A response to a post I wrote about things to do for the environment suggested that there would be a health risk to lowering the temperature of a home hot-water system to save power.
I have just been reading about so-called tankless hot-water systems. The concept is that instead of keeping a tank of water hot (which means that you lose some energy due to the insulation not being perfect) you heat water when you need it. The down-side to this is that you need a moderate amount of power to heat water as rapidly as it’s used. The GoTankless.com products use between 11KW and 27KW of electricity. The early implementations of this idea used gas – the occasional carbon-monoxide problem with gas appliances makes me inclined to avoid them so it’s good that there’s an electric option.
One of the benefits of the tankless system is that it runs the water at a lower temperature than a regular hot water system. For a tank storing hot water you have to run it at a temperature that kills bacteria (or at least dramatically inhibits their growth) – which means greater than 50C, but for on-demand water it’s safer to have it run at something close to the desired temperature (probably not much above 40C) and not use the cold tap. Lower temperature water avoids the risk of scalding for children and the elderly and if the “hot tap” is running at a good temperature for a shower then you can just turn it on, wait 30 seconds for the pipes to warm up, and jump in! Incidentally it really sucks the way most showers have the taps under or behind the flow of water, so if the water becomes too hot before you get in then you end up getting minor burns in the process of turning on the cold tap.
I still think that solar hot water is the way to go. It apparently combines something like a tankless system on water that comes out of a tank heated by the sun. So during winter it operates like a tankless system but in summer you get more hot water than you can use.
This web site about Solar hot water systems indicates that they have a similar technology to “boost” solar hot water, so if the Sun doesn’t make the water hot enough then it can use electric or gas systems to further heat the water. It’s also interesting to note that they offer Heat Pump hot-water systems, it’s a pity that they apparently don’t support combining this with solar heating. Another interesting feature is what they call the Water Guardian that pumps cold water from the pipes back into the water tank and avoids wasting the water that you might otherwise run down the sink while waiting for it to get hot.