Hot water can be a major expense, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of energy costs in the average home. If your hot water bills are consistently higher than they should be, an inefficient water heater could be to blame. And if a brand new water heater just isn’t in your budget right now, adding insulation is a simple and cost-effective way to seal in savings and boost efficiency.
Some water heaters are more efficient than others, and older models tend to waste more energy than newer ones. In a worst-case scenario, it’s possible that your water heater may be losing as much as 45 percent of its heating energy. In any case, there’s a simple and effective way to tell if you can benefit from insulation. All you have to do is feel the side of your heater’s hot water storage tank with your hand. If it’s warm to the touch, that means heat is escaping, and money is being wasted.
Water heaters should ideally be insulated with a total R-value of at least R-24, and installing an insulation jacket with a value of R-8 can often bring a less efficient water heater up to par. R-values measure insulation’s resistance to heat transfer, and are commonly printed on the packaging when you purchase insulation.
Pre-cut insulation jackets and blankets for water heaters are widely available at most home improvement stores. They generally cost less than $20, and many homeowners make back this initial investment in the form of energy savings within the first year. Insulation jackets are easy to install, and usually require no tools other than tape and a utility knife. For an extra insulation boost, you can place a sheet of rigid insulation board underneath your water heater. This will prevent additional heat losses through the floor.
Installation instructions should be included on the packaging when you purchase insulation; be sure to follow them carefully. You may have to cut holes for your hot water tank’s fixtures. Make sure you leave the thermostat access panel uncovered, and don’t set the thermostat higher than 130 degrees once the insulation jacket is in place. Actually, setting the thermostat lower helps reduce your hot water costs even further, which is an added energy-saving bonus.