Appropriate Technology: Get It While It’s Hot

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Hot water heating consumes a good chunk of the average households energy bill. Doesn’t it make sense to accomplish this necessity as efficiently and economically as possible?

The standard tank type electric, gas or oil fired hot water heater has a thermostat that clicks on and off 24 hours a day burning fuel to keep the tank contents at a narrowly defined temperature. It clicks on and off because the tank, no matter how well insulated, constantly radiates heat to the external environment.

These type of hot water heaters have been around a long time and have proved fairly reliable only coming to attention when the pilot needs a relight or an older model starts leaking from corrosion or suffers from internal deposit buildup.

Needless to say, each of these on off cycles consumes energy, and wasted energy if the heated water is not being immediately consumed.

Gaining in popularity to address this energy waste is what is called the tankless hot water heater. Electric tankless water heaters only use electricity when they are called upon to create hot water on demand. Along with the fact that a tankless water heater can save energy and thus money, tankless water heaters can generate hot water at a more consistent rate resulting in a more reliable temperature.

There are a growing number of electric and gas tankless water heaters available on the market. Having such a wide choice makes it much easier to find a unit that falls into a specific price and size range. Since these units are tankless, they require less space and can be more flexible in their location.

While most electric tankless hot water heaters can be installed by the consumer, there are technical considerations such as voltage, amperage, or circuit breakers which may be best left to qualified techs who handle the equipment on a regular basis.

Now, just as you thought you got rid of that water tank, there is one other consideration to ponder. Adding a solar component to your hot water system. With or without the tankless system, any freely preheated water coming into the process will save gas or electricity.

Many solar designs incorporate an insulated storage tank like our old reliable discussed above but without the non renewable energy source. In warmer climates where freezing isn’t a concern, a direct solar heated water circulating system can be employed from the collectors to the tank. In colder climates a drain back or heat exchanger type system can be considered. Whenever you have sunshine you can have lots of hot water stored up even if the insulated tank does radiate off some BTU’s.

Other than the initial installation cost, routine maintenance and small energy inputs in the form of circulation motors if required, the hot water is there from a renewable energy source. When required, that extra boost from the tankless system can provide very economical and consistent hot water.

If the right circumstances are present, like designing a new house or living in the country, and you burn wood or pellets or whatever, you can install hot water heating coils in the firebox and route them to your solar storage tank. This adds an extra boost especially when it is really cold or at night when you have a good fire on.

If you happen to have a windgenerator or access to surplus electricity (like photovoltaics) that isn’t being consumed, stored or sold back to a utility, you can use a dynamic loading switch to ‘dump’ any extra energy into that hot water tank.

It is all a question of circumstance and the degree of multi system integration one wants to consider and employ. These are all appropriate technologies that can work in sync, in this case to provide the ultimate in economical but luxuriating hot water.

Article by: Henry Ramsey