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Save Energy: Install a Hot Water Heater Timer

Updated on January 21, 2012

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Save Energy: Install a hot water heater timer.

Saving energy is a priority for most homeowners across the nation.

Fight a slowing economy and recession worries. Save energy while enjoying hot water when you need it without expensive remodeling or having to purchase a new or different hot water heater. A hot water heater timer will not only save energy, it will also extend the life of your water heater.

The electric hot water heater is the second biggest user of electricity in the home next to your source of heat. You can save energy and cut down significantly on your electricity bill if you can identify the times of day when you use the most hot water and then adjust your lifestyle to utilize cold water for things like washing your hands, rinsing off dishes, and washing the car. You can do most loads of laundry with cold water, too and for those loads you need to wash in hot water, schedule them for the time frame when your hot water heater is on.

Every electric hot water heater uses 240 volts AC. Purchase one of two types of hot water heater timer. One simply disconnects one line of the two that feed electricity to the water heater and closes that connection with a switch when the timer calls for hot water. The other disconnects both lines that feed electricity to the water heater and closes them when the timer calls for the heater to come on. Both types of timers come with a couple of sets of “on” and “off” stops so you can set two or more on and off times throughout a 24 hour period.

The first thing to do is find a proper location as close as practicable to the water heater. Make sure it is located in an easily accessible spot in order to make adjustments and set the timer when necessary. Install two romex connectors in the holes in the bottom of the unit and anchor the unit to the wall using the appropriate fasteners.

Turn off the power to the water heater at your electric panel and verify it is off by testing the wire connections at the water heater panel with a Volt/Ohm meter or other approved electrical tester. Remember, the water heater uses 240 volts of electricity. That is enough to cause fatal injuries. Don’t take a chance. Check and double check that the power is off. If you are uncertain about this process, hire a professional.

After verifying that the power is off, disconnect the wires at the top of the water heater and route those same wires up through one of the connectors at the bottom of the timer box. Connect them to the terminals marked “Line” below the timer in the box. Refer to the installation instructions that came with your timer.

Now, obtain the appropriate length of wire (usually 12/2 with ground, but be sure to match the size and rating of the existing wire that went to the water heater. You can cut off a small piece of the existing wire prior to connecting it to the timer and take it to the hardware store so you can match up exactly what you need) and route it from the electrical connection on the top of the water heater to the second romex connector on the bottom of the timer box. Connect the two wires to the terminals marked “Load” in the bottom of the box. Be sure to connect the ground wire(s) to the ground screw in the box, as well.

Depending on which timer you chose to buy, it will be wired slightly differently. Always be sure to consult the manufacturer’s instructions to verify you purchased the correct timer and that you wired it correctly.

Now, remove the timer wheel, identify the hour, am or pm, when you want the unit to shut off the water heater and slide the “off” stop (usually a brass color) over the timer at that point. Follow the same procedure to place the “on” stop (usually a chrome color) on the timer. You can set the timer to turn the water heater on and off more than once in a 24 hour period.

Reinstall the timer wheel, usually by pushing it straight into position and rotating it through one complete cycle, stopping at the current time.

Double check your wiring making doubly certain you have properly connected the ground wire at both the timer and the water heater. Turn the electricity on at the electric panel and the rest will happen automatically. Your water heater will turn on and off automatically according to the setting or settings you made on the hot water heater timer wheel. Just remember that if the power goes off due to a storm or other outage, you will need to reset the timer wheel following the above instructions.

Sit back, enjoy all the hot water you need when you need it and know that you have taken another step to save energy, reduce your electric bill, and extend the life of your water heater.

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    • profile image

      Johnf836 3 years ago

      I would definitely not recommend these as ways to break the ice however. ecdkcecdbdbe

    • profile image

      tsquared 7 years ago

      How can one calculate the most efficient way to cycle the hot water heater. For example we turn the heater on for one hour about 3 pm to insure hot water for showers and evening chores. But by morning the water is cool - not cold so we cycle it again for about 45 minutes on.

