Don’t Flush Money Down the Drain by Robert Jordan of Energy Wise Homes
Don't Flush Money Down the Drain by Robert Jordan of Energy Wise Homes
Robert Jordan - Robert
Richard Merlino - Rich
Robert: Hello! I’ve been a remodeling contractor and interested in energy efficiency or I should say green building for a long time, and I think that green building is a fairly nebulous topic, and it covers a whole lot of things that people will say like using recycled materials and so forth, but I think we will all probably agree that energy efficiency is a significant part of it. Another part is resource efficiency in using resources wisely. One of the resources that is important to use wisely is water.
We get this right. What’s happening, Rich?
Rich: This is just a practical joke. Doug and I thought this would be funny.
Rich: While he comes up and rescues you, I mean you know the stuff off the top of your head, so feel free to just keep on going.
Doug: Hold it like that.
Robert: Okay, as part of the soapbox political stuff, why save water, 97 percent of the Earth’s water is saltwater in the ocean, which is kind of astounding I find when you think of how much freshwater we see every day, but it’s only like 3 percent of the Earth and a good part of that is tied up in ice on land.
Rich: So that’s why we need more global warming to melt that ice so we can get into it.
Robert: Yes, turn it into a saltwater [laughter].
Rich: Yes, perfect.
Robert: We get a good amount of the rainfall in New England, but yet we still see a lot of water restrictions. I remember the first time I’ve had a house in 1975, I got my first water bill for $12. It was water and sewer and actually my father was always complaining about the cost of water. “Turn the water off!” I was totally shocked to find out that was actually for a quarter not just a month, so we all know what water costs are today.
A number of years ago, there was a documentary on TBS called “Cadillac Desert,” which was a bit polemic and based on the book of the same title by Mark Reisner. Very interesting how this fight of getting water from the Colorado in the Owen’s Valley in California, it played out. “Water and Power” deals with the same topic, but it’s more factual. “China Town,” I don't know if you’ve seen that movie, but it’s a really fantastic movie about the corruption in Los Angeles because Los Angeles would not be there without water from the Colorado.
This is the intake towers behind Hoover Dam, and the water has come down precipitously, so that water is used to run the generators at Hoover Dam. What was once a certain amount of water that was allocated to Mexico is virtually a trickle now, so we’re really running out of water and not using it very nicely.
Here we go. Here are two signs that I’m seeing locally about water restrictions and they’re pretty much up all the time now, and I think we really need to start thinking about how we’re using water.
Here are some ways that we might be able to use water. I’ll talk about these tonight. Water recirculation, tankless water heaters, heat pump or hybrid water heaters, high efficiency toilets, low-flow fixtures, zero escaping which is using more natural landscaping, so you don't have to irrigate it.
Recirculation of hot water. We want to recirculate the water so that we have the water immediately, so we turn on the hot water, and we have hot water. One of the problems is without recirculation, you turn the water on, the water runs for several minutes and all that water is going down the drain and it’s being wasted.
What people try to do with recirculation was to have this water that comes from the hot water tank and goes back through a dedicated line to the hot water tank, so there is always water there. One of the things you’re doing now is wasting electricity to run the pump and you’re also probably losing a certain amount of heat from the pipes as it’s flowing all the time.
One of the things that was done was to add a timer, so you’re only doing circulation when you think you might need it like in the morning when you’re taking showers or in the evening when you’re preparing dinner, but that’s kind of a guesswork. And so here’s a diagram—
Rich: Can you leave it back here just for a second, Robert? I have a question.
Rich: Back on, “you should insulate all your water pipes” because it’s the law.
Rich: Can you tell us about that because I’m probably the only person in the room that doesn’t have all of their water pipes insulated? Just for my benefit if you wouldn’t mind going over that..
Rich: I appreciate it.
Robert: Yes, there’s a law. It’s in the building code.
Rich: It’s in the building code. Is that new?
Robert: I’m not sure if it’s in the building code or probably the energy code.
Rich: What page is it on? I’m just kidding. I’m trying to learn this. I have a building where I wanted to have the pipes insulated because I wanted to save money.
