Water Heater Timers: Types, Savings, & Installation Guide


water heater timer

A water heater timer is an electronic device that fits onto an electric water heater. It enables you to set specific ‘on’ and ‘off’ times for hot water production and conservation. Right now, you may be wondering to yourself, ‘can installing a water heater timer save me money on energy bills’?

Will a water heater timer save me money? Yes, a water heater timer may save you some money when connected with a water heater manufactured before 1997. Newer, energy-efficient water heaters manufactured after 1997 only run about 1.5 to 3 hours per day, depending on usage. Timers connected to newer water heaters will save you money if it prevents the water heater from reheating the water in standby times when no hot water is needed or during extended periods of time when you’re away from home.

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Now that you know it is possible to save money with a water heater timer, let’s explore this idea in more detail below. In this article, we will discuss how to install a water heater timer, why it is a good idea to have one and how much money it will save in the long run.

We will also look at other easy and effective ways to save energy. So, if you’re ready to learn more, then please continue reading…

Types of Water Heater Timers

Water Heater Switch

If you are only looking for a way to save money while you’re away from home such as if you’re on vacation or travel for work, then a basic on/off water heater switch may be all you need.

This is a basic On/Off switch that can be installed on a water heater. This is a manual operation meaning you have to physically turn the water heater on or off as you need it. Examples of an installed switch at the water heater to turn the water heater on/off include a:

  • 30amp wall switch installed at the water heater.
  • 30amp indoor safety switch or service disconnect box.
  • Electrical breaker located inside the panel box.

Water Heater Box Timers

Box timers have been around for a long time and is the most common type of timer used on water heaters. They are reliable and come in both digital and electronic allowing you full control over the settings. box timer is the most common and in our opinion, the best water heater timer style. You can set the timer to run on specific days and specific times to fit your family’s needs.

Intermatic water heater timers are the most common and best-rated water heater timers on the market. Intermatic timers are programmable and feature multiple setting options up to 7 days a week.

Intermatic Water Heaters

Water Heater WiFi and Smart Timers

Smart homes are popping up everywhere these days. Alexa is quickly becoming like family to some of us. Alexa, turn on the light… Alexa, arm my security system, etc is becoming part of our everyday language.

As technology advances, we are adapting nearly every facet of our homes to technology including water heaters. These timers allow you to control your water heater from a tablet or smartphone. You can turn your water heater on or off, change the scheduling program, and much more at your fingertips or voice command.

We’ve included a couple of top-rated wifi compatible controllers below that are the top-rated and made by some of the best names in the business.

Gas Water Heaters Timers

Many people don’t know that they can install a timer on a gas tank-style and tankless water heater. Most gas water heaters, rely on some electricity to operate. A gas water heater (tank-style) consumes gas through the burners and pilot continuously. Timers allow you to save money and control costs by giving you back the control over your water heater.

Is it Cheaper to Leave a Water Heater on All the Time?

Some people are under the impression that it is cheaper, in the long run, to just leave your water heater on all the time. This common misconception can have costly consequences. The cost of keeping water heated is greatly increased if the water heater is left to run all the time. 

If you only heat the water that you need, you can save anywhere from 8% to 34% on your energy bill, depending on how much you use, according to the Department of Energy (https://www.energy.gov). The best ways to save energy with existing water include lowering the set temperature of the unit and reducing the overall amount of water used.

This situation only pertains to water heaters manufactured before 1997. Since then, water heaters have new energy efficiency standards that reduce the amount of energy the water heater uses by going into standby mode.

One of the ways the water heater does this is with a 2 element system where both elements do not run simultaneously. The top element heats for a while before the thermostat turns the top element off and triggers the bottom element to turn on. This prohibits the system from fully running all the time. In total, newer water heaters under normal usage run for about 1.5 to 3 hours a day.

Why Does My Water Heater Have a Timer?

Timers do not come standard on water heater installations. However, you may purchase a house that has a water heater timer already installed. A water heater timer is installed on a unit to counteract unnecessary energy usage.

It times when the water heater is activated to ensure that only the water being used is being heated. This little electronic device allows you to both set and control when your water heater turns to produce the right amount of hot water needed at any given time.

How to Install a Timer on Your Water Heater?

You can install your own water heater timer on an electric or gas unit. We will look at the steps to install a box timer on an electric water heater since that is the most common type.

