Hot water for baths and showers is a luxury that many of us enjoy. But it comes with a price that, as energy costs increase, is going higher and higher. In fact, water heating is the third largest energy expense in your home and accounts for about 12% of your utility bill. Luckily, there are several ways you can lower your bills without sacrificing comfort. For example, you can use less hot water. You can also insulate your tank and pipes. And/or you can upgrade to a newer, more energy-efficient water heater. Try out the tips for saving energy below and see how much you can save.

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1. Use Less Water

The simplest water heating tip to save money is to use less water. You'd be surprised at how much you can reduce your usage without really noticing it. For example, some older showerheads have flow rates of 5.5 gallons per minute. Newer models flow at less than half that rate and get you just as clean. Find out more at Water Conservation Tips.

2. Use Less Heat

Besides using less water, another tip for saving energy is to use less heat. Because even though new water heaters sometimes come from the manufacturers with temperatures set at 140°, many people have found that you can lower your water heater temperature to 120° and still be comfortable. Give it a try and see for yourself.

3. Insulate Your Tank

Insulating your hot water tank is a good idea, but you need to be careful. If it's electric, you want to make sure that you don't cover the thermostat. If it's natural gas or oil, be sure that you don't cover the top, bottom, thermostat or burner compartment. In fact, you might want to consider calling a professional for this project. But either way, always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

4. Insulate Your Pipes

Lower your water heater temperature, you might also want to consider insulating your hot water pipes at the same time. The reason is that insulated water pipes can deliver water that's up to 4° hotter than uninsulated pipes. Be sure to insulate the pipes within 3 feet of the water heater. But once again, be careful. On gas water heaters, you need to make sure that you keep the insulation at least 6 inches from the flue.

5. Install Heat Traps

If you have a newer water heater model, then you might already have heat traps. But if you don't, you might want to consider installing them. Heat traps are basically valves or loops that are specifically designed to stop hot water from flowing out of your tank when you don't want it to. But because it involves soldering pipe joints and requires a certain amount of knowledge about plumbing and heating, it's advisable to hire a qualified professional for this project.

6. Install a Timer

If you have an electric water heater, a timer is a great idea. It's relatively inexpensive. It saves money by turning your water heater off at night. And best of all, you can install one yourself.

7. Flush Your Water Heater Annually

There are three reasons why you should flush the sediment from your hot water heater at least once a year. First, you’ll have more room in your tank to store hot water for your showers and baths. Second, it’ll keep bacteria from growing in your tank. And most important, it’ll save you money on your energy bill, because your tank will operate more efficiently. You can find out online how to do it yourself, or you can call a plumber.