Rich: I wanted to save that energy. It seemed like it was wasted, right? What was explained to me at the time, which seemed like it made sense, was that you could do that, but’s actually one of the things that’s stopping the adjacent pipes from freezing in the winter because the cold pipes and the hot pipes are next to each other. That also made sense because I know that there are devices that you can get where you can heat your cold-water pipes and people put space heaters down there. They do things like that to prevent pipes from freezing. I think there’s a question in there somewhere.
Robert: I would say in older buildings where you have a lot of leaky basements like a stone foundation or something and getting a lot of cold air into it, so you do have the risk of the pipes freezing because it gets really cold, so it’s probably better to do something about making that basement insulated or something.
Rich: Got you! This particular basement, if the pipes were going to freeze, the main cause would be residents leaving the door open, which would be bigger than any individual cracks or holes I might have in the foundation. Do you have a solution for them? Can I insulate the residents? Can I wrap them up in something?
Robert: I’m not following what the question was. Was that the building is overheating otherwise?
Rich: No, the question is there are factors aside while air-proofing and working on your basement, making sure that those cracks and things are filled and it’s great advice. Of course, you should make sure that the windows are tight and all sorts of things like that. There are other factors in addition to those things that can cause frozen pipes, which is one of our biggest fears all winter long. Is that accurate for a lot of us? We definitely don’t want that to happen. Brian, did you have something to interject?
Brian: Put a hydraulic door closer.
Rich: Put a hydraulic door closer. Yes, I have that on that basement. Yes, they prop it open constantly. There’s a sign on there that says, “Don’t prop the door open.”
Brian: Put the door closer on the tenant.
Rich: I can put a door closer on the tenant. Okay, so insulating the hot water pipes is the law that I’m learning something. What’s zero escaping? I’m dying to know this.
Robert: It’s typically done more in the West where it’s dry landscaping, so you’re using native plants that don’t require a lot of water, any water. If we use more native plants in our landscaping rather than having a lot of grass that we need to water, that would save a lot of water like last night, I was driving home, here in October, people have their irrigation system on watering their lawns at this time of year.
Rich: That drives me crazy.
Robert: That lawn just wants to go to sleep.
Rich: Yes, I hate it when people sprinkle me when I’m trying to sleep.
Rich: That is one of my biggest pet peeves. All right, so great like dirt and plastic flamingos would be zero escaping, would be an example of that. This does not use a lot of water. In California, they actually incentivize people to do this, right? If they have like a gravel yard, they actually give them some sort of rebate or credit, right?
Robert: I believe so.
Rich: Yes, all right, cool. Thank you.
Robert: This was a diagram of what would typically – how does this work? There it is. Typically, the hot water would be pumped constantly through this, but then you start putting a timer on it just to a certain time.
Rich: When you say timer, do you mean a set time or set like hours of the day?
Rich: People are unlikely to use a lot of hot water at 3 o'clock in the morning, right?
Robert: Right. To set it in the morning before you go to work, when you take a shower.
Rich: Got you!
Robert: I don't have experience with them, but you can probably set that for different days of the week, too, so weekends might be different. You might shower at night, maybe you want water for cooking in the kitchen.
Rich: Sure. Obviously, you don’t want to get in the shower with the tenant in the morning to make sure it’s working properly.
Rich: Just kidding! It’s another one of those “not a tip and trick” kind of things. Don’t end up on the Internet [laughter].
Robert: This is the idea that I like. It’s called on-demand recirculation. It uses the existing pipes. They don't have to have that dedicated return line. You activate a pump. You can do that through a button and more recent ones have things through wireless or smartphone. The sensor turns off the pump when it senses hot water because the water is going back down through the cold-water line, so you don’t want to really fill up the cold-water line up with a lot of hot water.
One slight drawback is it’s instantaneous as with the traditional recirculation, but for the tenant, it’s faster than just letting the water run, so they’re probably going to use it because it’s to their benefit as well as yours, and that looks something like this.
You set the sensor, turn the sensor on, and starts pumping the water on as this crossover here, so it starts going back to the tank until this water reaches what’s now a cold 104 degrees and then pump turns off at that point, so now you have hot water at this point, so it takes a little bit to get there and if in the shower, it takes a few seconds to clear this line of cold water because it’s not there. It’s circulated to this area where the sink was.
Rich: Can I see if I understand this?
Robert: Sure! I’ll find it again.
