The $15 Water Heater Upgrade

Water Heater Insulating Blanket

I have a cheap, inefficient water heater. Why? When I had the old water heater replaced I wasn't thinking about efficiency. So, the plumber installed an average, natural gas water heater. Buying a new, more efficient water heater can cost at least $500, plus installation. Being a creative and frugal guy (read: cheap) I found a way to upgrade my water heater for only $15.

Since my water heater is only 6 years old, replacing it would be premature and expensive. But, what I can do is to wrap the water heater with an insulating blanket. My friendly, neighborhood hardware store carries a range of weather stripping and insulation products including Water Heater Insulation Blankets. I chose a simple, vinyl-faced, fiberglass batt water heater blanket rated at R-5 insulation value and priced at $15. Installation was quite easy, only requiring gloves and scissors to wrap and seal the water heater.

My water heater is an average, natural gas-fired, 40-gallon, residential model. It has an Energy Factor of .56 and the built-in insulation is R-6.7. A water heater with an Energy Factor of .56 is low. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy recomends buying a water heater with an Energy Factor of at least .63. By wrapping my older water heater with an insulating blanket I have reduced standby heat loss (heat lost through the walls of the tank) by 25–40%. This should help save 4–9% on my water heating bill. Not too bad for $15.

Read the manufacturer's data tag on your water heater to see the Energy Factor rating. If the Energy Factor is below .63 it makes sense to either insulate or consider upgrading to a newer, more efficient model. Check with your local utility, they may offer a rebate program for upgrading to a high-efficiency water heater. I've made a large improvement in my home water heating efficiency with the new water heater insulating blanket and the foam insulation I had already installed on the hot water pipes (which made a huge improvement in time-to-hot-water at the sink and shower). Call me frugal or cheap, but it's good to know that a such a small investment will continue to pay off with lower utility bills indefinitely.

Energy Factor (EF) indicates a water heater's overall energy efficiency based on the amount of hot water produced per unit of fuel consumed over a typical day. This includes:
* Recovery efficiency – how efficiently the heat from the energy source is transferred to the water
* Standby losses – the percentage of heat loss per hour from the stored water compared to the heat content of the water (water heaters with storage tanks)
* Cycling losses – the loss of heat as the water circulates through a water heater tank, and/or inlet and outlet pipes.

More Info:

Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings: Water Heating

EERE - Insulate Your Water Heater Tank for Energy Savings

A Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

AHRI: Directory of Certified Product Performance (Search for Water Heaters by Efficiency Rating)

Wikipedia: R-value (insulation)

Wikipedia: Water heater - Insulation and other improvements

PNM: High-Efficiency Water Heater Rebate