Plumbing 2.0

Yes, plumbing. Bear with me.

Our local utility sends out a pamphlet with every bill, and this month the pamphlet included an advisory to turn water heaters down to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scalds and save energy. Most water heaters, apparently, are dialed up to 140F by consumers.

Someone already resolved the energy issue by inventing on-demand water heaters, aka tankless water heaters. Rather than having a big tank of water that is constantly re-heating the water, a tankless heater runs only as hot water is used. You turn on the hot water faucet, the tankless water heater fires up as the water flows through.

However, I think the same scalding problem exists: you set the dial and the tankless heater does its thing. If you want warm water, you still have to mix hot with cold to find the middle ground. Not to mention it still seems counterproductive to heat up the water, only to cool it back down so you don’t burn your hands.

That said, why not take all this fancy technology of ours — Bluetooth, X10, 802.11 wireless, and so on — and gin up a way for the consumer to tell the heater how hot to make the water?

For example, you want to take a shower. You dial in the temperature and boom, that’s how hot the water comes out. Even better, you let parents and caregivers put a safety on the equipment, so kids and/or grandma don’t accidentally melt their faces off. At the same time, the heater is using less energy because it knows it only has to get the water to, say, 90F, rather than cranking all the way up to 120F or so. Less gas or electricity required, and possibly less water wasted until the right temperature comes through.

Why is this not already an option? If they can make fridges that can order frickin’ milk before I run out, I would think this would be a piece of cake.

In fact, it might even make the home more flexible. Maybe you only need to run a single pipe through the house instead of both hot and cold. Now you could get hot water from your garden hose. You pay a little more for the smart heater and faucets, but you save on labor installing two sets of pipes, and in the long run maybe you save more on your water bills because you’re not running both sides.

“But Mike, what if I want to take a shower while the wife is washing dishes?” No sweat: you have two circuits of water. Two tanks run by one controller/server. I get a nice, warm shower, while she has hotter water for the dishes. Only want one heater? Fine, coolest demand wins for safety. My shower’s warm and she can gripe at me for having not-quite-hot-enough water for the dishes.

More questions? Let the experts figure it out. I’m not a plumber, just a geek.

Someone make this happen.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Noah L says:

    Actually, I think Kohler made some fancy shower system where you were able to put in the temperature you wanted and you would get it, but it was its own little regulator, it wasn’t attached to the water heater. Your proposal would be awesome. We need to find some geeky plumbers now :P

  2. Aaron says:

    Noah: That doesn’t solve the problem Mike is referring to, it just mixes the cold water with the hot digitally instead of analogue-ly. I know – that’s not a word.

    Mike: What you’re talking about does exist. I won’t name names but a few of the tankless manufacturers do offer wired and wireless remotes to change the temperature of water the heater is putting out. Wanting two different temperatures at the same time presents a separate issue but rest assured that the manufacturers are working on it. Sadly, the water heater operating telepathically probably won’t be seen any time soon.