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Warming Trend.

How to Get Your Electricity Bill Out of Hot Water

Officials at Yosemite National Park in California aren't worried about this winter's soaring heating oil prices. The park's government-built employee housing is kept warm at night by a solar water heater. It's the same at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and at the Bureau of Reclamation's Education Center in Lake Pleasant, Arizona.

The national parks and the EPA are becoming more energy efficient--because they have to: Under a Presidential executive order, federal facilities must reduce their energy consumption by 30 percent and minimize their use of petroleum. But with the price of heating fuel rising and temperatures falling, American households are also becoming more concerned about getting the most from their energy dollar. Of particular concern is water heating, which draws as much as 18 percent of a system's energy.

To find out how much you're already spending to heat water, divide the total amount of your utility bill by seven. Over the course of the year, that figure adds up to a lot of money--and a lot of energy. Heating water with natural gas, propane and fuel oil is only about 60 percent efficient; 40 percent of the energy generated is wasted, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Electric water heating is about 90 percent efficient, but that number drops to 30 or 40 percent after factoring in the fossil fuel emissions back at the power plant.

If you live in the Northeast, the potential for saving energy is especially great. Although less than five percent of the U.S. population lives in the six New England states, New Englanders consume 25 percent of the heating oil used in the entire country. With the area's reserves a third of what they were last year and oil prices expected to increase by 25 percent, this winter's energy crunch could make even the most stoic Mainer shiver with dread.

Cutting Corners ... and Costs

You can reduce your "energy footprint" considerably by simply repairing faucet and shower leaks and insulating your water heater. And don't forget the simplest conservation method of all: reducing consumption. Turn off the water when shaving or brushing your teeth. Install a low-flow showerhead, and turn down the thermostat on your water heater. Every 10-degree reduction in temperature can cut energy consumption by as much as five percent.

Another way to keep Jack Frost at bay while minimizing pollution and energy use is to install a hot water recirculation pump. Normally, hot water waiting to be used loses heat, and you waste water and energy running the tap until it warms up. Recirculation pumps, like those available from Grundfos (motto: "Get hot, not bothered"), keep warm water circulating.

When your system is ready for replacement (usually after eight or nine years of use), consider going solar, Doug Pratt, who handles technical sales and support for alternative energy products retailer Real Goods, says that solar water heating is the most cost-effective option. "It's hard to beat a free heat source," he says.

Priced between $1,000 and $3,500, solar water heaters are competitive with conventional hot water systems, and can pay for themselves in as little as four years, according to Sustainable Sources, a nonprofit that looks for "demonstrable solutions" to environmental problems. (Some states and cities offer rebates for solar installations. Check with your local energy officials.) Although solar heaters work most effectively in high-sun areas like the Southwest, they can be used throughout the country, according to the DOE. When purchasing a system, check with the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (407-638-1537) to verify its quality.

If you live in, say, Alaska, and solar just isn't feasible, a tankless gas-powered water heater might do the trick. "Burning gas in an instant-type water heater is the next best alternative to solar," says Pratt. He adds that such systems are about 30 percent more efficient than the average tank heater. (A tank heater continuously warms the water, even when it's not needed; a tankless heater activates only on demand.)

While you're taking stock of household amenities, take a close look at your washing machine and dishwasher, too. When buying a new one, look for the Energy Star label and compare the efficiency ratings for different models.

For more information, try the DOE's new Home Energy Saver (www., an interactive web site that gives customized information on improving your home's energy efficiency while reducing costs. CONTACT: Controlled Energy Corporation, (800) 642-3199,; DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse, (800)DOE-EREC, www.; Grundfos, (877)WTR-PUMP,; Real Goods, (800)762-7325, www.realgoods. com; Sustainable Sources,

APRIL REESE, a freelance writer based in Washington, DC, appreciates the value of a good, hot shower.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Earth Action Network, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:saving energy used in heating water
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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