Your water heater is one of the biggest contributors to your electric bill. It’s usually on all the time, heating water even when no one is home. I learned just how much it contributes to the power bill one summer when I went on a long vacation. I had turned it off at the fuse box when we left for safety reasons. I’d never done that before. When I got home, my power bill was the lowest I’d ever seen it. Even though the A/C and other appliances were off, that bill was about thirty percent lower than any other bill when I’d gone on vacation. I got to thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice if I had the ability to control the water heater even when I am home? Unfortunately for most of us, the only way to turn it on and off when it’s not needed is to trek to the fuse box and turn off the breaker. But what if there were another way?
Those on-demand water heaters are nice and would help me save money, but they are expensive and I didn’t want to just toss my perfectly good water heater. I needed another solution. I was inspired by the setup in my motor home. That water heater is gas and there is a switch inside the camper to turn it on and off. We turn it on in the morning, turn it off during the day while we’re gone, turn it on again in the evening when we return and turn it off again before we go to bed. It keeps our gas usage (and bill) low when we’re on the road. I wanted a system like that for the house. I wanted to be able to flip a switch in the morning and let it heat up while I went for my run. When I got home, I could take a hot shower before leaving and turning the water heater off for the day. I could then turn it on again in the evening so I could do dishes and laundry and take a shower. Before bed, I could turn it off for the night.
Luckily I am married to a husband with electrical ability. (If you’re not, this is definitely a project for a professional as it involved messing around in the fuse box and running new wiring. Safety first.) He was able to install exactly what I wanted using about $100 in parts from Home Depot. I now have a switch by my kitchen sink that I use to turn the water heater on and off as needed. I don’t have to trek to the fuse box if I know I’m going to be gone a while in order to turn off the breaker.
Our power bills are now about twenty percent lower than they were before we installed the switch (in some months that’s as much as $50). The cost of the switch was paid back in less than three months and every month since then has been pure savings. (It would take longer to pay back the cost if you had to hire professional help, as electricians can be pricey.) There are some days we forget to turn it off as often as we should, but on the whole we keep the water heater off when not in use. It would be nice if I could find a programmable water heater that works like a programmable thermostat but in the absence of that solution, my switch works well. People comment to me sometimes that it’s odd that I would go through the trouble to set this up, but when I tell them the savings, they start to think about it for themselves.
This is part of a new series of articles which look at strange, offbeat and unusual ways to save and make money. Anything that’s a little odd, uncommon, or contrarian is fair game – as long as it’s legal.