usage rates. You can increase the savings by adding insulation or moving the water heater inside the heated portion of the home, but a timer can still help you maximize the amount of hot water you need versus keeping the unit operating 24/7. If your electric company charges more during evening hours for example, using a timer to turn the heater off during peak energy usage times will reduce the cost per kilowatt of using the water heater.
Installing a Water Heater Timer
Installation varies based on the type of timer being used. If your water heater uses a standard 110 or 240 volt AC plug, there are timers which can be quickly plugged in between the water heater and the wall outlet and are ready to use. Other types of timers may require disconnecting the wiring where it enters the water heater and connecting those wires to the timer and then connecting the timer to the water heater. Even this type of installation should only take a few minutes and can be accomplished with a couple of screwdrivers in most cases. Be sure to check the way your water heater is wired and buy the appropriate timer.
Reducing the Costs of Water Heater Usage
There are other ways to reduce energy costs related to your water heater. By using a combination of methods, you can achieve the most efficiency. Here are some of the most commonly used ways to reduce water heater power consumption:
Install a timer – This can cut up to 25% of your annual water costs.
Take shorter showers – This has the advantage of reducing both hot water heater operation and overall water consumption in the home.
Lower the water heater thermostat – Reducing the temperature of the water you use, as with reducing your bathing time, saves power and reduces water consumption. By using cooler water, there is less need to mix cold water into the hot water flow, and that could cut water consumption by as much as 50% depending on your family size and typical usage. See our recommended temperature guide for more info.
Insulate your water heater – Whether the unit is inside the home or out, adding a thick layer of insulation helps keep your water hot longer, reducing the time that the water heater has to operate to maintain the desired temperature. Simple yet effective.
Water heater maintenance – Performing annual maintenance, including draining and flushing your tank or even replacing a heating element on an older electric model, will help your water heater operate more efficiently and prevent costly and unexpected malfunctions.
Replace the water heater – Unfortunately, water heaters are not designed to last forever. If your water heater is more than 10-15 years old, it may be time to replace the unit with a more efficient model. When shopping for a new water heater, compare energy star ratings, tank sizes, and options such as installing an on-demand water heating system. Choosing the right unit for your home gives you ample hot water and reduces energy usage.
A water heater timer will not save you as much as timer manufacturers may hint at, but it is a fantastic way to help you manage your energy usage more efficiently. A timer alone provides a significant amount of annual savings, but combining some of the methods above can cut your water heating bill be as much as 50 percent.