In most homes, the water is heater is one of the biggest energy consumers, so if you are thinking about ways of cutting back your power bill, the hot water heater is an excellent place to start.
But before simply dialing back the thermostat of your heater by several degrees, there are some important factors which you should consider.
For instance, if you set your temperature too low, your water could become too cool to kill of bacteria and your tank could become a breeding ground.
How Low Can the Temperature Go?
As a quick answer we can say 50 degrees Celcius. For most new water heaters this is the default temperature setting, and it’s also the temperature setting recommended
At 50 degrees dangerous pathogens, like those which cause Legionnaires’ disease, are killed off or at least prevented from further multiplying. The higher the temperature, however, the more likely it is for these pathogens to die off entirely. Because of that, some agencies such as the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recommend 60 degrees Celcius for water heater temperature.
As long as everyone in your home, however, has a healthy immune system, 50 degrees is considered to be safe as a minimum. It is always safer to choose a higher temperature, say closer to 60 degrees, particularly if anybody in your household has a weak immune system. You may also want to raise the temperature above 60 if your dishwasher does not generate any heat of its own.
How High Can It Go Without Scalding?
At 60 degrees Celcius, water is able to cause third degree burns in only five seconds. And since it can take several seconds for your hot water to travel through your to your shower head or faucet, you can never be sure of when exactly the scalding water will arrive.
Children are much more susceptible to getting burned by water because they have thinner skin than adults, and elderly people are also more at risk because they can be both slower or less able to react to the scalding water.
There is a solution to this compromise between killing off bacteria and avoiding scalding, namely anti-scald valves.
These devices, when installed at the point of contact with the hot water, are able to keep the water at your tap at only 50 degrees although the water in the tank is being kept at 60.
If you already have some experience as an amateur plumber, installing anti-scald valves may not pose much of a problem. However the complexity of this task can vary greatly depending on the layout of your plumbing, and even moderately handy people may need to call a licensed plumber to get the job done right.
What About Energy Efficiency?
Cutting down on energy, as well as the cost of it, are both important, but protecting your family from illnesses caused by bacteria is even more important.
That being said, it is still possible to cut back on hot water energy without having to dial back your thermostat:
- Cut down on how much hot water you use by taking shorter showers and use the dishwasher rather than hand washing which tends to use more water.
- Put insulation on your pipes and hot water heater. You can buy pre-cut pieces which are very easy to install by yourself.
- Replace your hot water heater. Water heaters typically last 8 to 12 years if they are properly maintained Older or badly maintained water heaters can be much less energy efficient. And if you do buy a new one, look for one with the ENERGY STAR sticker.