Save Hundreds by Getting Yourself Out of Hot Water

An average household spends about $300 a year on hot water — about 12% of a family’s total annual energy budget. But if you have family members who take long showers and generate loads of dirty laundry, that expense could easily double. If hot water expenses are putting the family finances in hot water, it’s time to make some changes. The good news is that if everybody pitches in with some minor behavior alteration, water-heating expenses will definitely diminish.

1. Find a Better Way to Start the Day

Raise your hand if you use the shower to wake up every morning. If you don’t need a shower to get clean, there are better ways to get your body going in the morning — like taking a few minutes to stretch or do light exercises, for example. This new wake-up regimen will save you time and money, and it could even help you lose weight and get in better shape. 

2. Try Sponge Baths

If exercise or other activities make you feel like you need a shower, consider a quick, targeted wipe-down instead. This isn’t always the answer, but you’ll be surprised at how effectively some speedy sponge work can get you clean. Saving time and money is good motivation for making this change.

3. Start Singing in the Shower

By the time you finish belting out one of your favorite songs (in 3-6 minutes or so), you should be just about done washing up. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Shaving in the shower takes more time, for example. But for your basic shower, sticking to the single-song rule will add up in savings. 

4. Upgrade Your Showerhead

A low-flow showerhead uses 30% less water than a conventional version. Don’t let the “low-flow” label on these showerheads get you down. The best water-saving showerheads produce an invigorating blast while delivering just 1.5 gal. per minute or so. They do this by blending air into the water stream and using pulsing technology. For maximum savings, buy a showerhead with a built-in valve that shuts off the water flow while you soap up.

5. Clean Up at the Club

Are you paying for a health club membership without enjoying all the benefits? If you belong to a health club that has showers, shower more at the club so you can shower less at home.

6. Rinse and Reuse

Ever notice how many different coffee cups get used over the course of the day? Instead of filling up the dishwasher with multiple cups and glasses, try rinsing a single glass or coffee cup out when you’re finished and simply reusing it later. Combine this rinse-and-reuse strategy with the practice of doing full rather than partial loads in your dishwasher, and you’ll maximize your savings.

7. Give Your Clothes the Cold Treatment

About 85% of the energy consumed by your washing machine goes into heating water. If you do lots of laundry, you’re looking at major savings potential here. Switch to a detergent designed for cold water and use the “cold/cold” setting on your machine.

8. Call in a Pro

Even the most frugal hot-water habits can’t compensate for the extra money an inefficient hot water heater is going to cost you. If your water heater is more than 10 years old, it’s worth considering an upgrade to a new Energy Star model. If you have a tank-type water heater (the most common variety), a full-service plumber can assess the condition of this appliance and help you weigh the pros and cons of replacement. Less costly energy-saving upgrades include insulating your existing water heater, insulating hot water pipes, and simply turning the temperature setting down to 120 degrees or even lower. On most electric tank-type water heaters, you’ll find the temperature setting dial beneath a metal cover plate on the side of the tank. The “factory” setting of 140 degrees uses more energy than necessary.

For more ideas, check out Wise Bread's 7 Ways to Lower Water Heater Costs.

This is a guest post by Tim Snyder. A journalist specializing in sustainability, energy efficiency, and home building topics, Tim writes frequently for Dr. Energy Saver, a nationwide network of energy improvement contractors. Read more about saving energy on Dr. Energy Saver:

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Guest's picture

My wife and I have been using coldwater detergent for a while now, and not only has it saved us plenty of money on our energy bill, but it's kept our clothes from fading so quickly.

Guest's picture

You can also save by wetting your body down, soaping up and then rinsing, there's no need to have the water running continuously. Can do the same with shampooing your hair, wet, turn the water off, lather and rinse. For the ladies, shave your legs at the sink, then shower. ;-)

Guest's picture

I love the suggestion of showering at the gym. I had a neighbor who did this while his only bathroom was being renovated and he said the added benefit was that he lost weight and got into shape.
We added a timer to the hot water heater. It's only on for one hour per day, long enough to heat water for a shower and dishes.

Guest's picture

Great article Tim.

Will have to apply some of these things.

Guest's picture

Actually, it's a bad idea to lower the overall temperature of your water heater. Some dangerous bacteria (legionella, for instance) can live and thrive at 120 F, but will not multiply at 140 F.
Besides, it doesn't really save that much energy. You don't shower in 140 degree water, right? Heating 1.5 gallons of water from 60 F to 140 F costs exactly as much as heating 2 gallons from 60 F to 120 F (in a perfectly insulated system, at least). And when diluted with cold (60 F) water to the shower-friendly temperature of 100 F, each of these heating strategies yields 3 gallons.