Here in Idaho, the weather can get pretty cold at times. Imagine taking some snow that has melted, and heating that over the stove every time you wanted to take a shower. That sounds absurd, however that is precisely what many of our homes are doing to provide us with hot water during the winter. As you can imagine, the price it takes to heat that water can be substantial when you look at the annual cost. Now, think back to your last shower (hopefully not too long ago!), and the amount of steaming hot water that went down the drain. Whether you’re a 30 minute showerer, 15, or even 5, there is a considerable amount of heat you paid for that gets disposed of every day. This amount is even larger if you have a large or medium sized family.
Luckily, someone realized this waste of energy, and invented something to “recapture” some of this wasted heat.
Let me introduce you to the “Drain Water Heat Recovery Unit”:
Take a look at the diagram. The easiest way to explain this system is to follow the cold water (blue) in the diagram. This water is run around and around a copper heat exchanger of sorts, where hot water from the bath/shower pours down against the outer wall of the cold supply water piping. Since the unit is made from Copper (a very good conductor of heat), a considerable amount of heat from the shower water is captured and transferred to the cold supply water without making any direct contact.
If you keep following the cold water in the diagram, you will see that the water is now “pre-heated” (green), and enters the water heater this way. Much better than ice cold water. This not only makes it cheaper to run year round, it can also extend the life of your water heater since it is no longer working as hard to heat ice cold water. You’re essentially recycling old heat.
Since price ranges for these units can vary anywhere from $300-$500 (copper can be expensive), the payback period is usually estimated to be between 2.5 to 7 years. When you think about it, that’s not very long at all! Compare that to solar roofing at over 20 years payback (usually much longer).
So, while these units are particularly helpful in cold or diverse climates like Idaho, they can also be helpful in warmer climates as well. After all, even in Arizona they use hot water!
While in Idaho, home inspections aren’t usually going to include money saving upgrades like this in a report, you can certainly ask your inspector if he knows of any home efficiency or energy upgrades that might be a good fit for your home. Who knows! He may have a list!
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