Rich: And I could be completely wrong. Okay, I’m not an engineer. I’m looking at the picture here. Is the philosophy behind this that instead of putting cold water directly into the water heater, which is going to use more energy than using the warm water that’s it’s already heater. Is that what we’re trying to do? We’re trying to reuse the water that’s already been heated and just heat it up a little bit more and using less energy?
Robert: Well, the recirculation, you’re not putting the water down the drain, not running the faucet until the hot water arrives. That’s one thing. Two—
Rich: If I turn on the faucet, if I turn on, if I go wash m6 dishes, I turn on the left knob on the faucet, and there’s no hot water available, nothing comes out?
Robert: No. The water in the line comes out, which is not hot, so it runs—
Rich: Okay, so that’s what I have now.
Robert: That’s what you have now, and that’s what you would have here if you don’t press the button, if you don’t activate the pump.
Rich: Okay, if I am a tenant, what would I do to activate the pump or do we activate it for them?
Robert: The tenant would activate it with either a push button, which is what I had when I first put one in, and now there’s wireless options, as well as even smartphone.
Rich: Cool! If I’m a tenant and I come home and take a shower, maybe before I leave work, I send something on my smartphone and the water starts heaping up in the shower?
Rich: No kidding!
Robert: Yes, yes!
Rich: All right.
Robert: [laughter] It’s recirculating. You’re not wasting water. As you set it with the cold water, you’re now circulating some of the cold water that’s in the basement and it’s going to be warmer than the water that’s coming from the streets, so you are saving a little bit of energy to heat water up.
So, as I was saying, this was Metlund the company that first came out with it. Taco actually made the pump for Metlund, and they have their own. It’s much less expensive. It seems to be pretty good. I like it.
Aqua Sense is another product. I don't know much about it, but it looks pretty much the same as the Taco. The Chilipepper is the least expensive. That’s what I put in 15 years ago in my house. The new model looks more durable, so I think if I was doing this in an apartment, I would probably go with the Taco. I think I’d go with Taco.
Another option is tankless water heaters. Rather than storing in a tank, you just put it in a device that instantaneously heats the water, so a picture I think.
Rich: They’re all abuzz. I can hear them in the room. They’re excited about this. However, when he moves on, if everybody could use sign language for the table talk, that would be awesome, write each other notes.
Robert: What this is going to require is probably a bigger gas line to actually work. It needs to be the size for the demand because if you’re taking two or three showers at a time or running laundry, it’s probably not going to have enough hot water, so you may have to schedule your hot water use to use one of this.
A more recent invention is heat pump or hybrid hot water heater, which is using a heat pump which is basically an air conditioner that’s working in reverse, so that it extracts heat from the air and it moves to the tank. It’s very efficient. If you have one that’s less than 50 gallons, Mass Save will give you a $750 rebate. The one at Home Depot, is not $1,300 plus installation, so it used to be $750. We pretty much pay for it. It doesn’t quite anymore.
I’m putting this into the duplex that I have so that each unit has their own because rather than trying to meter the water in each unit, each tenant is not going to pay for their own water heating, so I’m assuming that in some ways that the more extensive use of water is in the hot water, which is maybe one way of limiting the amount of water that they use.
Rich: Okay, so you know a lot about all the different choices, so break this down for me. If I have a six-family building, I got six electric hot water heaters right now, one of them dies tonight. What do I replace it with? What’s the best thing that I should do? Shall I get one of those Tacos, or if I need something bigger, they have a [unintelligible 0:18:34] or something? How does that work?
Robert: [laughter] The Taco is a device for recirculation, so you still need a water heater.
Rich: Okay, all right.
Robert: I don't know to what extent you’re going to spend money on something like this.
Rich: No, no.
Robert: No, no. It’s turning out that the water heaters themselves are starting to get expensive because of new Department of Energy requirements require much greater insulation than they used to have.
Rich: If you told me the cheapest way to do it would be to like to set up some wood and light a fire under something—
Robert: I wouldn’t need to do that.
Rich: I would consider that, so is there an answer to that question? What should we do? You mentioned money. Money is always a cost.
Rich: It’s always a factor. I can pick up a 40-gallon hot water heater at Home Depot for $330, right? That’s one option. What would be another option?