The necessary steps and material for this do-it-yourself project (on an electric water heater) include the following:

Tools and Supplies

  • Circuit tester
  • Slip-joint plier
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire stripper
  • Needle-nose plier
  • Water heater timer

Step 1: Prep work

Take the box timer you purchased out of the package and remove the knockouts on the casing. These allow for the wiring to enter and exit the box timer.

Step 2: Turn off the power

Turn off the 220v breaker switch that powers the water heater. This will be a double breaker and should be labeled “water heater”. Use a voltage stick to confirm you’ve turned the power off and no current is traveling to the water heater.

Step 3: Select a mounting location

We need to mount the box timer on the wall close to the water heater. Decide where you want to place the timer (somewhere close to the water heater). Use the casing a template and mark the mounting holes on the wall.

Step 4: Mount the box timer

Drill pilot holes at the marked locations on the wall and attach the casing to the wall using screws. These will be included in your box timer packaging.

Step 5: Verify the power is off

Remove the access cover at the top of the water heater to access the wiring connections. Using a multimeter or voltage stick, confirm the power to the water heater is turned off.

Step 6: Disconnect the water heater wiring

Remove the incoming wiring connected to the water heater and route it through the left side knockout hole in the box timer. Set the wire nuts aside as you will need them again in a few minutes.

Step 7: Connect the water heater

Run a new piece of wiring from the box timer to the water heater. Be sure to use the same gauge as the previous one. Strip ½” of insulation from the wires and then connect them to the unit. Use the wire nuts from the original connection to secure the wiring. Be sure the wiring to and from the water heater is run in flexible electrical conduit with connections.

Step 8: Connect the wiring to the timer

Connect the ground cable to the timer plug. Shape each bare wire end to fit properly under the lug. There should be a wiring diagram included in your installation manual. Connect the wiring to the appropriate connection slots. Tighten the screws in order to secure the wired securely to the timer.

Step 9: Turn the power back on

Turn the breaker switch or power back on to the water heater.

Step 10: Program the timer

Set the timer to your specifications based on your needs.

Water Heater Timer Savings

The amount of money you will save by installing a water heater timer on three main things:

  • the typical running cost of your water heater
  • the type of water heater you have and the fuel required
  • how much water you use overall

The average energy savings incurred by using a water heater timer has been estimated to be around 25% per year. So for example, if your typical annual operating costs are $300 you can expect to save about $75. This virtually pays for the device in about a year.

If you maintain the water heater and continued use of the timer for 10 years that’s an estimated savings of $750 over that time period.

Does Turning Off Your Water Heater Save Money?

Like other appliances, turning off your water heater when not in use can save you money each month on your energy bill. A small amount of heat will escape when the unit is turned back on, regardless of how well insulated it is. The loss of energy is estimated to be around 10% of your total bill. 

However, if you routinely travel, turning off the water heater while away will save you money. Note, if you turn off your water when away for several days at a time, always turn your water heater off as it could damage the unit preventing it from heating properly.

Which Type of Water Heater is the Cheapest to Run?

In general, gas water heaters are cheaper to run than electric water heaters, depending on your local utility costs. Gas units cost more upfront as they tend to be more expensive. However, the money you save on utility bills in the long is well worth it. The difference in price is usually compensated for within the first year!

What are the Best Ways to Save Energy?

Saving energy (and money) is easier than you may think. Start today by doing the following:

  • Take shorter showers – reducing your shower time by a mere four minutes each time can save up to 4,000 gallons of water per year and as much as $100 on your annual utility bill.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead – this can cut the amount of water used each time by as much as half!
  • Take showers instead of baths – a full bathtub uses approximately 70 gallons of water each time as opposed to a five-minute shower which uses only 10 to 25 gallons!
  • Run full loads only – this applies to both your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Use cold water to wash clothes whenever possible
  • Add aerators to your faucets to reduce flow and save you up to $20 per year!

Conclusion

In conclusion, a water heater timer is a small device that attaches to your water heater and allows you to set ‘on’ and ‘off’ times (for either a gas or electric unit) which can help save both energy and money. The amount of money you save is subject to more than just the timer itself. It depends on the running costs of your unit, the type of heater you have and how much water you use.

If you have a water heater that is a newer, energy-efficient model made in or after 1997, then the timer is probably not needed as standby losses are generally quite low. If the unit is older than 20 years however, then the addition of a water heater timer is definitely something to consider. Good luck with your future home improvements!

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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