Few things are less welcome than a winter electricity or gas bill, especially when it’s much higher than expected, but one of the best ways to address power bill shock is to consider your hot water system. While you may already be careful with your central heating and how many lights you leave on, it’s actually hot water that makes up a whopping 25 per cent of an Australian household’s average power bill. Thankfully, there are a number of simple methods to mitigate these costs and reduce hot water system power usage.
What kinds of hot water systems are there?
Electric and gas storage heaters are the most commonly used types in Australia. A storage system means water is preheated in a tank in readiness for your next shower or laundry day. The second most common type is a gas-powered continuous flow system, where there is no tank; water is heated when and as you need it.
Other options include solar-powered hot water systems, with a boost for rainy days via electricity or gas. For warmer climates, there are heat-pump systems that pull warmth from the air to operate.
What’s the cheapest hot water system?
You need to consider both the installation and running costs. One of the biggest appeals of electric water storage heaters is that they’re among the cheapest to install. However, keeping a tank of water constantly heated will use a lot of power, which you’ll see in your electricity bill. Natural gas is a cheaper source of energy, but only if it’s easily accessible to your property. A solar-powered hot water system will have an expensive upfront cost to install but will pay for itself down the line by providing low-cost power.
What is the best kind of hot water system for me?
This really depends on your household and where you live. A continuous flow system uses less power, as it isn’t always heating stored water. For a big family, however, it may not provide enough hot water on demand for everyone wanting their morning shower. In that instance, a large water storage tank is better. Solar panels on the roof provide a great low-cost source of power for your water system, but not if your house is shadowed by a tall apartment block for half the day. Similarly, a heat pump isn’t going to pull much warmth from the air during long, cold wintry months.
What are some ways to save power with your hot water system?
Whether you are replacing your hot water system, selecting a type for a new home, or just looking for tips to use with your current system, there are several easy ways to help reduce power usage.
Tips for an existing hot water system:
Insulate your pipes
This will be particularly effective if your hot water system is outside, and has to travel a long way to the taps inside. For storage systems, make sure the tank itself is insulated. It’s always best to hire a professional to do this, as you don’t want insulation foam getting close to a gas pilot light or electric heating element.
For storage systems, use a timer
You don’t need piping hot water for your shower in the middle of the night (unless you have teenagers). You’ll also want to switch off hot water if you’re going on holiday and the house will be empty.
Maintain your current system
How old is your current system, and is it performing as expected? Does it require servicing? It’s a lot cheaper to organise some basic maintenance now with a plumber than have to replace an entire system in emergency circumstances.
With the above point in mind, consider what you’d do if your hot water system stopped working tomorrow. It’s cheaper to run out and buy an electric storage system, but remember the ongoing cost. Plan and, if possible, budget in advance. Consider hot water system options in the long term, for example, if a continuous gas system or a solar-powered system are both viable options, what will have been the best choice in 10 years time? Gas is cheaper now, but the cost is generally rising as more states invest in renewable energy.
If you’re replacing or installing a hot water system:
- Install a hot water storage tank as close as possible to your bathroom, laundry or kitchen. The longer the pipes are, the more power it will take to heat the water between the tank and tap. Ideally, if space permits, build your hot water storage system into your laundry or a similar indoor space. This is particularly important to consider if you’re building a new home.
- Do your own research and get several different quotes for the installation of a new hot water system. Make sure you’re getting consistent information about your property’s accessibility to gas, or what savings you can expect from a solar-powered system.
- For electric-powered systems, talk to your electricity provider about connecting to an economy tariff. This means you take advantage of off-peak electricity periods.
- Check to see if your state offers a money incentive for upgrading old hot water systems; you may be eligible for a rebate.
A final energy saving tip is one that doesn’t specifically apply to your hot water system at all: use less hot water. This is one of the simplest and effective ways to reduce power costs.
- Use a lower temperature and shorter cycle on the washing machine
- Don’t run the dishwasher until it’s full, and don’t default to always using the longest, hottest cycle
- Take showers instead of running baths, as the former uses less water
- Replace your showerhead with a low-power version
- Use a pre-set shower timer to stop the flow of hot water (this is great for when you’ve got lots of guests, or kids, who love long showers)
For further information, look up the different Government websites on energy conservation, most of which will include information about saving power with your hot water system.
- Federal (https://www.energyrating.gov.au/products/water-heaters#product-information)
- NSW (https://energy.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-11/Hot%20Water%20Guide%20FINAL.pdf)
- ACT (https://www.actsmart.act.gov.au/energy-saving/hot-water)
- Victoria (https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/energy-efficiency-and-reducing-emissions/save-energy-in-the-home/water-heating/choose-the-right-hot-water-system)
- Queensland (https://www.resources.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/1277181/energy-efficiency.pdf)
- South Australia (https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/energy-and-environment/using-saving-energy/water-heaters)
- Western Australia (https://www.wa.gov.au/government/multi-step-guides/household-and-small-business-energy-tips)
- Tasmania (http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/climatechange/what_you_can_do/homes/tips/reducing_energy)
- Northern Territory (https://nt.gov.au/property/building/build-or-renovate-your-home/building-and-energy-efficiency)