Robert: Well, a 40-gallon tank is only going to heat one apartment.
Rich: Right, and that’s all I need, I think. I got five other working water heaters.
Robert: Well, that’s probably the least expensive way you’re going to do it.
Rich: Well, that was easy. All right, now I don't have to call you when this happens because these suckers are old and it’s going to happen soon.
Robert: Who’s paying for the electricity for that water heater?
Rich: The resident is.
Robert: They are?
Robert: Anyway, I don’t care.
Rich: We don’t say we don’t care. I mean I’m not paying it, but the lesser their cost burdens are in general, the easier it is for them to pay the rent.
Rich: And that we are on the same team, as far as that goes.
Robert: Well, that’s what I like about this because this is supposed to be like one third of the cost to operate the heat water with this than with regular electric hot water tank.
Rich: Okay, and what would the cost be to save them two-thirds of their water heating bill?
Robert: The Energy Star label on this is $132 a year, but that’s based probably on $0.10 a kilowatt, and we’re like twice.
Rich: This is a lot of numbers.
Robert: That’s like twice. We’re on $0.20 a kilowatt now in Massachusetts.
Male Audience 1: $260.
Male Audience 1: $260.
Robert: To run? Yes, yes.
Rich: Okay, so it’s now doubled.
Rich: Well, that’s not good news. Do we have good news?
Robert: It’s good news in the sense that the electricity is doubled, so if this is costing one-third the amount of the other ones, now it’s $700 to run the 40-gallon electric.
Rich: Okay, so let’s take the other scenario then. Let’s say I’ve got another six-family building where I’ve got two water heaters that I’m paying for it, so now what do I do? I think they’re each 80 gallons and each of them does like three units. One of those dies tonight, what do I do?
Robert: Well, to get the Mass Save rebate, it only goes up to the 50 gallons. It has 50 gallons or less to get the $750. There’s another rebate but it’s much less for an 80-gallon tank.
Rich: Okay, would it make sense to get two 40s then in order to play with rebate? Is that something or is that a silly consideration?
Robert: Well, I think the rebate is important because now you’re getting $750. It’s going to cost you. If this tank has $1,300 and you get $750 off of it, that’s what, $550 that you’re paying for this, and that’s closer to what you’re going to pay for another tank. You still have to have installation.
Rich: Okay, so it makes sense to get one of these energy things and get the rebate if you’re paying the electric bill specially? Is that right?
Robert: Especially, yes, yes. Another thing that people like about this is that basically it’s an air conditioner that’s working in reverse. It’ actually dehumidifying your basement.
Rich: That’s really cool.
Robert: That’s cool. That’s nice.
Rich: Okay now, what’s the device that does that because we need to give more of it all over basements, I think.
Robert: A heat pump.
Rich: It’s the heat pump that does it.
Robert: A heat pump is an air conditioner that’s working in revere, so if you have a window air-conditioner and you went outside, you feel heat.
Rich: Yes, absolutely.
Robert: That’s the heat that’s going into the water to heat the water.
Rich: Okay. we’re starting to have questions around the room. Do you mind if we do this before we move on?
Robert: No, go ahead.
Rich: Okay. where am I headed?
Male Audience 2: I was wondering if one of these heat pumps in your basement, does it make the basement that much colder in the winter time?
Robert: It will make it colder, yes. If—
Male Audience 2: Would it freeze up?
Robert: I don't know how much cold it’s going to make.
Male Audience 2: That’s a problem here in New England.
Robert: It does scavenge the heat, so the heat that’s it’s taking to make hot water is heat that you have provided through your heating system in some way.
Male Audience 2: Will it cover ice cold water?
Robert: Yes, that and if you have a boiler that’ going off of it or.
Male Audience 2: The boiler [unintelligible 0:23:53]
Rich: Yes, they’re all insulated. We’re screwed. Any other questions before Robert moves on? I did a lot of interrupting.
Male Audience 3: With this heat pump hybrid water heater, you have a condenser. Is it in the unit or?
Male Audience 3: Or for the condenser? It’s built right into the unit?
Robert: Yes. Yes. I keep pushing the wrong button here.
Rich: All right. What’s next?
Robert: Here we go. I got this. From this point up, that’s the heat pump and the tank. Gosh! I keep doing this backwards.
