A great technology for water conservation is available called the point-of-use tankless water heater. These small box-like devices can be installed underneath the sink in a kitchen or bathroom. They offer a simple way to avoid running cold water for minutes while you wait for hot water. For showers, the EPA says the average output is 2.5 gallons/minute and assuming a few showers a week that adds up 500+ gallons of water wasted every year.
In most houses this waste occurs because the water heater is located a significant distance from the faucet or shower. The hot water has to travel that distance to reach the user. The tankless technology shrinks the size of the water heater allowing you to place it right where it is needed.
One can imagine eco-friendly homes of the future skipping the central water heater altogether and placing point-of-use heaters wherever water is used. Not only would this save hundreds of gallons of water but also cut energy costs by 27-50%, according to the Dept. of Energy. For existing homes, like ours, we can place them in our heavy water use areas (i.e. bathrooms, where we use 50% of our water) as a supplement to traditional water heaters.
On a side note, replacing a traditional water heater with a tankless version can reap incredible energy savings, up to 30%. Traditional heaters keep 40+ gallons of water hot 24 hours a day, even though we only use it for minutes a day. A great waste of energy compared to tankless versions which heat water only when needed. However, if you want to conserve water then installing a tankless in the same place won’t work. You will need to put one at your point-of-use.
The heaters run $100-200 and are found at every major hardware store, including Amazon. They may need minimal electrical or plumbing work. I have not installed one myself but research shows it is not hard (depending on your skill level). I would recommend researching your situation before purchasing – intended water use, plumbing/electrical needs, reading reviews.
Point-of-use tankless water heaters are the ideal solution for water conservation. They cut out waste and don’t require a change in habits, allowing us to treat water like the precious resource it is and still enjoy our favorite comforts. Plus, as more people begin to install them the price should drop and make it easier for everyone to afford this eco-friendly upgrade.