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How To Check and Set Water Heater Temperature

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Published on Apr 9, 2012

Did you know, an electric water heater can account for up to 25% of a home's energy bill? The United States Department of Energy recommends setting a residential water heater to 120ᵒ F to reduce energy usage and to help prevent scalding. Each 10ᵒ F reduction in water temperature can save 3% - 5% on an energy bill. Save energy and help make the home safer by reducing the thermostat setting on residential water heaters.

Justin Holzgrove, PUD 3 Conservation Manager, demonstrates how to check and adjust water heater temperature in this video.

To Check and Adjust Water Heater Temperature:

TOOLS NEEDED: a flat head screwdriver and a regular home cooking thermometer.

1. Turn on the hot water at the faucet CLOSEST to the water heater. This may be in a bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, etc. Let it run for at least three minutes to ensure water is coming directly from the water heater tank.
2. Measure the water temperature using the cooking thermometer. It may be easier to place a small cup below the faucet.
3. Turn off the water heater breaker at the home's electric panel. This should be done prior to making any adjustments.
4. Locate the water heater access panels. Many water heaters have a top and bottom element. Both should be adjusted to the same temperature.
5. Remove the water heater access panel. Insulation may need to be removed to access the thermostat. If so, consider wearing gloves. Do not remove the plastic cover on the thermostat.
6. Using the flat head screwdriver, adjust the temperature down to 120ᵒ F. The thermostat may not have the setting in degrees. Instead it may use terms such as "HOT" and "COLD". Adjust accordingly.
7. Replace the access panels and turn on the circuit breaker to re-energize the water heater.
8. Wait three hours before testing again to allow changes to take effect.
9. Re-measure the water temperature.

Washington State law (RCW 19.27A.060) requires that new residential water heaters sold in the state be pre-set at 120ᵒ F. Mason County PUD No. 3 is required to notify customers annually that state law recommends their water heaters should be set no higher than 120ᵒ F. Furthermore, when a home is sold or rented, the previous owners or agent must set the water heater back to 120ᵒ F before the next resident's occupancy.

From a safety and cost-savings standpoint, lowering the temperature makes a lot of sense.

Temperature of water in relation to the time it takes to cause a bad burn:
150°F (66°C) - 2 SECONDS
140°F (60°C) - 6 seconds
125°F (52°C) - 2 minutes
120°F (49°C) - 10 MINUTES

For Questions or Comments, please contact the Mason County PUD No. 3 Conservation Department at (360) 426-0777 or email web@masonpud3.org

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