Dear Dot: Should I ever turn down my hot water heater?

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Dear Dot,

What should I do with the temperature on my water heater when I leave for a week’s vacation?

–Wayne, West Tisbury

Dear Wayne,

Your question raises something of a tempest in a water heater. On the one hand, heating water for our homes uses roughly ⅕ of the energy consumption of the average U.S. household. So we might as well take the opportunity, if we’re away from our homes for more than a long weekend, to reduce that consumption (and the subsequent bill) when it’s as simple as turning the temperature on our water heater down to 120°F or “vacation” mode if your model has it. Even my math-challenged brain knows that makes cents. 

You can also insulate an older tank and the pipes that carry the hot water to our faucets, which will further reduce energy consumption and cost.

But, and it’s a big but, as our climate crisis deepens, it is becoming abundantly clear that we must have a system-wide shift in where we source our energy, including how we heat our water. All of us. As a society. Which means consistently pushing those who make decisions to phase out polluting fossil fuels and move us toward cleaner, greener energy.

When the time comes, switch to a hot water heat pump. Cape Light Compact will even help you find ways to afford it. Or talk to your plumber about whether a tankless water heater would work for you. Or maybe, like Lisa who asked Dot about finding a solar installer, it’s time to power your entire household (or even just your hot water) from the rays of the sun. 

I hope you don’t feel like you’re in hot water for just asking a reasonable question, Wayne. It is mid-winter and I am grumpy. And I worry deeply that, in our uber-responsible desire to take every possible teensy tiny step to make the world better, we miss the systemic ways in which certain non-green choices are forced upon us. Let us do our small parts but also let us continue to push hard for change. 

Grumpily, 

Dot

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