Turn down your water heater to save energy

Many water homes have their water heaters turned up too high. Many health codes used to call for hotter temperatures for home water, to ensure that dishes and clothes got clean enough. However, science has taught us that in most cases, it is the act of rubbing the items, the agitation, that causes things to get clean, not the temperature of the water.
IMG_6893The exception for this is things that need to be sterilized. However, you cannot sterilize things in your dishwasher. Many dishwasher have a “sanitize” setting, and new moms talk about “sanitizing baby bottles.”  However sanitize means “to make something free from dirt, infection or disease, etc, by cleaning it” This is not the same as sterilizing. To sterilize water, it must be boiled for at least a minute. Sterilization is typically done in an autoclave which introduces high temperatures and pressures to kill all bacteria and viruses. In food safety term “sanitation” means “the process of reducing microbiological contamination to a level that is acceptable to local health regulations.” According to the Food Safety Site, “If hot water is used in the third compartment of a three-compartment sink, it must be at least 171 degrees F (77 degrees C).”  
It is not reasonable, or safe, for home water to be kept at 171 F.  This temperature will scald people if used unexpectedly.  Some dishwashers and clothes washers may boost the temperature of water to this level, if it has a sanitize cycle. However, you should check with the manufacturer to find out to what temperature your particular model boosts the water.
Home water should be kept at a temperature where when you put your hand under the hot water running full on, you can keep it there for 10 seconds without being scalded. This temperature is about 120 degrees F. Turning the temperature of your hot water down improves safety for children and elderly people and saves energy. It uses less energy to keep a tank at 120F than it does to keep the same tank at 130F or 140F.
Whether you heat your water with oil, natural gas or electricity, you can save energy and make your house safer by turning your water heater down to 120 degrees. Here is how to do it:


  1. Find your hot water heater. They are usually in the basement, but may be under a cabinet or in a closet somewhere.
  2. Find the thermostat on the hot water heater.
  3. Turn it down to 120 degrees or less (This is also referred to “Warm” on units that just have words on the thermostat)
  4. Wait a day or two and see if the temperature is acceptable for showers. If needed you can turn it up a notch at a time. You may even find you can turn it down a notch or two below “warm” and be perfectly happy.

Happy Greening!

Jon & Alicia

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  1. I didn’t realize that many water heaters were up to high. I will have to check on my own water heater. Hopefully more people can find out about this as well. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks so much for this! My shower only has two settings: lava hot and icy cold. I think by changing my water heater, I can not only feel good about my green lifestyle, but can also not accidentally scald myself in the shower. This is a great tip; thanks in particular to the clarification about sanitizing!

  3. I have been spending quite a bit of money on my water heater lately, and I have no idea how to lower my bills. You talked a lot about turning down the temperature of my water heater to help lower the payments. I’ll be sure to try this out and see how much I can save by doing this. Thanks a ton for your insight.

  4. Thanks for explaining the steps for turning down my water heater to help me save energy. My water heater is set at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so it will help to use these instructions to turn the temperature down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit instead. I’ll keep in mind to wait a day or two to find out if this temperature will feel good enough for my showers in case I need to adjust it.

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