July 11, 2014

Don't get yourself into hot water

There's nothing like a steaming hot shower on a cold winter's morning. Mmmm.

It's so easy to take for granted. Until, of course, the hot water system (HWS) packs up, which could be tomorrow if your system is old or in disrepair. When was the last time you looked at your HWS or had a plumber check its condition? Do you know how old it is? Ok, let's be honest - do you even know where and what type it is? It's not something many people really pause to ponder.

Depending on what type you have - electric, gas, heat pump or solar - you could also be paying way more on your energy bills than you have to. Given this little luxury can account for up to a third of your household's energy bills, it pays to do some homework on your existing HWS and options for a more cost-efficient replacement. That way, you can avoid that last-minute 'icy' panic.   

Electric HWS are generally the most costly to run (especially given electricity price hikes) - up to two or three times more expensive to operate than gas or solar hot water systems. And they are the least eco-friendly on the carbon front. On average, electric HWS produce around four tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, similar to an average sized car.  

So what are your options?

If you have to go for an electric system - say, because there's not enough solar access on your roof or gas in the street - aim for instantaneous or off-peak systems if possible. They are cheaper to run. To keep bills down, try to take shorter showers and use cold water for washing clothes. Affordable water-efficient taps and showerheads can also save you buckets.

There are alternatives that can provide a reliable supply of hot water with a smaller dent in your back pocket over the long-term, plus greener benefits:

  • gas-boosted or electric-boosted solar hot water

  • air-sourced heat pumps (works like a refrigerator but in reverse)

  • gas HWS (storage or instantaneous)

    Gas-boosted solar systems are the most eco-friendly option and offer the best savings in the long run. However, this type of HWS won't suit all homes if your roof does not get enough sun. Gas storage or instantaneous system can be least costly to install and may suit small to medium sized homes. By the way, instantaneous gas is cheaper to run than storage as it only heats up the water when you need it.  Heat pumps and solar HWS may be a cost-effective choice for medium to large households (3 to 6 people).  

    It's likely one of these options is suitable for your home, regardless of household size. There are also Federal Government financial incentives for solar hot water systems and heat pumps to reduce the upfront cost.

    Seems confusing? Scan the checklist below.

Things to consider:

  • Your family size (how much hot water you use for showers, baths, washing) - this will influence the size of the system.
  • Where you live (climate affects the efficiency of hot water systems).
  • If natural gas is available in your area (Jemena or any gas supplier will be able to tell you over the phone).
  • How much you can spend.
  • How much sunlight your roof gets in summer and winter.
  • Where the HWS will be located - most systems are flexible but if roof space is limited, solar may not be the best option. If there is little outdoor space, a heat pump might not be ideal as they work best when located outdoors.
  • Your current system - if electric storage, you may be able to incorporate it into a new system, e.g. as a storage tank for a solar system.
  • Make sure your installer is adequately qualified. For all systems that require an electricity supply (e.g. heat pumps) or any system with an electric boost, your installer must be a licensed electrician as well as a licensed plumber. For systems that use natural gas, your installer should be licensed to connect and work with natural gas.

A good HWS supplier can help address these questions and recommend different options, depending on your home and usage patterns. They will also know if incentives apply and deal with the related paperwork.

Get quotes from a few different suppliers to make sure you get the right information plus a good deal. 

More information:

 Check out:

  • NSW Government's hot water tips: www.environment.nsw.gov.au/energy/hotwater.htm

  • Choice's Hot Water Options Buying Guide: www.choice.com.au.

    By Nicola Saltman, Waverley Council.

    Originally published in The Beast Magazine



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