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



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. 



Got a question for Dot? Let her know below:

    Latest Stories

    Right at Home: Two Sisters Build Green

    Editors’ note: The sisters preferred not to be named in this story.  The story begins in a...

    Room for Change: Rugs

    I have never liked wall-to-wall carpeting. But a night on the carpet of the Delhi airport...

    Wild Caught: There’s Plenty of Fish in the Sea Surrounding M.V.

    “My grandfather built this boat in the mid to late ’30s,” says Denny Jason, Jr., a...

    RECIPE: Black Sea Bass Piccata

    For more information on sourcing fresh local fish, and more recipes, check out "Wild Caught." Eating fish...

    RECIPE: Sea Scallops with Parsnip Puree and Herbs

    For more information on sourcing fresh local fish, and more recipes, check out "Wild Caught." Pristine sea...

    RECIPE: Fluke Fish Tacos

    For more information on sourcing fresh local fish, and more recipes, check out "Wild Caught." Fluke is...

    Good News: Restoring Wampanoag Land 

    Wampanoag volunteers are restoring Massachusetts lands. As reported by The Associated Press and MassLive, a project...
    Dear Dot
    Dear Dot
    Dear Dot is here to answer all your sustainable living questions from her perch on the porch. Got a question for Dot? Send her a note for a chance to be featured in an upcoming issue.

    Read More

    Related Articles


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here