Staying Clean with Less Hot Water

By Hannah McKenzie

Staying Clean with Less Hot Water

Q: The July article provided suggestions about selecting a new water heater. But, what are the best low-cost or no-cost strategies for reducing hot water use? 

A: Saving hot water is an opportunity for your entire family to be engaged in energy savings. Much of our hot water use can be decreased by installing simple products or changing our habits. This month, we will explore opportunities to save hot water with showers and clothes washers — two household appliances that use the most hot water.

Showers

My neighbor’s teenage daughter washes her hair before school each day. To her father’s surprise, she had been washing her hair with the bathtub faucet running non-stop and rapidly draining the water heater. After a quick trip to the hardware store, he installed a low-flow handheld shower wand. Now it is easier for his daughter to wash her hair, she uses substantially less hot water, and leaves the rest of the family with enough hot water for their morning routines.

WaterSense promolabelReliable low-flow showerheads can be found by looking for the WaterSense® label on product packaging. Since 1994, standard showerheads spray no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute (gpm). WaterSense® labeled products use at least 20 percent less water and perform equally or better than standard models. Many households have found that low-flow showerheads help reduce the dreaded no hot water shower experience. Check to see how much water your showerhead currently uses by looking for the gpm engraving or use a 5-gallon bucket to measure how much water comes out per minute.

Developing new habits can also help to reduce water use. What if we turned off the water while lathering? For anyone who has camped and taken a bucket shower, you know it can be done. For people who love gadgets, a toggle valve can be installed on the showerhead arm so the stream of water can easily be paused as you lather. Try it for a month to see if you can use radically less hot water. Or, perhaps create a lively household competition. Installing a low-flow showerhead and shortening your shower by a minute or two can save more than 3,600 gallons of water per year and $10 to $40 per year in energy costs.

Clothes Washers

Clothes washers can be hot water hogs — especially when we are not diligent about using cold water and washing only full loads. Energy Star-certified clothes washers are an excellent way to cut back on water use. A full size, Energy Star-certified clothes washer uses 13 gallons of water per load compared to the 23 gallons used by a standard washer — while still producing equally clean clothes as their less efficient counterparts. 

When using any clothes washer, wash clothing with cold water and bedding with warm water rather than hot water. Always rinse in cold water.

Next month, we will explore ways to lower hot water energy costs by making changes to the pipes that connect the water heater to appliances and fixtures.

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About the Author

Hannah McKenzie is a residential building science consultant at Advanced Energy in Raleigh who specializes in working with nonprofit developers like Habitat for Humanity to make new affordable housing energy efficient.

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