Saturday, June 2, 2012

Post #14 Insulating your hot water heater

Imagine...its a cold February morning and the dog needs to be walked.  Overnight lows were in the teens and you slept to the sound of a hard winter wind nipping at the house.  Anyone that has experienced a good, cold winter knows that getting up and out the door in the morning requires a fair bit of technical planning; there's the long underwear, thick socks, snow pants, turtle necks, wool sweaters and to top it all off, a big jacket (down parka or stylish ski jacket, perhaps).  As the dog crosses his legs, you apply the appropriate armor.

Now're on a summer vacation at the ocean (use your imagination...Hawai'i, maybe Florida?).  The shade from your umbrella is the only thing keeping you from melting away in the blazing sun.  You dig your feet into the sand to a depth that is still moist and cool.  You grab a cold soda from the cooler and it immediately starts to sweat.  Instinctively, put it in a 'coozy' (see picture below).  That coozy – that little piece of decorated foam – is the only thing keeping your drink from turning into a hot mess.    

A Simpsons-inspired 'beer coozy'.  
What do these two scenarios have in common?  That's right – INSULATION!  When I was younger I didn't fully understand how insulation worked; I thought that there was something warm inside my turtle neck.  I thought that there was heat produced from my down jacket.  Now, after knowing a little bit more about the universe, I understand the true role of an insulator.  An insulator's job is to merely act as a barrier between an internal environment (for example, your body) and an outside environment (for example, the cold January morning).  The down jacket doesn't produce the heat (your body does), but it keeps the heat near your body.  The coozy doesn't produce the cold (the ice in the cooler makes the soda cold), but it keeps the cold near the soda.  Amazingly simple and effective technology, really.

Now on to the Armstrong House, which – like most houses- has a hot water heater.  How do we keep the heat in the hot water heater?  We put a removable 3.2 inch thick foam insulator around our tank to constantly trap its heat.  Think about it.  Your hot water tank is usually hot (or at least warm) and whenever its temperature exceeds that of the outside air (essentially all the time) it is releasing heat.  Every minute, every hour, ever day the average home owner is heating up water only to loose some of it as waste heat to a cold room.  Take a look at our water heater's insulator, essentially a giant beer coozy. 
The removable 3.2 inch foam insulator for my hot water heater.  Just one of the steps toward energy efficiency at the Armstrong House.  
Our insulator and the tank it was specifically designed to fit, were manufactured by Schuco, a German company specializing in solar power, high insulating windows and 'solar hot water' systems (the topic of a future Blog post).  You can see from the picture that the insulator fits snugly and even has windows and little detachable pieces to facilitate the tank's service.  You may be saying, "Well that's great for you, you bought your insulator and tank together so you know they fit perfectly.  But how do I insulate my standard water tank?"  There is hope.  There are companies out there that make insulators to fit your tank- whatever the style, size or model.  See this video about do-it-yourself tank insulation part 1, part 2.            
What about savings?  Energy and $$$?  The amount you will save depends on many factors, including the size and current insulation value of your tank and how hot you keep it. Here is a website from the United State Department of Energy that quotes annual energy savings and payback period.  

Remember- part of Living Lighter on the Land is about reducing our use of energy.  By incorporating energy efficient appliances and technologies that – each – save a little energy, we will see a big difference over the long haul when they are integrated.  This gets me thinking...what else can we insulate?


Helena V. Studio Inc. said...

Thanks Tate for that info. Very interesting and makes perfect sense. I shared it with my husband Colin. Hope you are well. -Helena

Tate Bushell said...

Hi Helena, thanks for the comment. Tate