Water Heater Timers: Are They Worth It?

Photo: Neff Conner/Flickr 

What if you could program your hot water heater to turn on or off, according to a set schedule, so it wasn’t unnecessarily wasting energy? Would that be worth the cost of the device and the time it takes to install it? How much money would you really save, if any?

What is a water heater timer?

A water heater timer is a small electronic device that fits onto your current hot water heater (either gas or electric), and allows you to set specific “on” or “off” periods for hot water production and maintenance. In standard hot water heaters, energy is required to keep the water in the tank heated, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But do you even need access to hot water 24 hours a day? Maybe not. And maybe, if that’s the case, a water heater timer might help you save some money. Maybe.

Is your water heater that inefficient?

First, it’s important to know that a standard water heater actually only actively runs for an average of roughly 3 hours a day. And the newer, energy-efficient models run even less than that, just a little over an hour each day. What that means is that your hot water heater is already “off” for the vast majority of the day.

Second, on the flip side, all hot water heaters suffer from something called a standby loss. This refers to the amount of heat that a tank will lose when it’s just sitting there, doing nothing. Over time, minimal amounts of heat will transfer through the walls of the tank, resulting in a slow leak of energy. However, it’s important to note that these standby losses are quite low, even in older, less efficient water heaters.

If your hot water heater is a modern energy-efficient model, or, according to some experts, possibly if it’s any model made after 1998, the standby losses are so low that adding a water heater timer might not be worth the trouble at all.

When is a water heater timer worth it?

So when is it worth it? Well, it sort of depends on your lifestyle.

The biggest savings seem to come when users are able to shut down their water heater during peak energy usage periods -- usually from 7 or 8 am through 8 or 9 pm -- and when they are on a plan that bills differently at peak versus non-peak times. So if you’re out of the house all day and can have your heater shut down during peak hours, and if your utilities company offers a differential billing rate for peak versus non-peak periods, then yes, a water heater timer may in fact be a good investment for you. But if you don’t keep a regular schedule that involves long periods of away time, and if your utilities company only offers fixed-rate plans, then it may not be worth it.

In the end, a water heater timer is a cheap gadget (you can get one for about $50), and installation is quick and easy (under half an hour, tops). So if your main goal is to pinch every single last penny, and to save every iota of energy, then ... well, go for it! It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Find out more ways to save on your hot water bill; contact a licensed plumber.

Sayward Rebhal writes for Networx.com.

Updated December 20, 2017.

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