Rich: Okay, well let’s go over the scalding. I think we need to know that.
Robert: As I was preparing this, I kept thinking of more and more things to talk about and one thing that is really important when we start talking about hot water heaters is scalding. Several years ago, you probably recall the Legionella outbreak and there was something growing in the water tank.
What they finally decided was that when the water was below 130 degrees, it allowed this bacteria to grow and people with sort of weak immune systems were subject to getting the Legionella. But if you set the tank at 130 degrees, then you’re really subject to scalding. What you can do is put a mixing valve in to limit the temperature to 120 degrees, which is generally considered safe.
There have been cases I read in some of the trade magazines about lawsuits where people, often children, had been scalded and they go after everybody. Even the manufacturers who typically set these things at 120 degrees when they leave the plant, but if somebody has adjusted it, the plumber said, “No, I didn’t adjust it.” Even if the homeowner changed it, they’re still going to go after people, so I think that having the mixing valve is an important thing to put in.
Rich: On that topic, I’m sorry before you move on, it’s important to note that the health code that is being updated right now lowers that 120 degrees I believe down to 110 at the point of use, whether it’s at the sink or at the shower. Does that sound right, anybody who’s read it? That sounds familiar to me. Either that or I’m making it up.
Male Audience 4: The point of use.
Rich: Is that the point of use? Yes.
Male Audience 4: It can still be 120.
Rich: Yes, so that 120-degree regulation looks like it’s going to change down to 110, if I’m correct about that.
Male Audience 4: If they change their own.
Rich: Well, they’re not allowed to change their own stuff. Well, the solution –yes, you’re absolutely right. Tenants can do all kinds of mischievous things. It’s our responsibility to make sure that the water temperature is accurate. You can’t check it every day.
Our company, Gwendolyn Property Management, we have a quarterly maintenance. We go in all the apartments. We do a certain checklist. We don’t check the water temperatures every time. We actually only check them once a year. Once a year we check batteries and smoke detectors and you know there’s a checklist each quarter where things come up because you never know.
I’ll tell you what, you check enough apartments and invariably you’ll find one that’s too cold. You’ll catch a water heater before it goes because it starts to cool off or you catch one that’s too hot before somebody actually gets hurt, so that’s a really good point. It is a good idea to check those things.
Robert: This is just from the instruction booklet, and I’ve taken out a few things. This manufacturer says mixing valves are recommended producing point of use water temperature, and you need to have one that’s ASS-1017. That’s the standard for the mixing valve. This is what they also provided as time to produce serious burn, 120 degrees more than 5 minutes down to 130, 30 seconds cause of burn. This is from a Shriners Burn Institute.
That’s what a mixing valve looks like. What happens –I keep this doing this wrong. What happens is that the hot water comes in one side, the cold water comes in this side. You adjust it through here, and you get a mixed temperature out through here.
One thing that’s nice about this is that a tenant can figure how to change the temperature on the water heater. These are a little less obvious. It’s hard to change, so that this might be a way that you prevent a tenant from tampering with something besides really making sure that the water temperature does stay at the temperature that you want it to be at.
Some other ideas. Most water heaters have a sacrificial anode rode and if you replace this or if you look at this, this will extend the life of the water heater, so you may even double it if you actually keep replace this before this actually deteriorated entirely.
Another thought is you can put a small electric water heater like a point of use like this one, say under your kitchen sink that has 2-1/2 gallons that you would have instant hot water. If you’re having like your cooking and you want a small amount of hot water, you don't have to run the water for a minute or two to get it from the hot water tank, and then turn it off, and then have to wait again the next time you use it. But one thing I did notice was that this only had a 2-year warranty apparently on it where some of those that have a 6-year warranty.
Rich: Robert, we have a plumber commentary back here, which is we’re really lucky to have. After this, there is so much great information. If anybody has additional questions for Robert, you’re going to be hanging around afterwards?
Rich: Okay, so if you could pick your top one or two best points at the end, we’re going to move along.
Robert: Wrap it up?
Rich: Okay, and this is Dan the plumber.
Dan: If anybody any questions about some of the stuff, feel free to ask me. Again, with the mixing valves and things like that, yes, we put them on, but we temper down our showers. You still want your hot water tanks obviously to be over 120 degrees.
