Super-Insulated Tank

Using a tank-style water heater is kind of like leaving your car running 24/7 in case you need to run to the grocery store on short notice. I have a functioning conventional tank water heater and chose not to go with a tankless unit, but was still worried about my tank's energy use. Instead of the expense and complication of replacing it, I wanted to improve its performance.

First, I installed a simple $30 timer that turns on the heater for an hour in the morning, just before I get up, and again for an hour before evening showers. My cravings for improving it even more kept pestering me, and on one boring Sunday afternoon, I started a water heater insulation project. Perhaps that sounds simple—just go to the hardware store and get a water-heater blanket specially designed for that purpose. I wanted better results, so I got myself some high R-value blue insulation "boards" (extruded polystyrene sheets). I built a closet around the heater and left as much space as possible between the heater and the blue boards. I filled up the space left between the heater and the boards with loose insulation material. (This insulation method can only be used for an electric heater; a gas heater needs air supply and exhaust, so it's not as easy to insulate.)

The timer is now set to only 30 minutes twice a day, and I always (24/7) have a hot shower when I need one. I also have energy-efficient lighting, well-insulated water pipes, R-57 roof insulation, corn-biomass heating, and many other efficiency strategies, so my total energy bill for the month of August was $41. Not bad for an all-electric house!

Ellen Van • West Chester, Pennsylvania

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