Smarter Savings

Domestic hot water recirculation systems offer water conservation benefits

Waiting at the tap for water to get hot can be wasteful and costly
Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering
Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering
Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering
Recirculation systems are becoming smarter

Waiting at the tap for water to get hot can be wasteful and costly.

From time immemorial, water has been humankind’s most essential natural resource. Throughout most of human history, it has been clean and plentiful in most parts of the world.

Then came our infatuation with gold and oil. The industrial revolution brought incredible progress, yet often we disregard the need to protect that one key resource, and today it is more important than ever.  

So step aside gold. Move along, crude oil. At last, maybe, we have come to see that the most precious resource on Earth is water.  

That is what a growing number of scientists and environmentalists claim. And for anyone who occasionally tunes in to the evening news, reads a newspaper or scans headlines online, it is apparent that we have put ourselves in a bind. Either we act now to preserve clean water or we will ultimately lose it.  

You and I are just a few of the more than 7 billion people on planet Earth. But you may own a company. You may interact with customers who have concerns about this, too. And we can champion the good cause.  

According to the Water Project, a nonprofit organization focused on improving water availability and quality in Africa, as many as 1 billion people do not have daily access to pure drinking water. Many of those people live in developing areas, but many other regions worldwide have the same challenges. 

Right here on the humid U.S. East Coast, versions of the same problem routinely arise. And in our very own South, Southwest and Western regions, concerns about the availability of plentiful, clean water rapidly are growing.  

Rob Ferraud, owner of Valley Plumbing Inc. in Bermuda Dunes, Calif., said he has seen homeowners try just about everything to conserve water.  

Many areas in the western U.S. still are experiencing drought, despite recent rains and plentiful snowpack this past spring. Some residents are even painting their dead lawns green and placing bricks in their toilet tanks to reduce the gallons of water used per flush.  

Many modern homes have buckets in the shower to collect clean water while waiting for hot water to get to the showerhead. They save it to flush toilets or water plants. This may seem silly at first, but it can take a long time for hot water to get to the tap.

Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering

Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering

Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering

Hot water recirculation system installation has become a mainstream offering for some plumbing companies.

Conservation, Cost & Convenience

As a water quality professional and plumber, I am glad to offer customers an alternative to catching water in a bucket. Installation of hot water recirculation systems has now become a mainstream offering for some plumbing companies.

I have been surprised to learn that many homeowners and business owners still do not know these types of systems exist. In my experience, most people who learn about these simple devices are eager to have them installed. 

Using a hot water recirculation system, a family of four can save an average of 12,000 gal of water each year. They not only would pay to pull this water from a municipal source, but also pay to send back down the drain as they wait at the sink or for a warm shower.  

I think of hot water recirculation—often simply known as “recirc”—as one more useful tool in the toolbox of products and practices I use to provide comfort and customer satisfaction.    

Consider this: Does the customer have pets, a big house or more than two kids? If so, he or she stands to save even more water. If he or she draws water from a municipal source, the cost of water use can quickly stack up.

For instance, in Arlington, Va., residents pay $4.21 per 1,000 gal of metered water consumed. Then, as it flows down the drain, they pay the going sewer rate of $9.06 per 1,000 gal. At about $160 per year for 12,000 gal, it does not take long to make up the cost of a small circulator.

It is not all about conservation or cost, though. It also is about convenience. According to Randal Williams, owner of Randal’s Plumbing Inc. in Palm Desert, Calif., time is a major factor for a lot of his clients. Five minutes spent waiting for hot water to reach the kitchen or bathroom every day adds up to 30 hours per year.

Recirculation systems are becoming smarter, with some systems adapting to a home’s typical hot water usage.

Picking the Right Pump

The lead-free laws enacted in 2014 make it impossible to take just any old heating system circulator and put it into place for a potable water system. A number of manufacturers have developed lead-free residential recirc systems to fit just about any application.  

For new construction, or in a home with dedicated recirc lines, options abound. Most circulator manufacturers, as well as some water treatment companies, offer drop-in circulators, many of which come with a timer, allowing the homeowner to set the time of day the circulator runs.  

For retrofit work availing recirculation for homes without a dedicated return line, easy-in packages typically use the cold return line to complete the recirc loop. This usually is accomplished with a small diverter valve that installs under the water fixture located farthest from the hot water source.

Like everything else (my phone, my truck, my kids), domestic hot water recirculation systems are getting smarter. Gone are the days of a standard circulator that runs 24/7/365. Even analog timers, once the norm for recirc systems, are considered rudimentary today. Systems are now available with “adaptive” technology—they pattern hot water use in the home, then pump hot water at the times it was used during the recording period.  

Consider adding domestic hot water recirculation to your service offering. It is an additional source of revenue. I have found that most customers like knowing about it as an option, especially for use in larger homes where wait times at the tap typically are longer.

You always will find a few folks who just do not care, but others will wonder how they have survived without it.

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About the author

Anthony Tosco is owner of Avanti Plumbing and Heating Inc. Tosco can be reached at [email protected].