Learn the most water-efficient ways to get hot water faster in your home.

Getting Hot Water the "Green" Way

Water-efficient methods for getting hot water faster in your home

For better or worse, we live in an era of instant gratification. We hardly wait for anything anymore, and when we do, it's usually not for long. But there's still one thing that usually requires a wait (irritating all of us who've grown accustomed to immediate rewards): hot water. Did you wait for the shower to warm up this morning? Most of us did - anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Many seem to simply accept the wait as a fact of life, and let all that good water go down the drain. But there is a better way!

Water heaters are typically installed in a garage or basement. Ideally, that location is either near the bathroom (usually the most thirsty room in the house) or centralized so that hot water can get to anywhere in the house in the least amount of time; even then, the wait can be long. It's true that tankless water heaters (point-of-use units or even whole-house models) can help eliminate the wait, but a reliable setup could end up costing quite a bit. A recirculation system, on the other hand, can be much cheaper, and drastically reduce waiting times.

Recirculation systems pump hot water from the heater to the farthest fixture, replacing any cooled-down water in the line and providing hot water at the tap within seconds. When part of a new construction, a dedicated return line is added to the plumbing to move cooled-down water back to the heater. With existing homes, the cold water line can serve the same purpose.

Quick Tip: Insulate your hot water pipes to help keep the water in them warmer for longer!

It used to be that these pumps had to run constantly, cycling water all day and night to ensure quick delivery. Timers can be a helpful addition, reducing demand on the pump and saving energy. But systems with timers can be tricky, and require that your household have a rigid schedule. Manufacturers have come up with some innovative ways to make systems more adaptable and efficient - including our favorites from ACT and Grundfos.

In addition to units that can be controlled via timer (a great option for the routine-minded among us), the Grundfos Comfort Series also features models with an "Auto Adapt" function that learns the hot water habits of the household, and sets the pump to run when you actually need it - no timers or controls needed! A testament to technology, these units can detect usage changes within 24 hours and adapt accordingly.

The ACT D'MAND Kontrols System takes a different approach: instead of running continuously or on a timer, the pump is activated manually, when you actually need hot water. When it's shower time, the press of a button starts moving water through the pipes. Instead of letting cold water flow out of the showerhead, the pump moves that cold water back to the water heater. 15-30 seconds after activating the pump, you're guaranteed hot water as soon as the shower valve is opened. If button-pressing sounds too awkward, good news: you can use motion sensors! As soon as you walk into the bathroom (or kitchen, or wherever), the pump is activated. Up to 10 sensors can run a single pump, so no room in the house needs to waste water or too much time.

The D'MAND system utilizes a thermal sensor that automatically shuts the pump off when the water going through it heats up by six degrees. Not only does this save energy, it also ensures that hot water doesn't make it into the cold line when it's used as a return. With the Grundfos system, a temperature-sensitive valve closes off the cold line when hot water is detected.

Please Note: With any system that uses the cold water line as a return line to the water heater, a small amount of cooled-down/warm water will move into the cold line when the pump is activated. This is quickly cleared out when a cold valve is opened.

These types of recirculation systems are clearly an ideal solution to the problem of waiting for hot water, and water waste. While the pumps do require energy to run, we believe the reduction in waste is worth it. After all, individuals and communities around the country are increasingly relying on cleaner and even renewable energy sources, and there's no risk of running out. Although energy isn't "created", there are so many ways to convert it into usable forms that it can almost seem that way. With water, we have a completely different situation (as anyone who has live during a multi-year drought can attest to). Water can be moved around and cleaned up, but there's no way to make more of it (desalination being expensive and often unrealistic). Why not do our best to conserve what's there?

There are of course other ways to conserve while enjoying quick access to hot water. As mentioned before, tankless water heaters are an option to either supply the entire home or a specific fixture. These units only consume power when used and instantly heat water, eliminating waste on both fronts. Tankless units can also be used as "boosters" for a room or fixture, using the hot water from an existing standard heater as their supply to instantly provide hot water when you want it. Small dedicated booster units are also available that kick in at a specific location only when hot water from a traditional heater starts to run out. For the kitchen, a tankless point-of-use heater can save time and energy when making hot drinks or foods - you'll never watch a pot again!

Quick Tip: If you aren't quite ready for a recirculation system or tankless heater, try out a lower-tech approach first: the Evolve ShowerStart is an easy to install valve that reduces showerhead flow to a trickle once the water gets hot, saving water and energy.

There are times when it seems like we might be getting a bit carried away with our demands for immediate satisfaction. That's definitely not the case here. What appears on its face to be a luxurious indulgence turns out to be one of the most prudent, efficient things you can do. Waste not, want not, wait not - it's all much easier than you would think.

Related Items & Information

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. "Which uses more energy - a recirculating system or a tankless water heater?"
A. Both options use energy - but not as much as most people think. On the recirculating system we highly recommend insulating all of your hot water pipes. Also having a timer and/or a thermostat will use even less energy. An electric tankless water heater and the on-demand style recirculating systems mentioned above don't use any energy when you're not drawing hot water.

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