      The question then becomes - would it be more efficient to just leave it on continuously or cycle it more frequently. The trade off seems to be the heat loss during the off cycle versus the heat gain and high electricity consumption during the on cycle?

    • profile image

      Jerry Watson 7 years ago

      Thanks. Good idea. Good luck.

    • profile image

      R Parker 7 years ago

      This is good info and thanks for posting. I installed a solar hot water system last summer and have been thinking of ways to maximize my solar heating. I have an 80 gallon storage tank with an electrical back up in the top half or so of the tank. I figure I'll get a timer to come on at say 5pm and heat the water up to temp if the solar has not already gotten it up to temp. I'll have the timer shut off three or four hours later. This way I should be able to have some hot water to use at home at night and then some left for the shower in the morning. I might need it to kick on again for a bit in the early morning but I'll have to wait and see on that. I just want to let the solar kick in and do it's thing without the electrical firing up first. We'll see if this works.

    • profile image

      Dave 7 years ago

      They are starting to use smart meters in my area. I haven't installed a timer on my hot water heater before, because of the fact that my heater is well insulated, so I was just deferring the heating until I needed the hot water... savings was only the difference in heat dissipation of the hot water versus the slightly cooler water after it would sit off for hours. Now with time of use billing, I'd like to set my hot water heater so it waits until the lower priced power periods to heat up, maintains during regular use, and if off during peak times. For my area this will mean having hot water ready for morning showers, then waiting until 11am to heat the water back up, then using that water until 5am when we can use off-peak power to heat it up for morning showers.

      Which timer units would you recommend?

    • Jerry Watson profile image

      Jerry Watson 8 years ago from Hermitage, Tennessee

      Didn't know that, A.P. Thanks for the heads up and thanks for reading my posts.

    • profile image

      AMERICAN PACIFIC 8 years ago

      There is a gas water heater timer available. See

    • profile image

      LeeH 8 years ago

      Once the top of the tank is hot, it turns off, expecting the bottom of the tank to turn on. True the cold water in the lower part of the tank will cool the hot water some so that it turns on again. Just don't know if eventually the whole tank or at least most of it will end up getting hot or if the water layers won't transfer heat that much.

      Would love to find out if anyone has done this or studied it.

    • profile image

      Jerry Watson 8 years ago

      Well, that is how we use our water heater timer too. As far as turning off the bottom element, I'm not sure I would pursue that because the bottom element is the work horse in non-simultaneous acting water heaters. If you do that in a simultaneous acting heater, you place all the load on the upper element, which could cause it to burn out prematurely, I think. You might want to consult with an electrician to verify this. You can check to see if your water heater is non-simultaneous or simultaneous by checking the label. If the rating is 4500 watts/4500 watts/4500 watts like my Bradford White or something similar, the tank is non-simultaneous. If the rating reads, 4500 watts/4500 watts/9000 watts, e.g., it is simultaneous.

      Hope this helps. Thanks for reading my posts and your input. I greatly appreciate it! All the best, Jerry Watson

    • profile image

      LeeH 8 years ago

      We have a timer on the 60 gal water heater that is set to turn on during off peak and turn off during on peak. The idea being to heat up the water cheaply and use the preheated water during the day. When we know that our water use is going to exceed the tank - multiple wash loads & showers for example, we will turn switch on until done (except that we usually forget, in which case the next on/off cycle wil procede normally). I have been thinking about installing the timer in such a way that only the bottom element is turned off during the day so that even if (almost) all of the hot water is used up, there will still be some heated water in the tank. With all the other chores om my list I ihave not gotten around to this. It would require a timer with separate motor and "line in/out" connections so that the motor would be always on, and the "line in and out" connections would interrupt the electricity going to the lower element. Before tackling this I would have to see if enough wires can be pushed through the wire access at the top of the heater. An alternative would be to mount the timer on the water heater between the top and bottom elements.

      Any comments about just turning off the bottom element?

