Water Heater Blanket Insulation 101: Advantages, How to and Tips

If you own a water heater, you might consider investing in an insulating blanket. These items are meant to offer additional insulation to water heating storage tanks. One of the main benefits is saving on heating costs. Depending on each water heater blanket, the added insulation provided can result in significant energy savings with little investment (insulating blankets are rather inexpensive).

Power Tip: You do not need to install an insulation blanket on a water heater if you can use the lost heat in another way. Similarly, a blanket is not necessary if you have purchased one of the newer models of water heater; their R-rating is already R-16 or above. If you can’t see the factory-installed insulation on the water tank, read the manufacturer’s label; it should tell you how much insulation your water heater contains.

Storage Tanks & Heat Loss

Any water heating system that comes with a storage tank leaves some of the heated water unused. Consequently, your system will eventually have to reheat this unused water for future use. This expensive energy waste – known as standby heat loss – can account for up to 20 percent of your total water heating costs.

The steel walls of the tank are usually to blame for the majority of heat loss; the hot water pipes are also vulnerable. Avoiding or completely eliminating standby heat loss in systems that require storage tanks is rather impossible. However, a hot water heater blanket can provide additional insulation to reduce standby heat loss.

R-value Rating

But which water heater blanket is best? You should know these insulating items are rated and classified by their R-value – an industry measurement commonly used to represent the thermal resistance of a material. In other words, the R-value measures the insulating effectiveness of the various insulating objects on the market.

Insulation blankets can increase the effectiveness of a water heater. If your water heater is located in the garage, basement, or attic or any other unconditioned space, install a heavy blanket – R-11 or above. Keep in mind: The higher the R-value, the thicker the blanket and the more insulating power.

The great majority of water heater blankets are made of insulating fiberglass interiors; they also feature either vinyl lining or reflective barriers (foil or aluminum). If you choose a model with reflective barriers made of pure aluminum, you will get a higher R-value.

Installing a Water Heater Blanket

Luckily, insulation blankets often come in kits, which means the installation is rather easy. More times than not, these kits provide all the tools and materials you might need for installing the water heater blanket. They also come with detailed installation instructions, so you should follow the manufacturers’ directions to the dot.

The installation process is different, depending on the kind of water heater you have:

  • If you have a gas water heater: Simply wrap the tank all the way around and from the top to just above the controller. If the blanket seems a bit short, that’s no problem. It’s common knowledge the bottom of the tank is usually several inches above the actual bottom of the water heater; it’s just a couple of inches below the drain valve.

Warning: Installing a water heater blanket on a gas-powered storage tank requires additional care and consideration – more so than with the procedure of wrapping up an electric-powered tank. Be careful not to wrap the top of a gas water heater; the insulation is prone to catching on fire due to the exhausted heat. Also, keep in mind the insulation should not cover the anode, the controller, or the pressure and temperature relief valve.

  • If you have an electric water heater: Installation is rather forward with electric-powered tanks. Given that electric water heaters do not have an exhaust, you can insulate the sides as well as the top. However, do not cover the heating-element access panels if you want to prevent the overheating of the electrical components.

Tips to Cut Water Heating Costs

There are some good practices that you can employ if you want to trim the costs of water heating in your household. The tips below are not just energy saving, but also money saving.

  • Turn down your tank’s thermostat

According to estimates, you can save 3% to 5% on your bill with every 10 degrees you turn the thermostat down. The preset on most water heaters is 140 degrees, but that comes with an added risk of scalding. However, the recommendations of the Energy Department suggest that you should lower it to 120 degrees. Not only is that high enough to meet your needs, but it also reduces mineral buildup in your pipes and tank.

  • Use less hot water

It’s the easiest way to make sure you cut costs on hot water. Estimates shoe that a family of four that showers 5 minutes daily uses 700 gallons of water per week—enough to supply the drinking water of one person for three years! Install faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads (inexpensive at $10 or $20) to cut the hot water consumption up to 60 percent. The same family of four can save 14,000 gallons of water annually with low-flow fixtures.

At the same time, you can save on water consumption by using the “economy” setting on your dishwasher. Since modern dishwashers are good with dirty dishes, you can also skip the pre-washing for further savings. Simply scrape any leftovers into the compost bin and then load the plates.

Insulate Exposed Water Pipes

Insulating your hot water pipes is an easy job. Not only will the water arrive at the faucet 2 to 4 degrees warmer, but it will also help you save on energy, water, and money. You will no longer have to wait for the water to heat up. It’s an inexpensive DIY job you can finish during one afternoon. It might require some effort, depending on the location of your hot water pipes. If you have exposed in the basement, you will insulate them in no time. However, hard-to-reach pipes located in crawl spaces or inside walls are not worth the trouble.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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