Monday, November 9, 2015

Hot Water Re-circulation Systems: How do it work?

Hot water re-circulation systems are plumbing systems which are designed to move hot water to appliances (eg. Dishwashers, washing machines) and fixtures (eg showers, faucets) quickly without needing to wait while the water gets hot. Since the water pressure is low in many water lines, these systems do not rely on water pressure to move the hot water around your home.

Two Types of Water Recirculation Systems – Dedicated Loop and Integrated Loop.

1. Dedicated loop system:  This type of water recirculation system requires that you attach a circulation pump connected to the bottom of your water heater tank.

The hot water pipe is extended in a loop throughout the home, passing near each appliance and plumbing fixture. Beneath each fixture, the loop is connected to the fixture by a short pipe to the hot water valve. Whenever a valve is opened, it takes only a very short time for hot water to reach the valve because there is always hot water circulating through the hot water loop.

Note: if you are selling your home and the home is unoccupied, you should unplug your pump because you don’t want to pay to operate the system in an empty house.

2. Integrated loop system:  Though usually used on retrofits, this system may also be used in new construction. The integrated loop system uses a pump installed under the plumbing appliance or fixture located the farthest from your water heater. A sensor inside the pump will turn on the pump when your water temperature drops below 85° F, and turns it off when your water temperature reaches 95° F. The newer pumps can be adjusted from 77° to 104° F.
In the integrated loop system, hot water is re-circulated intermittently. Hot water is returned to the water heater through your cold water pipes. 

3. Activation: There are two ways to activate a hot water recirculation system: either by a thermostat or by a timer. If your system uses a thermostat, the pump is turned on when the water temperature reaches a certain point. If it uses a timer, it will turn on the pump at a pre-set time. Either way, hot water will always be available at any faucet or appliance. 
  • Some master plumbers in Los Angeles suggest you install both a thermostat and a timer. Set your timer to turn on the pump at peak times, when people in your home are suing the shower and appliances more often, then set ti to turn off at night when everyone is asleep. Then set the water temperature to your desired setting, and it will turn off when it reaches the desired temperature.

Water Circulation Systems Save Both Energy and Water.

Whether manually or automatically controlled, water recirculation systems drastically reduce the amount of wasted water going down the drain while you wait for the water to reach the desired temperature. This gives water circulation systems three distinct advantages over regular water distribution systems:

  • Save time. Water recirculation systems deliver hot water to appliances and faucets quickly, so you don’t have to wait for water to heat up.
  • Conserve water. the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that each year in the US we waste up to up to 1.3 trillion gallons of water (about 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools) while we wait for the water to heat up.
  • Limit municipal energy waste. We waste a huge amount of water waiting for it to heat up – up to 1,600 kilowatt-hours per year - treating and pumping the water to households that are only wasted while we all wait for the tap water to reach the desired temperature.
However, there is a downside here: don’t keep your water recirculation system on the whole time: if you do, you will end up actually using more energy than you need to. For example, you could waste an additional 400 to 800 KWH a year if your pump is on the whole time. In addition, there can be a significant loss of heat from your pipes if they are not properly insulated, which can often result in more hot water running than is necessary.


In some states, especially where there is shortage of water, rebates are available for you to get discounts on the purchase of hot water recirculation systems. To qualify foe these rebates, make sure your system complies with the efficiency standards set by your local municipal system.

Availability and Cost

You can purchase a hot water recirculation system from any good wholesale plumbing supply warehouse and at many retail home stores. Although the initial cost to get into a water recirculation system may be high, as you will have to purchase the pump and install a significant amount of piping. The initial cost of dedicated systems may prevent some homeowners from installing these systems, but you will soon see the energy savings you are experiencing as a result. 

Inspection Considerations

To comply with building codes, water recirculation systems require an in-line air valve and shut-off valve. There may be additional building code requirements with which you will have to comply, including - but not limited to - a check valve and an additional shut-off valve. 

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