As a daughter of parents who lived through the Great Depression, I was raised with constant reminders to “Turn off the lights,” “Shut off the water,” and “Put on a sweater if you’re cold” instead of ramping up the furnace. The concepts of energy efficiency and “being green” are not really new to most baby boomers like me. My husband and I do what we can to protect our environment and natural resources, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it helps our budget. It’s ingrained in us.
Until last year, however, our green-ness was pretty much limited to things that most people do these days. We recycle our paper, plastics and glass; we have reusable grocery bags and water bottles; we have a setback thermostat, timers for outdoor lighting, a fuel efficient car and high efficiency appliances . . . All of these things add up, but I knew we could do more. In fact I was reminded of it every morning I’d turn on the shower and waste several gallons of water while waiting for the temperature to be “just right” before stepping in. Our master bathroom is the furthest room in the house from our water heater. Some mornings, it took three-four minutes before hot water finally made its way to this room.
Last year, we purchased a hot water recirculation system with the hope of saving water and money on our utility bill. The “driver” of this system is a low energy pump, about the size of a softball, which was installed near the water heater in the basement of our nine-year-old home. The pump was plumbed into the existing hot water supply line to circulate hot water throughout the house. On the main level, a small bypass valve with a temperature sensor was installed under the sinks in our master bathroom and kitchen. These strategic locations, on opposite routes of the water supply lines in our home, ensure hot water is available wherever we need it—not just in the kitchen or master bath, but in the powder room, laundry room and guest bathroom. The circulator pump circulates water to the bypass valve, which connects the hot and cold water supply lines. The valve stays open until the water reaches 95 degrees at which time the bypass valve closes and hot water is ready for use. Last but not least, the circulator pump has a built-in timer that operates the unit only during times of the day when hot water typically is used.
Hot water recirculation systems can be purchased at home and plumbing supply stores as well as through local plumbing contractors. Andy, our plumber, was familiar with such systems and quite enthusiastic about them. Within an hour, our hot water recirculation system was in place, and Andy’s last words to me as he left were, “You’re going to love it!” I laughed. How can you love a pump?
Faster Hot Water – With Less Waste!
Well, one year later, I have to say with a straight face, I DO love this pump! Besides feeling very good about not wasting all that water in the shower anymore, it’s so gratifying to have “instant” hot water from any faucet in the house, any time we need it – for cooking, cleaning, washing your hands and face, shaving . . . In fact, whenever I’m away from home and have to wait for hot water, I realize just how much this little pump has spoiled me in terms of comfort and convenience.
My husband and I are empty nesters. We no longer use near the amount of water we did when we were raising our children. But between the two of us, our water utility bills indicate a reduction of more than 20 gallons of water per day in the year since we installed our hot water recirculation system. For two people who take relatively quick showers, that’s over 7,000 gallons annually! Imagine the cost implications if larger families, more homes and buildings used hot water recirculation systems. Imagine the savings to one of the world’s most valuable resources.
There are a multitude of things people can do to be green these days, but some of them cost a lot of money and are inconvenient and impractical. The hot water recirculation system we have wasn’t the least expensive of such systems, it cost around $600, but it was affordable, and every month, we get a return on our purchase with the savings on our water bill. Every day, when we turn our faucets to “H,” we get another return in terms of comfort and convenience. Sometimes, being green is more than being good to our planet. It’s being good to us.
Kathy Teach is a homeowner in Lenexa, Kansas.