Water Heating: Better Controls Please!

My W.H. control

My W.H. control

I was pleased to learn that residential water heaters were finally admitted into the Government's Energy Star program and as the second highest end use of energy for your home, you should be happy too.  But just because a water heater is given an Energy Star label doesn't mean this is enough....

Recently, I decided that in order to save money on my natural gas bill, I would turn down the temperature on my natural gas fired water heater. (Caution: If you do this without telling your wife, she may get upset when she asks you why she ran out of hot water during her shower and you inform her it's because you "made a few changes".)  When I got to my water heater I was greeted by this friendly little dial that warns me that hot water might scald me.  Thanks dial!

Since my house is only a little over a year old, I expected my water heating control technology to advance a little bit from the 1950's, but apparently not.  As you can see from my dial, my temperature settings are as follows (in decreasing levels of hotness):

  • Very hot
  • C
  • B
  • A
  • triangle
  • dot
  • dot
  • Low
  • dot

While staring at my complex dial I thought, "Which setting will allow me to a) still take a comfortable shower after my wife and b) not let my wife know that I 'made a few changes'".  After much internal debate, I changed it from setting "A" to "triangle".

"How did you know what temperature 'triangle' represents?" you ask.  Excellent question, but believe it or not,  I had no clue what temperature "triangle" represented.  Maybe I was out that day in pre-school?  Apparently in the 21st century, it is still too much to ask water heater vendors to supply their tanks with digital read-outs - or at the very least an analog dial where you can set your tank at a temperature - and not just a letter/shape combination.  Are the water heating vendors catering to toddlers and the illiterate? If so, I bet a lot of those 3 year-olds/non-readers got scalded as they brazenly twisted the dial past "C"!

Yes, I'm aware that adding these "sophisticated" controls would increase the cost of a water heater my a few bucks (I'm also aware that tanks already exist with this capability, but I'm targeting the low-end of the water heating market.  These are the type of water heaters builders put in town-home communities), but think about how much energy you could save by being able to dial in to the exact temperature your home is comfortable with.  No longer would you need to ask yourself, "Which setting do I like more: A, triangle, or dot?"

Part of making better energy/water conservation decisions is having the information available to you to make those decisions.  This is what a programmable thermostat or energy monitoring is all about.  In order for America to lower our energy/water consumption, we not only need to make better decisions, but we also need the products that make it easier for us to make those decisions!

I think it's time for Energy Star to "turn up the heat" on water heating vendors  and demand they raise the bar a few more dots.....

enjoyed our post? let others know: 


Hi there again from New Zealand, as mentioned before in previous blogs I installed a solar thermal evacuated tube water heater imported from China last year and it has proved to be absolutely fantastic and for winter heating backup, it has a 2000 watt electric element. The nicest thing is the completely digital readout and easy set controls on a remote panel---3 time per day and multiple heat settings or completely automatic thermostatically controlled with digital readout of time and temp--wow if the Chinese can do it why can't your manufactures?? The only complaint I have is the cylinder insulation seems a bit lacking as it was loosing about 20 deg C each night last winter in the heavy frosts we received --a problem I am addressing right a this moment by fitting a modified thermal blanket to the tank. So here's hoping. As a 62 yr old I've learned from many an experience you can't train a good women --let them have their say and keep the peace!!
how much insulation should a new water heater have? I would assume R-30 or more. Strange that water heater blankets are usually R 4 or about. This indicates we could save most of the standby loss -estimated at thirty dollars or more per month elsewhere on this site by owners of on demand water heaters. If a new heater is only insulated to r-10 and we add r-24 fiberglass insulation we can cut standby loss by 2/3.
A tankless water heater or a programmable water heater would even be better.
Indeed the ladies ! They come self-trained here, thank God. I think it must be their sensible mothers who inculcate high standards in their wilful lassies from an early age. There's even some who can do a little plumbing on a fair day
Beautiful! thank's for the interesting post
I think you lads are all in America where energy is dead cheap. You lucky things! Anyway here in Europe we have a precise temperature setting in degrees celsius at the top of the water heater. A small screwdriver will adjust it easily. Of course as the original poster points out you may incur the wrath of a cold wife (and/or daughters). We have them in Europe too, though more pliable and better trained than yours!
Brian, You're right that energy is super cheap here. I think the main reason Europeans are much better at conservation has more to do with the price you pay for energy than anything else. Even better than having a screwdriver adjustable temperature control would be a simple digital display. I think things are moving that way though. It just takes time and demand from the public! My biggest question is how you train your women???
I'd like to second that motion, if I may: Better controls, please! While writing a my recent post <a href="" rel="nofollow">Low cost energy saving: Insulate your hot water heater</a>, it was a bit of a hassle setting the temperature after I had insulated my heater. I had to unscrew a panel and finally found the thermostat hidden among several electrical wires with bare terminals. I'm not even sure it's legal for me to adjust that. There should always be an actual temperature setting, not only from an energy conservation viewpoint, but from a health viewpoint, too. Having a lower temperature setting than 65 degrees celcius (149 degrees Fahrenheit) on your heater pretty much makes it a perfect breeding ground for any legionella bacteria happening to drop by.
Thanks for the grins, that was amusing and resonated with my own experience, slowly edging down the heat on my old NG-fired water heater until someone in my house complains. :) Of course, I wouldn't have known what temperature would generate complaints, so I would have had to do it this way even if it had a digital thermometer readout.

Post new comment

Subscribe to Comments for "Water Heating: Better Controls Please!"