Want an easy $10 project that will save you $30 a year for the life of your home while also giving a noticeable quality of life improvement? Insulate your hot water pipes.
Here’s a Department of Energy writeup on how to do it. Or you can follow along with me.
What you need are pre-formed foam insulation tubes that match your pipe diameter, duct tape, and wire ties. The insulation costs around $1-$1.50 in six-foot lengths at Lowe’s right now. It’s a little more expensive everywhere else. When I went to Lowe’s to get mine, they were on an endcap in the plumbing area. So I guess all the cool kids are doing it right now.
Installation is dead simple. Split the seam, snap it onto the pipe, seal up the seam with a length of duct tape, and put a zip tie on each end, and then in the middle as needed (9-24 inches apart). If you need multiple pieces of tube, tape the seams between adjacent pieces.
Start about 3-6 inches above the flue hood on gas heaters, or all the way to the surface on electric. Insulate all the rest of the exposed pipe in your basement or utility closet. The first three feet is the most critical, but the more you can get, the better. Also insulate the cold water pipe, starting from a few inches from the hood and going up 3-6 feet. The reason is because some heat can escape up the cold water pipe too, and insulating it can recapture some of it.
For tricky bends, you can cut some notches in the tube to make it flex around them better, or just use straights and cut filler pieces from some scrap, then secure them with tape.
I was able to insulate the run from my heater to the bathrooms in about an hour. The long run to the kitchen will take longer, because there are some tricky obstacles along the way. Suffice it to say the previous homeowner didn’t take possible insulation of that pipe into consideration when he positioned some things.
It’s worth doing the best you can, even if you can’t insulate everything. Insulating the three feet of pipe going into and coming out of the tank takes minutes and requires about a dollar’s worth of material, while giving significant benefit.
And besides the savings, you’ll get hot water faster at your faucets and shower heads faster.
Actual savings will vary based on your energy rates and the efficiency of your heater. But doing little things like this adds up.
More energy saving ideas
I’ve done a number of other things to help me save energy over the years. Most are pretty inexpensive. I installed thermal blinds and thermal curtains. Then I insulated my electrical outlets and added child safety plates. Of course I use LED bulbs.
My electric usage dropped 19 percent in 2011, so these things work.