Many of us spend the winter months locked in a near-perpetual argument over the thermostat. One of us is invariably too cold, while the other insists that it’s always too hot. You may have even had similar disagreements over hot water temperature, raising the question, “How hot should a hot water heater be set?” As with any number of other home comfort issues, Ace Plumbing has the answer.
Does Your Water Heater Have You in Hot Water?
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What Happens if Your Hot Water Heater is the Wrong Temperature?
Before we reveal the magic number, let’s take a look at what happens when you don’t set your water heater at the right temperature, and why you should call for hot water heater repair if you’re having difficulty maintaining a consistent temperature.
What If Your Water Heater is Too Cold?
Most of us don’t like taking cold showers. Beyond comfort, however, there’s a medical reason to make sure your water heater doesn’t run too cold.
Just as humans thrive within certain temperature ranges, the same can be said of bacteria. When it comes to your water heater, there’s one bacterium in particular that’s worth mention. Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaire’s Disease, thrives in water that’s warm, but not too hot.
What If Your Water Heater is Too Hot?
Not wanting cool water from your hot water tank is one thing; we don’t suggest going too far in the other direction, either, since water that’s too hot brings with it even more hazards.
- Scalding risk, especially for young children, the elderly, and those with nerve conditions that leave them less able to perceive when water is too hot for safety
- Higher energy bills; tank water heaters need to maintain a high volume of water within a set temperature range, but even a tankless water heater will consume more energy to reach a higher temperature
- Shorter service life, since higher heat promotes rust buildup and hard water deposits
What Hot Water Temperature is Just Right?
Water heaters usually come set to 140 degrees by default. This is widely regarded as the optimum temperature to kill many harmful bacteria. However, as we noted above, higher temperatures raise scalding risk and energy bills alike; for this reason, the Department of Energy and other bodies recommend setting your hot water heater to 120 degrees. Any temperature between these extremes should be sufficient.
Other Ways to Save Money on Hot Water
If your concerns run more toward energy conservation and controlling your energy bill, there are some other steps you can take.
- Get regular water heater maintenance so your water heater runs as efficiently, and lasts as long, as it should
- Use your dishwasher rather than hand-washing where possible; modern dishwashers can raise water temperatures over 140 degrees to sanitize dishes and utensils without relying on the water heater, and without compromising your safety
- Remember that your water heater will not last forever; for units older than 12 years, it’s a good idea to consider replacement
- It’s a small investment, but an effective one: get a low-flow shower head; this will help you save water and energy, and it’s also helpful to prevent running out of hot water in larger households
- If you have a smart home, take advantage of its connectivity to monitor energy use and identify ways to save money
- Don’t neglect hot water heater repairs or any other plumbing issues; instead, get in touch with Ace Plumbing Heating and Air Conditioning for 24/7 emergency plumbing service