I know, I know, I write about the most thrilling things in green home building! Insulation, energy efficiency rebates and now, hot water heaters! Wow! will the excitement ever stop!
It’s hard to get excited about things like hot water heaters and insulation but if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve reached a point where you know the work has to be done. While the nuts and bolts of home improvement aren’t glamourous they do offer you an opportunity to improve your home’s energy efficiency and lower your monthly heating bills. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency, hot water heaters can consume up to 17% of your home’s annual energy bill. It is second in consumption only to your space heating bill.
There are a lot more options out there for hot water than there used to be. Below is a list of what’s commonly available in Toronto. What you choose will depend on whether or not you have access to a gas line or not.
Storage Tanks: The most common method of heating hotwater is the storage tank whether it’s warmed by electricity, natural gas, propane or oil. The storage tank option means that water is kept warm and ready for use at all times of the day whether you need it or not. There are better storage tank options out there now than there were even ten years ago, so you can significantly lower your heating bill by buying an Energy Star approved tank. Natural Resources Canada also has a few other tips for buying a storage tank which you can read here.
Tankless hotwater systems; Tankless systems aren’t without their pros and cons. The good news is that because there is no storage tank associated with a “tankless” or “on demand” system, it means that water isn’t being heated when it’s not needed, thereby reducing your gas or electric bill. This alone can save you up to a third or more of your hot water costs annually. Generally these systems are best used when the tank is close to where it’s needed (kitchen or bathroom). The key to a successful tankless system is sizing it properly. Make sure you take into account all your family’s hotwater needs — and most importantly, when (ie., do you need 5 showers in the morning?). Also, a tankless system works well when installed with solar hotwater.
Solar hot water: while solar hot water neighbourhoods are being piloted in Toronto, they’re not for every home. Positioning is very important to a successful solar set up. A south-facing rooftop is ideal, particularly without shadow blockage from highrises or trees at certain times of the year. There are two kinds of solar hot water systems: seasonal systems which tend to be less expensive, made out of PVC pipe and used exclusively for heating outdoor swimming pools. These systems are not connected with domestic (indoor) hot water use. A glazed solar hot water system is cold resistant and can be used year round. A solar hot water system still needs to be supplemented with another system whether it be tankless or storage tank.
Drain Water Heat Recovery (DWHR): If you’re not familiar with this method, it is more of a hot water booster system than a stand alone heating method and works well in conjunction with all types of water heaters (including solar and on-demand). The heat from shower water, which normally just goes down the drain is recaptured through conductive pipes containing the incoming cold water which goes to the storage tank or on-demand system. It can help cut your hot water bill by as much as 40%. Of course, you need access to the drain plumbing which needs to be located next to the hotwater heater in order for this to be an effective system.