Plumbing, Water Heaters

Ideal Water Heater Temperature Settings: Tank & Tankless

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Even though you might not be thinking about your water heater from time to time, it plays a very critical role in the plumbing of your home. 

Typically, most people set their water heater temperature at 130-140° Fahrenheit, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends setting your water heater to 120° F to save energy and prevent scalding. A cooler water heater temperature can save a lot of energy and money while also prolonging the heater’s life.

In this article, we look at some ideal temperature settings for water heaters. 

What Is Normal Water Heater Temperature?

Water heater manufacturers don’t have to set a standard temperature on their products. Some companies follow the recommendation from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set their heaters at 120 degrees. 

However, evidence shows that at least 41% of water heaters operate above this setting. It is just fine for some families. However, for others, it can translate into risks for second-degree burns. 

As we have seen, the normal operating temperature of your water heater ranges between 120 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s upon you to take time and figure out your heater’s operating temperature. 

There are water heaters that come with a temperature gauge. The challenge, however, is that they aren’t always reliable. 

Play safe and pick a more accurate temperature reading. You can select a tap that’s as far from your water heater as possible. Allow the water to run at different settings for a certain period. Select the temperature setting that’s perfect for you. 

However, for safety purposes, the temperature should be set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 

What Temperature Should Your Water Tanks Be Set At?

You should set your water heater temperature between 120 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you set your temperature any lower, you might risk contaminating your water supply with bacterias. 

For temperatures above 140 degrees, you risk your home experiencing severe burns. Generally, it is recommended that you set your water heater temperatures at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However, you shouldn’t jump to set your temperature at this temperature right away. Other situations determine the setting that’s perfect for your family’s budget and health. 

There are things that you should do before setting or adjusting your water heater temperature, as we’ll highlight below:

Measure the Current Temperature

Before adjusting or setting your temperature, you should determine the temperature of the water coming from the faucet. With a regular cooking thermometer, you can effectively measure your water temperature efficiently. 

Here, you must start by turning on the hot water in the faucet near your water heater. Collect water in a container and measure its temperature using a thermometer. Leave the thermometer there until the thermometer readings stop increasing. 

If the thermometer reading doesn’t get to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, increase your water heater temperature. If the temperatures are too high, lower the temperature on the thermostat. 

Access the Thermostat

Before you make any adjustments, shut off the power supply to the water heater. Most of the time, electric heaters are designed with two thermostats and two heating elements. You’ll therefore have to access the thermostats and adjust them. For effective performance, set the thermostat to the same temperature. 

Remove the access panels using a flat-head screwdriver or Philips screwdriver. Remove the screws that hold the panel to expose the thermostat. You can then proceed to adjust your thermostat. 

You might need to remove insulation to see your thermostat well.

Test the Water temperature

Before you adjust the water heater, try measuring the current temperatures. Take hot water in a container and then measure its temperature using a cooking thermometer. It will enable you to determine its current temperature. 

You can then proceed to make your adjustments to the heater. Confirm the temperature using a cooking thermometer, and if it reads your desired temperature, everything is well set. 

Water Heater Temperature and Saving Energy

Setting your water heater temperature right can save energy regardless of the heater that you install. Below are things that will ensure you save energy:

Set The Temperature to 120° F

As we have seen above, unless you experience chronic respiratory problems or have suppressed immune systems, 50° C or 120° F is warm enough. You don’t have to set your water heater’s thermostat any higher. 

Setting your temperature at 120° F will help you save energy. Every time you lower your temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, you end up saving 3-5% on energy costs. 

Select An Energy Efficient Appliance

Water heaters are designed differently. When you want to buy a water heater, never go for a cheaper model. Going for a cheaper option might save you some money but at the expense of higher energy consumption costs. 

Always go for the Energy Star models with energy factors of between 0.67 and 0.7. These models are energy-efficient and will save you a lot in energy costs. 

Use Cold Water

We aren’t saying that you must take cold showers, but it might be the best way to go at times. For instance, wash your hands or laundry with cold water at all times. 

How to Adjust the Water Heater Temperature On Your Unit

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There are at least five major water heater types on the market. Let’s go through them as far as saving your energy bill is concerned. We’ll also focus on how you can change the temperature on the heaters: 

Storage tank Water Heaters

These are mainly traditional heaters that heat as much water as the tank can comfortably hold. The tanks are insulated for the tank to remain warm until water is needed. 

If you require more hot water than the tank’s capacity, you’ll need to wait. It takes about 1 to 2 hours for the water to heat in the tank again. 

These heaters are among the most common and cheapest options. However, they can only be energy efficient if you install a timer. It allows the heater to go off when water acquires a perfect temperature. 

Follow the steps below to adjust the temperature on the tank water heaters:

  • First, turn off your heater.
  • Remove the bottom and top covers.
  • Adjust the thermostat using a flat screwdriver.
  • Replace the covers.
  • You can then turn the power on again. 

Tankless Water Heater

These water heaters don’t have a tank. They have super-heated coils that instantly heat water. The coils are available in different sizes depending on the amount of water that you need. 

Most tankless water heaters work effectively using natural gas. Selecting an electric heater is likely to increase your energy bill. 

To adjust the temperatures, use the LED panel. 

Heat Pump Heaters

Heat pumps employ heat on the ground and air to increase the temperature of the water. The heat pump heaters also use electricity to move the heat and not to generate it. There is also a tank that needs regular cleaning. 

