Editor's note: Whitney White-Ashley is a senior communications major at Tarleton State University. This is the second in a five-part series she is writing on ways to help save the environment by going “green.” The series will publish every Monday.


Hot water heaters often do more than just heat the water. They can also heat up the utility bill.

While things like updating light bulbs and caulking around windows are popular and easy ways to “go green” around the house, hot water heaters account for about 13 percent of the average utility bill. In fact, hot water heaters are the third largest energy expense in a home. A well-managed water heater requires less energy, which means a lower utility bill and fewer pollutants.

Steven Bowman, Tarleton State University's energy and utility operation manager, has done a lot of research on water heaters recently. Tarleton is about to replace its outdated hot water system for a newer, more energy efficient system.

“Our current hot water heater uses natural gas,” Bowman said. “It requires 350 horsepower to run and only operates at 65 to 70 percent efficiency. Our new system will take up less floor space, meaning we can install and run more units. It will also run at 87 to 92 percent efficiency.”

Fortunately for the average household, there are some simple ways to update and reduce the water heater's pull on the average utility bill.

“You should lower the thermostat, insulate the tanks and pipes, and remember to clean your hot water heater,” Bowman said. “Those are the main points to keep in mind for making your home's hot water heater more efficient.”

Some water heaters come from the factory with a preset temperature. Generally, 120 degrees Fahrenheit is hot enough for most households.

Also, taking more showers than baths is a way to conserve energy. Baths typically use more hot water than a shower.

Whether a water heater is gas or electric, insulating the tank saves money and energy. Water heater blankets can be found for around $20 at local home improvement stores. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions during installation.

Be sure to insulate the first 6 feet of hot and cold water pipes connected to the water heater to prevent further heat loss.

Heat traps can also be installed to help conserve energy. Heat traps are one-way valves that help prevent heat loss and are installed on the hot and cold water pipes where they connect to the heater. Hot water rises and cool water falls naturally within the pipes, allowing heat from the water to be lost. Heat traps prevent the rise and fall of the water, thereby preventing heat loss.

Drain a quart of water from the hot water heater every three months. This will help remove sediment, which can lower efficiency and delay heat transfer. Be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions.

Although most hot water heaters last 10 to15 years, start doing research early. Newer models are more energy efficient. Tankless or on-demand, water heater technology is improving. They require less time and energy to produce hot water and take up less space.

Consider a solar water heater. One solar water heater can avoid more than 50 tons of carbon dioxide emissions produced over a 20-year period. Look for systems certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation.

More information on energy efficient water heaters can be found at www.energystar.gov.