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What Is The Best Water Heater Temperature Setting?

If you have already set the temperature and are saying to yourself, “I have no hot water” or not enough of it, there are a few factors that may be affecting the heat. If all else fails, the heating element may be failing, and needs to be replaced.

How To Check Your Water Heater Temperature

Most water heaters do not have a temperature gauge with a readout. Instead, the thermostat is marked with temperatures or heating ranges. To accurately find the hot water heater temperature, you will need a cup and a cooking thermometer. Allow the water heater to sit for a minimum of one hour without using it, and then turn on the faucet closest to the water heater. Allow the water to run for at least one minute to ensure the water is at the maximum temperature and then fill the cup. Insert your cooking thermometer, and then adjust the settings as desired.

Recommended Temperature Settings

water-heater-temperatureWater heaters are factory set at OSHA recommended levels, around 140 degrees. On the other hand, the EPA suggests turning the thermostat down to 120 to reduce power consumption, and a booster heater to reach sanitizing temperatures at select outlets. From another point of view, lower temperatures are better for households with small children, while higher temperatures are more efficient at cleaning and sanitizing. Personally, I believe a water heater should be set to 130 degrees in almost all cases. It’s low enough to prevent scalding yet hot enough to kill off harmful bacteria.

How To Turn Up Your Water Heater

You can adjust hot water heater settings to get more hot water if you are unhappy with the recommended temperature. Hot water heater settings are easy to adjust, although electric heaters will require a screwdriver and possibly a small wrench or socket. Keep in mind that the thermostat is factory preset to a recommended temperature and changing the setting may increase the potential for serious burns.

How to Set Temperature on a Gas Water Heater

Gas water heaters have a setting knob that can be turned to adjust the temperature. Most gas control valves have a knob with various labels such as A-B-C on them. Different brands of gas water heater control valves may have different labels. In most cases, here’s what each label means:
  • Low (or Warm) = 80-90°
  • Hot (or triangle symbol) = 120°
  • A = 130°
  • B = 140°
  • C = 150°
  • Very Hot = 160°
Sometimes there is a “Vacation” setting. This does not heat water, but keeps the pilot light ignited.

How to Set Temperature on an Electric Water Heater

Turn off the circuit breaker. Remove the access panels. Locate the thermostat adjustment beneath the insulation. Using a straight screwdriver, adjust the thermostat control towards the desired temperature. Replace the insulation and panels, then restore power. Here’s a good video showing the process:

Factors That Affect Water Temperature

Some factors that may affect your hot water temperature are the distance from the water heater to the outlet, how the pipes are installed, and the condition of the heating element itself. Small bore pipes and long distances will require longer times for the hot water to reach the opening, for example, and pipes that run beneath or outside the home may be subject to winter or summer conditions. If you have a large house, you may want to look into installing a hot water recirculation system which can mean less time to get hot water in all outlets of the house and well as substantial cost savings over time. If adjusting the thermostat still doesn’t give you the right temperature, it may be time to replace the water heater element. If you don’t notice a difference in water temperature after adjusting the thermostat, it’s also possible you may have a faulty thermostat that needs replacing.

PLumber Q&A

Anthony (Water Heater Hub): Welcome, James, from the Energy Efficiency Agency. Let’s dive into a hot topic: finding the best temperature for water heaters.

James (Energy Efficiency Agency): Thanks, Anthony. It’s crucial to balance comfort, safety, and efficiency. Anthony: Right. Many homeowners don’t realize that the setting of their water heater thermostat can significantly impact their energy bill. What’s an ideal temperature? James: The Department of Energy usually recommends setting your water heater at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s enough for a hot shower without risking scald burns. Anthony: And what about energy costs? James: Lower temperatures on your water heater mean saving energy. A hot water circulating system at a higher temperature consumes more energy. Anthony: There’s often a debate about hot water heaters and health, especially concerning Legionnaire’s Disease in stagnant water. James: Yes, that’s a concern. But setting your water heater higher than 120 degrees is risky, particularly for elderly homeowners or those with a suppressed immune system. They’re more susceptible to third-degree burns from scalding water. Anthony: Speaking of safety, Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines factor in here, right? James: Absolutely. They emphasize the risks of scald burns at high temperatures. Especially where children or vulnerable adults are involved. Anthony: How can homeowners accurately check their water temperature? James: A simple candy thermometer can help. Test the water at a certain tap, preferably the tap farthest from the heater, to ensure consistent temperature throughout the house. Anthony: And if someone prefers hotter water? James: Water tank boosters can pre-heat water to higher temperatures, but still mix in enough cold water to prevent burns. It’s a balance of personal preference and safety. Anthony: How about small families or single residents? Would they benefit from a lower temperature? James: Definitely. For small families, reducing the water heater temperature can save money without sacrificing comfort. The flip side is ensuring the water isn’t too cool, which could foster bacterial growth like Legionella. Anthony: So, it’s all about the appropriate temperature. Any tips for adjusting the water heater? James: Yes, adjust in small increments. Watch the temperature dial on your tank, and give it time to stabilize before re-checking. And remember, water heater manufacturers often have specific guidelines. Anthony: Final thoughts on energy efficiency? James: Well, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy both emphasize the importance of energy efficiency for environmental protection. Setting your water heater at an ideal temperature is a simple but effective step in saving energy and reducing your environmental footprint. Anthony: Thanks, James. It’s clear that managing our water heater set points and systems plays a crucial role in both energy efficiency and safety.
author avatar
Anthony Barnes
Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age

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