Heat pumps are known for their energy efficiency properties saving up to 60% in energy bills. However, they require a lot of space for installation and are expensive to buy. 

Solar Powered Water Heaters

These heaters use the sun’s power to heat water. You should mount a solar panel on your roof for effective performance. The water heaters are effective in warm climates and on sunny days. Ensure you have a backup water heater during the rainy season. 

Solar-powered heaters are energy efficient. However, their installation is very costly unless you get a grant from the government. 

They are designed with a control panel where you can adjust the temperatures easily. 

Condensing Water Heaters

These water heaters use exhaust gas to heat water. If your house has natural gas, condensing gas is your best option. The water heater is also perfect for large households thanks to its large tank. 

Here, you can set your ideal temperature from the control panel. 

Does Turning Up Your Water Heater Make Hot Water Last Longer?

One solution to the problem is to turn up the thermostat on your water heater. The approach here is to use less hot water while it is still at a high temperature. 

There is a high chance that you’ve ever been in a warm or hot shower that suddenly turned cold. It is a bad experience, whether it’s your nighttime routine or morning wake-up call. The problem here is that your hot water isn’t lasting longer. 

To achieve this, turn up your thermostat’s temperature linked to the hot water tank. 

Considerations When Selecting a Water Heater Temperature Setting

There are several considerations you must keep in mind while selecting a water heater temperature setting. Below is some question you must be able to answer: 

Are There At-Risk People Living In Your Home? 

If the water is very hot, it can severely affect people who are sensitive to high temperatures. For instance, young babies would need 2-seconds of exposure to hot water at 150 degrees Fahrenheit to experience third-degree burns. The same degree of burns is also possible if a baby is exposed to 140 degrees for just 5-seconds. 

Lowering the temperature is, therefore, safer not for your baby but also for your energy costs. If you have a baby in your house, we recommend setting your heater temperatures at 130 degrees. 

Older people are also prone to experiencing burns and getting injuries when exposed to extremely hot water. They should also follow the same rules and guidelines. 

However, people who suffer from respiratory diseases or suppressed immune systems may require hotter temperatures to create a higher steam concentration and kill off bacteria. We recommend temperatures of about 140 degrees for such people, provided there are no children in the house. 

Do You Own Energy-Efficient Appliances?

Pre-heating dishwashers are now more popular than ever. Such systems take water and then boost its temperature to higher levels for a better sanitary clean. They achieve this without you having to raise the temperature emanating from the heater. 

We recommend that you go for a dishwasher having a pre-heat system the next time that you want to make a replacement or repair. If that isn’t possible, you can pump the water heater temperature to 140 degrees. It keeps water hot and nice for the dishwasher and remains safe for your family members. However, you must have enough cold water to compensate. 

How Many People Stay In Your House?

Everyone has their preferred water heater temperature, especially when it comes to showering. You can easily tune to your preferred temperatures using cold and hot water knobs. 

For a hotter shower, go for a higher hot-to-cold water ratio. A lower ratio means a cooler shower. However, this is also influenced by the temperature of the water coming from the water heater. 

For instance, if the water coming from the heater is hotter, you’ll need less hot water and more cold water to get a perfect temperature. If the heater is cooler, you’ll need less cold water and more hot water. 

It also means that you’ll run out of hot water quickly if you set the water temperature lower. If you have a bigger house with many people staying there, set the water temperature higher for the supply to last longer. Smaller homes having fewer people can get away with lower temperatures.

Health and Safety Considerations

When you buy and install a water heater in your home, you should set the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It is the default temperature setting from the manufacturer. If you take a shower with the water running at this temperature, you’re likely to get burned and scalded. 

As we have seen above, the elderly and children are most likely to be affected by such burns. However, there are still good reasons why the temperatures are still set so high:

Preventing Bacterial Growth

Bacteria thrive well in stagnant and lukewarm water. Even though some bacteria thrive in hot or cold temperatures, the danger zone is between 105 to 135 degrees centigrade. 

This is often why you may experience sulfur or a “rotten egg” smell in your hot water. When the anode severely deteriorates, bacteria can flourish inside your water heater. A powered anode rod can help curb the bacteria and keep your hot water clean.

A temperature of 60 degrees centigrade or 140 degrees Fahrenheit is slightly higher. This temperature is therefore safe for restricting the growth of bacteria. However, 140 degrees is too hot for children and elderly adults and can cause scalding injuries.

Marketing Benefits

When a manufacturer sells a water heater, they are mainly concerned with the satisfaction of the client. They aren’t concerned about water conservation and energy saving more than making us feel happy about the products. 

If water from the heater is lukewarm, a customer might be forced to think that the heater isn’t working correctly. Hot water from the tap makes many customers satisfied that the heater is doing a good job. 

Manufacturers, therefore, raise these temperatures for marketing purposes to make you feel that their products are very effective. 


As we have seen, setting your ideal water heater temperature is straightforward if you follow the right steps. Selecting a perfect temperature setting will translate into saving energy costs and prolonging the life of the heater. 

The ideal water heater temperature that you should set your device is between 120 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. However, there’re considerations to keep in mind while selecting the perfect water heater temperature setting. 

If you don’t know how to set the water heater temperature, you can call a professional to help you out. We hope that you’ll have access to enough instant hot water in your home. 



Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.