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Hot Water and Cool Bills

Tips to control the expenses associated with hot water heaters

APRIL 2022

by Susan Gilbert, Contributing Columnist

Few people intentionally take a cold shower, but, if your water heater suddenly quits working, that might be your only option. While unpredictable, it is a situation that can be managed with some advance planning.

Insulating your water heater and keeping the temperature at 120 degrees can save money. (Photo Courtesy: Water Heater Repair Portland)

First, consider the age of your water heater. If it was the original installation, you can find its age by referring to the home’s construction date from tax records. If it is been replaced, check with previous owners, your home’s records of major purchases or the product label to see what you can learn.

This is important because water heaters typically only last between 10 and 15 years. So, if your water heater is more than 15 years old, now is probably a good time to replace it. Putting it off until you’re out of hot water is never a good choice.

Make sure you consider the initial cost of the water heater and installation, as well as the ongoing utility costs for the life of the replacement. Energy Star-certified water heaters are designed and tested to be the best performing. You can compare energy performance by looking at the Energy Guide labels on all units.


Heat pump water heaters are the most energy-efficient electric storage heaters. Just like an air conditioner moves heat from inside a home to the outside, heat pump water heaters move heat from their surroundings into the water they contain.

Since moving heat is less expensive than creating it with electricity, they reduce electricity use by about 70%, compared with a standard electric storage unit.

As an additional advantage, is heat pump water heaters produce cool air, so they are great in hot areas like kitchens, garages, and attics. You may even be eligible for rebates and tax credits. More information, including financial incentives, is available by searching “heat pump water heaters” at energystar.gov.

A tall, 80-gallon electric water heater is wrapped with fiberglass insulation and construction foil to block radiant heat loss. (Photo Courtesy: James Dulley)


Standard storage tank water heaters have the lowest initial cost, but higher energy costs down the road.

Quality matters because they hold hot water just like a thermos bottle and radiate heat through their shells to the surrounding areas. It’s important to get one that is well insulated. Look for the Energy Guide label to see all the models and the wide range of energy each use.

Models using the least energy are better insulated and cost less to operate. Visit the energystar.gov website and search for Rebate Finder to see what is available in your ZIP code.


Another option is a tankless gas or propane unit, also called an instantaneous water heater. These are more costly to purchase and install, but they last about 20 years with proper maintenance. Energy-saving Energy Star models are available.

They also eliminate pesky standby losses by not having hot water sitting in a tank radiating heat 24/7. Instead, they heat the incoming water only when it is needed. Tankless units may require an upgrade to your natural gas piping, but a contractor can advise.

As you consider all the options, keep in mind some of the numbers. Water heating accounts for about 20% of most home’s energy use and translates to about $500 per year for an average household. It is well worth taking stock of your current water heating equipment, making plans for its inevitable failure and avoiding that dreaded cold shower.

Susan Gilbert is CEO of Apogee Interactive Inc., which works with many Maryland and Virginia electric cooperatives on energy analysis and member satisfaction.