    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      Hi Bruce,

      I really appreciate your thoughtful comments! It depends on the circumstances in which the water heater is installed, the hot water demand on the tank, the amount of tank insulation, utility prices, hours when of peak demand, and, oddly enough, the tank wall thickness. In dealing with customers who wanted to talk about hot water use, I always tried to assess their hot water demand. For, say, an elderly couple who typically use very little hot water relatively speaking, it may not be economically advisable to install a timer or a tankless water heater. For a young family with small children who would typically do a lot of hot washes in the laundry, a tankless water heater would make more sense and provide a substantial energy savings. There again, for a couple where they both work and are gone the better part of the day, a water heater timer would work well because no one is home to utilize the hot water for most of the weekday. It would not be to their advantage to install a tankless water heater, in general. Nor would they be likely to save much in considering gas over electric unless there was a marked difference in those utility prices in their area.

      I think it is always important to take into consideration where the water heater is located, i.e., heated or unheated space, drafty or well-enclosed, etc, as well as whether or not the tank itself is to be insulated with an insulation blanket. Also, the inner insulation on many retail water heaters varies in thickness. The thicker the insulation, the better the heat retention. Tank wall thickness also matters in that a tank with a thinner wall thickness will have a faster heat transfer than one with a thicker tank wall. Thinner tank walls mean the tank may spring a leak sooner than one with a thicker wall. That is one criteria that the homeowner would not be able to determine. I knew which tanks had thicker walls because of many years of working with them. I used to cut up old water heaters to examine them for things like this and then use the old carcasses for various projects.

    • profile image

      Bruce 9 years ago This site says modern heaters run only 1.3 hours per day and that for heaters made after 1998 it may not be worth it to install a timer...that savings could be almost negligible about 14 kWh/month...thoughts, Jerry?

    • profile image

      Jerry Watson 9 years ago

      Thanks, FrankRod, I agree, a tankless water heater is almost my first choice. I had one for years and used to sell and install them. I'm a big fan of them. This is, as you said, an excellent alternative. Have a great day!

      Thanks for your question! To sign up to be notified when my new historical fiction book, The Antiquarian Chronicles, comes out early next year. Just send me an email and I'll put you on the list. Don't miss this chance to be one of the first to read this striking story of adventure, soft romance, and light mystery.

    • FrankRod profile image

      FrankRod 9 years ago

      Thanks for the thoughtful hub, Jerry. This is a great tip for those looking to save money during these tough times. Though a tankless water heater would be my first choice, obviously it would cost considerably more than this solution. Great way to save...

    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      Hi Reni,

      It depends on your situation. If you have an electric storage type water heater that is located in a heated space and is well insulated and your normal hot water demand is light to moderate, no, you probably won't experience any significant power consumption increase. If, however, you have an older tank, one that is not well insulated or is located in an unheated space, or you have a moderate to heavy hot water demand (lots of kids or teenagers, lots of laundry done in hot wash, etc.) yes, you may well experience an increase in your power consumption.

      In addition to all the above, circuit breakers in a modern standard electric panel are not designed to be used as frequently used switches. If used in that fashion, they may well fail in a relatively short period of time. If you want to turn your water heater on and off each day to save on electricity, the best bet is to use on of the electric water heater timers as described in the above article.

      Thanks for your question! To sign up to be notified when my new historical fiction book, The Antiquarian Chronicles, comes out early next year. Just send me an email and I'll put you on the list. Don't miss this chance to be one of the first to read this striking story of adventure, soft romance, and light mystery.

    • profile image

      Reni 9 years ago

      Hi there ,

      I have a doubt regarding water heater. I usually switch off the water heater morning after my use and switch on at night. but I have told by some one that it will increase the power consumption . is it true .