Dan: It will kill the bacteria and whatnot in it, so your kitchen sinks should be like when we get inspected 125, 130. That’s where your kitchen sinks, they want that to come in that hot. They will come and check the showers. If anything that has a handheld or something like that for scalding reasons, and it’s between 110 and 112. It’s what those are. With the mixing vale, that’s fine; but they can still turn the hot water tank up. You have to mix it, so if they turn the hot water tank up even with the mixing valve, the temperature is going to rise. You have to adjust the mixing valve, so it’s not a thing where you can do that and they can still mess with it.
I just wan to clarify that, so if anybody has got any other questions about some of these things, same things with electric tanks versus some of these tankless, it’s the cost. I mean being a plumber, yes, the tankless one, they last longer. You can get 15 years, 10 years, some of them, but all in all, cost-wise, they’re pretty even on what it’s going to cost you because of the money upfront it’s going to cost for the tankless versus the other one, granted you got labor and the wastewater and all this stuff, but it’s not a huge savings.
It’s on the water part; you’re not heating a big 50 gallons o water, but as the money out of pocket to do it because people ask me all the time should I do this or should I do that and the cost there. But the cost there, like I said, it isn’t that big of a savings like long-term and I mean it is because it lasts the 15 years, but you’re going to pay a lot more money upfront for something like that, too, so you got to weigh it out for the tankless.
Robert: Yes, yes.
Dan: But again if anybody has any questions plumbing-wise in that or curious about anything, feel free to ask me.
Robert: Thank you.
Rich: Good resource. Thank you, Dan. We have another question back here, Robert.
Male Audience 5: The heat pump water heater, what have you heard about longevity? How long they’re lasting. They’re relatively new. Are they holding up like other water heaters? I don't know if you can do it or maybe the plumber here can—
Robert: Well, what I’ve heard is that when this first came out, there was a lot of problems with them and a lot of the manufacturers that had problems didn’t want to work them out, don’t make them them anymore. So I believe that this green one that Home Depot has good. It’s Eltron, which is a lot more expensive. They make good products. I’m not sure who else has some out there. I think that maybe GE, I think has one. It is a concern that I have, too, because I think that they’re only warranted for 10 years.
Rich: And that’s what Dan the plumber said. He said that they’re lasting about 10 years. So if you had to pick one point to leave us with, leave us on a high note, this is the grand finale, the fireworks, what would that be?
Robert: Well, let’s go to high-efficiency toilets.
Rich: Yes, toilets! Yes!
Rich: It’s crossed my fingers. Please say toilet. Please say toilet.
Robert: [laughter] A lot of manufacturers are coming out with more efficient toilets. Initially when the toilets were 1.6, when they first making them, they didn’t flush very well, and a lot of people hated them, but they seem to be working a lot better. I’ve had this dual-flush, the Glacier Bay, which is a Home Depot brand. It’s $96 but I’ve had it for a couple of years now. works just fine. It has a 1.1-gallon and 1.6-gallon flush. I always just use the 1.1, and it’s worked just fine.
I just put this other one in from Niagara Conservation, which Home Depot also sells. It’s $169 and only use eight-tenths of a gallons. I don't have enough experience to say how good it’s going to work. It doesn’t wash the bowl as well a lot of other toilets do.
When you’re looking for something that’s water efficient, the EPA has this WaterSense program, so if you look for that on toilets, showerheads, and so forth. There’s more information on these slides. If you care to explore this a little bit more, these slides will be on the MassLandlords website.
Rich: You’re a mind reader. That is exactly right because there is zero percent chance that I’m going to remember what that certification I need on that you mentioned that has a bunch of letters. I assume it was the sort of equivalent of United Laboratories, right?
Robert: I think once you start talking with a plumber about doing that,, they’re going to know that, so it’s not a big deal.
Rich: They’re going to know that. Well, it’s a good way to find out if the plumber knows what he’s doing, right?
Robert: Yes, yes.
Rich: Terrific! These are toilets that work before I get that 0.8 gallon, I’m going to have to put in my application, what does your typical diet look like each day.
Rich: But that is good to know that these options are available, so that we can save some water, save our planet. Let’s hear it for Robert Jordan, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you very much