Hot Water Recirculating Pump – Stop Wasting Water

Hot Water Recirculating Pump - Stop Wasting Water

Water Going Down the Drain

How long does it take before you feel hot water coming out of your taps? Maybe as much as five minutes or more? Why is that? You’re missing a hot water recirculating pump. Let us explain. 

Water sitting in your pipes gets cold. When a faucet opens, this cold water comes out before warmer water from your heater makes its way through the pipes. 

That cold water is literally flushed down the drain while you wait for heated water to arrive.

The time it takes for hot water to finally arrive depends on how big your house is, the size and type of your water heater and how far your shower or faucets are from the water heater; the longer the piping between your faucet and the hot water heater, the more cold water in the line to push out before hot water arrives.

Running faucets and showers waiting to get hot water can easily waste as much as 30 gallons of water daily. That adds up to more than 11,000 gallons of water annually. And that’s a conservative estimate. If you have a large family, you’re probably wasting a lot more!

Most people don’t like a cold shower. But the water you waste while waiting for the shower to get hot costs you when it comes time to pay your water utility bills.

The solution is a hot water recirculating pump. In this post we explain:

  • How an instant hot water recirculating pump works
  • Full vs comfort options
  • Timer vs on-demand options
  • Recirculating pump pros and cons
  • How much money and water you can save 
  • Is it really a do-it-yourself project?

How Does a Hot Water Recirculating Pump System Work?

The recirculating pump is installed on your hot water heater. It reroutes cold water in your plumbing lines back to the water heater and recirculates it to ensure water in the pipes is always warm and immediately available when a tap is opened. 

There are two types of recirculating systems:

  • Full hot water recirculating pumps require an additional hot water line to create a loop from your water heater to the faucet and back again. No water is left in the line, so there is no cold water sitting. You only have to wait 5 to 10 seconds for hot water to travel directly from the heater to the faucet.
  • Comfort recirculating pumps use an existing cold water line to send unused water back to the water heater. There are also comfort systems you can attach at point-of-use, such as a kitchen sink or dishwasher.

Why choose one over the other? Full systems are generally more expensive because it requires a professional plumber to install the extra line. The problem with comfort systems is that because they use the same line for cold and hot water, cold water tends to get warmer. When you really want cold water, you have to wait to flush out the warmer water until the colder water arrives; now you have the reverse situation of the original problem of wasting water just going down the drain, though arguably not as much as you would without the comfort system.

Timer vs. On-Demand Sensor Recirculating Pumps

Some recirculating pumps use a timer to ensure hot water is immediately available during certain designated periods when people in the household are most likely to take showers, wash dishes and clothes, and use the bathrooms. 

Other types of recirculating pumps use a sensor to detect cold water in the line. The sensor triggers a valve located in the faucet or shower furthest from the water heater. The cool water in the line is then recirculated back to the water heater and replaced with hot water. The recirculating pump shuts off once the desired temperature is reached, and the process repeats whenever the water in the line cools down.

Either way, instead of the cold water going down the drain while you wait for warmer water to make its way from the heater to the tap, that same water is recirculated as hot water.

The automatic sensing system is popular for situations where people are mostly at home at various and/or irregular times during the day and/or night. Also, an on-demand system wastes less water and is, therefore, more environmentally friendly.

But if you aren’t typically home during the day and/or have a set schedule when someone in your household is most likely to be using hot water, a recirculating pump with a timer might be adequate. Just don’t expect to get hot water right away if someone is unexpectedly home using water. 

Consult a professional plumber to help you decide which is best.

Hot Water Recirculating Pumps Pros and Cons

The obvious pros are that recirculating pumps reduce water wastage, which also reduces water bills. While it is true that there is some electricity expended to run the pump, it’s sufficiently negligible enough you shouldn’t notice much of an uptick in your utility bill.

Even if you have well water and aren’t paying for water usage, saving water may not be an economical decision, but it is an environmental decision. 

Equally obvious is the con that pumps cost money, anywhere from $500 and up depending upon build construction and water flow efficiency. Installation is an additional cost, particularly if you need to run a dedicated hot water line.

Brand name models also tend to cost more, but brand name models are generally more reliable and last longer. Look for a pump made out of stainless steel, as they are generally of higher quality, but, again, these will cost more. Less expensive models may end up costing you even more with more maintenance repairs and inefficient operation.

The life expectancy of most pumps is up to 15 years. Your mileage will vary depending on the amount of water used daily and the quality of the pump itself. An important consideration in selecting any recirculation pump is the volume of water it can handle. A low-flow rate for a home with high-flow rate needs will not serve you well.

Some pumps are noisier than others. If a living space is close to the water heater, you might want to consider quieter models, which might have a higher price tag. 

If you plan to stay in your house for at least the next five years, a recirculating pump is a good investment that will pay for itself. Not to mention that you don’t have to stand by the shower waiting for hot water to arrive.

Is This a Do-It-Yourself Project?

If you are confidently handy, if there is an existing dedicated hot water line (assuming you are installing a full recirculating system), if the space around your water heater is easily accessible if you have the right tools if you have the time…

A lot of ifs. Many recirculating pumps advertise “easy installation.” Which doesn’t necessarily mean it is an easy installation for the average homeowner. Believe us, we’ve been called out to more than a few DIY plumbing projects that cost more for us to fix than if the homeowners had called us in the first place. 

Ongaro and Sons Plumbing and Water Heating Services

Ongaro and Sons has served Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties with a full range of plumbing and water heating services since 1932. A fourth-generation family-owned business, we always offer the best products available while delivering the best service our customers need and deserve.

With the help of our plumbing professionals, you can be sure of the recirculating pump system that best suits your needs and your budget. 

Interested in a recirculating pump solution to reduce water wastage and expense? Contact us. We’re happy to discuss what we can do to help.