    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Bryan. There are two basic types of electric water heaters from an operational standpoint: simultaneous and non-simultaneous acting. The non-simultaneous ones are by far the more popular and most prolific. You can find out which one you have by checking the water heater label. If the watts rating on the label is the same as one of the elements it is non-simultaneous. This simply means only one element comes on at a time. So, non-simultaneous acting water heaters are not usually &quot;always on&quot; although the current draw is instanteous when one of the thermostats calls for heat. Modern water heater insulation varies in thickness but, in general, they are all well insulated and will maintain heat to a degree, especially if they are located in a heated space or wrapped with an insulation blanket. Nevertheless, they will cool down over an extensive period of time. But, for all practical purposes, in household applications, it is seldom necessary to reheat the entire tank full of water using a timer. Most of the time on or the other of the elements (usually the top one) kicks on and boosts the water temperature up to the thermostat cutout point. When using a timer, especially one that breaks one line of the 240 volt feed, it is the same thing as turning on and off a light switch. You are simply opening and closing a 120 volt circuit. No damage will occur to the points in the switch assembly under normal operating conditions, generally speaking. The same may not hold true, however, for the 20 or 30 amp breakers in the panel which are usually tied together and are not designed to turn on and off the water heater on a regular basis. They will, indeed, suffer damage and failure if used in such a manner. At least, that's my understanding. Having said all that, I must state that I'm not a licensed electrician. I am simply stating what I know to be fact based on my 37 years of plumbing and heating experience in the field.

      Thanks again for posting. Have a great day!

    • profile image

      Bryan 9 years ago

      Timer Good, turning off your W. Heater by the breaker alone will cause damage to the breaker-(W. Heaters are usually &quot;always on&quot; and will instantly draw CURRENT-thus (rush of current) will pit the contacts etc. of the breaker. I AM SORT OF CONFUSED HERE ABOUT TURNING THE UNIT OFF,...THEN HAVING TO &quot;RE-HEAT&quot; THE WHOLE 45 GALLONS AGAIN! Seems to me today's water heaters are very well insulated and maintain there heat,......Why turn it off...unless vacation? I'm looking into it

    • profile image

      Jerry  9 years ago

      Thanks, Inna. I'm pretty occupied with other writing projects now but I'm flattered you asked. I also have a novel coming out later this winter or early next year called The Antiquarian Chronicles. If you would like to be notified when I get the release date just email me at:

      You can read my other writings at: Associated just search for articles by whistlin_smithy

    • profile image

      Inna 9 years ago

      Jerry, you sure did.

      You can come back write for me any time!

    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      Thank you, Inna. I think I wrote one or two articles for your website once upon a time. Nice to hear from you.

    • profile image

      Inna 9 years ago

      Jerry, great article!

      Inna from

    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      Actually, there are, sort of, Johnr54. Newer model gas water heaters come with electric ignition so they don't burn any gas, not even for a pilot light, until there is a thermostatic demand on the unit. Then the piezo-electric igniter fires and lights the main burner. There are also electric and gas tankless water heaters that use no energy until there is a call for hot water. These are also sometimes called on-demand water heaters.

    • johnr54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 9 years ago from Texas

      I'd be interested to see if there was some similar idea for a gas water heater.

    • profile image

      Jerry 9 years ago

      Thanks for the kind words, Jeff. I've heard of the 12 volt system in homes but, out side of control voltage, I know nothing about it. If you find out more about it let me know. I'd love to find out more about it myself.

      You can find more of my articles at Associated (click on the link below) and (just search for my name - Jerry Watson) and also at under real estate and autos.

      Thanks again for your comment! Have a great day!

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      Until the recent economic slow down, and loss of my job, I had been starting to put in a partially solar-heating addition to our water heater.  One house we looked at several years ago had one installed, and the water in that system was hot and the costs of heating it were low.

      They had a separate electric meter just for the heating.  The owner said they were being monitored by the local power company as part of a test system to reduce energy consumption in our area.

      I can tell you one thing I really enjoy is my warm shower!  Thanks for the great information in your hub and I hope to read many more that you will write! 

      Do you ever dabble in rewiring a house for a 12 volt system, similar to what is used in trailers?  I also had plans to convert some of my house lighting to solar panels using a 12 volt system.

    • profile image

      Jerry Watson 9 years ago

      Thanks, Marisue. Since I installed my water heater timer, our electric bill was cut almost in half. 'Course it's just my wife and me and she works out so I'm the only one at home now. Still, the timer has more than paid for itself in the first month.

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 9 years ago from USA

      Good info and I certainly agree...we all need to conserve and go &quot;efficient.&quot; Regardless of the price of anything; we shouldn't over use or miss use. Good HUB