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Dec 072010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It’s cold now. Pretty much everywhere except for those places that converge toward a moderate median in the 70s, like LA, or Miami.

Have you noticed that in the cold, it’s harder to be green?

For example, I have real trouble detaching from my shower after the allotted five minutes. I am cold most of the daytime, but it’s warm in the shower. I want to linger there. You do too, admit it. Once the Lazy Environmentalist was honest with us about that.  He said he had good ideas in the shower and he liked to take long ones. (See the article if you don’t believe me.)

During my longer-than-usual shower this morning I didn’t really have any great ideas. I did think a lot about how much I like warm showers in the winter. I felt bad about the water I was about to waste. And I strategized extensively on my exit plan for the shower: Grab the towel, retrieve the slippers immediately; get into the wool shirt, even if it sticks to my wet skin; find winter cardigan, try not to slip on or curse the unheated tile floor.

I did have one useful green idea while showering, it’s probably less inspirational than what committed shower thinkers come up with, but useful. We need to get a sweater or winter blanket for our water heater, I thought, because that will assure that we can get all the hot water we need for the three consecutive morning showers that occur here, and it might even save us a bit of energy.

Insulating your water heater actually saves significant energy, reducing “standby heat losses” by 25 to 45 percent, according to the Department of Energy.  I’m not really sure what that will translate to on the bottom line of your electricity bill, but the DOE claims it will reduce your water heating costs by 4 to 9 percent (odd numbers to be sure). Heating hot water for a typical home can come in as the second largest contributor to your electricity bill right after the direct heating costs, especially if your hot water heating is shivering, as mine is, in an ice cold attic. This stupid placement of the hot water heater comes courtesy of builders that don’t want to sacrifice living area (which they charge handsomely for) to such utilitarian purposes.

You have to be sure to wrap the heater correctly, not covering the flue or the thermostat, and keeping clear of other appendages. The DOE provides step by step instructions.

But let’s not get lost in a forest of details on this one. The key thing to know is that insulating your hot water heater is one home upgrade that’s so cheap, you’ll be embarrassed you haven’t done it. Your water heater doesn’t require a couture cape, just a wrapping of insulation or pre-cut covering available at almost any home improvement store for about $10 to $30.

You won’t even need a tax rebate for that.

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