Prep your Water Heater for Colder Weather

BY Allconnect Inc | Tue Nov 05, 2013

Most homeowners do not even think about the water heater until there’s a problem. Of course, by then, it’s too late and this unfortunate fact ushers in an entirely new set of problems.

For example, you may be facing relatively minor annoyances like having to go without hot water entirely for a period of time and having to wait on your plumber, who is so backed up with other repairs that he cannot attend to yours immediately.

On the more dire side of the things, your inadvertent neglect could result in burst pipes, unaddressed leaks that have caused rot and structural damage, and even massive flooding inside your house.

Nobody wants to deal with any of the above, and fortunately, by keeping an eye on your water heater and plumbing throughout the year, you may be able to avoid them entirely.

Due to the fact that an estimated 18% of your monthly utility bill derives from heating water, addressing your water heater is as good a place to start as any. And although performing this insulation maintenance in the hot summer months will save you the most money by conserving the most energy, there’s no time like the present – even though colder weather is starting to roll in.

Here are some simple steps you can take to insulate your water heater before winter waltzes in, as well as some additional money saving tips related to your plumbing.

Pack up Your Pipes

One of the easiest ways to start cutting costs associated with heating water in your home is insulating the pipes attached to your water heater.

In cool weather, this is especially important for water heaters that have exposed pipes outside of the house (in a garage) as opposed to water heaters that are completely contained within your home (like in a closet, etc.).

Think about it: when pipes are exposed and their job is to keep the water inside warm, they have to work that much harder to maintain heat than if they had a “coat” of sorts helping them retain the warmth. This equates to higher energy costs to make up the difference and keep your running water at the desired temperature.

Also, it protects pipes in the winter and prevents them from bursting in freezing weather, so this is a great idea if for no other reason than protection! But just in case you need a few more:

  • The water temperature in insulated pipes is on average 2°- 4°F hotter than exposed pipes, which allows you to lower the water temperature setting inside the heater, saving energy and money on your electric bill;

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  • When water stays warmer inside the pipes, it delivers hot water to your faucets much faster, saving time otherwise spent waiting for the water to heat up for your showers, washing your hands and manual dishwashing;
  • Since you’re not running the water as long to heat it up, you also are not pouring so much water down the drain, conserving water and saving money on your water/sewage bills.

So, set aside a few hours one afternoon to insulate your water heater pipes – you and your wallet will be glad you did.

First, determine the type of insulation you need:

For electric heaters, the most common type of insulation is a pipe sleeve made out of polyethylene or neoprene foam. This polyethylene sleeve costs less than a dollar for a length of six feet.

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For gas water heaters that have pipes within eight inches of the flue, fiberglass insulation is your safest bet. Just be sure to wear long sleeves and pants plus gloves and safety glasses if you’re working with fiberglass.

To get the proper size, make sure the inside of the sleeve is tight around the diameter of the pipe itself.

In addition to the correct type and amount of pipe insulation, you’ll also need to have these items at the ready:

  • Tape measure
  • Scissors or utility knife for cutting the strips of insulation
  • Acrylic or duct tape, or cable ties, for securing the foam sleeves or aluminum foil tape or wire for fiberglass insulation
  1. Beginning at the water heater, measure lengths of insulation to cover all exposed pipes. The first three feet are especially important and you can insulate both hot and cold water inlet pipes.
  2. Cut the sleeve insulation to the proper length.
  3. Attach the sleeve so that the seam faces down when wrapped around the pipe.
  4. Secure the insulation by placing a clamp, wire or tape around the sleeve at intervals of every foot or two.

For gas and electric tank water heaters, attaching an insulated blanket is another way to keep the overall efficiency of your unit in peak condition.

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This Energy Star certified model from UltraTouch is made of recycled denim and high performance foil as opposed to itchy fiberglass and fits a tank capacity size of up to 60 gallons. Coming in at right around the $30 mark, this blanket will reduce your energy bill. Don’t forget that heat loss from your water heater means that in the hot summer months your air conditioner won’t have to work as hard either so you end up saving money year round.

What are some of the other ways you’ve prepped your house for colder weather?

Guest author: Chris Long has been a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago suburbs since 2000. Chris writes on water heater topics for the Home Depot website. He also provides general bathroom remodel tips for Home Depot as well.

Allconnect is a free online resource for both new movers and people looking to save money  to review and compare the costs and choices for essential home services, including home utilities, high speed Internet, phone, cable TV, satellite TV, and home security systems.

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