Standing with my hand in the cold stream of water from the shower head waiting for the hot water to arrive is not my idea of a good time, especially at 6:00 a.m.. Watching all that water flow down the drain was no joy either. It was time to do something about this vexing problem.
Adding a return loop to my hot water system would be prohibitively expensive (typically over $1000.00!).
Several retrofit type hot water circulating systems are on the market that can be installed under the sink, using the cold water line as the return.
There are several different types. One kind uses a temperature controlled pump that mounts under the sink. It turns the pump on and off, keeping the temperature lukewarm all the time.
I had three worries about this type of system:
the water at the sink is always warm, but not hot. I would have to get into the shower with lukewarm water until the hot water arrived, and then re-adjust the temperature.
The second problem I worried about was that the cold water at the sink would be lukewarm because the pump is pumping the warm water out of the hot water pipe and into the cold water pipe. When I want a drink of water from the tap, I want cold water, not lukewarm.
A third problem is energy use. The pump that is turning on and off 24 hours a day is using a lot of energy. Even worse, keeping the hot water pipes full of warm water is going to make the water heater work harder, replacing the energy by lost by the piping system.
Another type of system, sometimes called a ?demand system?, is activated by the push of a button. Pushing the button starts the pump, and when hot water reaches the fixture the pump automatically shuts off. When you hear the pump shut off, you know your hot water has arrived!
The Chilipepper appliance is a demand type system. It’s the least expensive system and also the easiest to install of all the systems.
Before installing the Chilipepper I measured how long it took for hot water to reach the various fixtures, and how much water was being wasted. I timed how long to took to get hot water from each fixture. I let an hour or so go by between measurements so the pipes would have time to cool off completely since several fixtures draw hot water from the same section of pipe.
At the master bathroom sink (the fixture furthest from the water heater) it took 114 seconds to get hot water and 2.9 gallons of water went down the drain while waiting.
At the guest bathroom sink it took 68 seconds and 1.75 gallons of water.
The kitchen sink took 38 seconds and 1.25 gallons of water.
And finally the 3rd bathroom sink took 32 seconds and .75 gallons.
Once the hot water reached the master bathroom, hot water arrived at the other fixtures quickly since much of the hot water piping was already full of hot water. I rechecked the time to get hot water from the various fixtures right after running the hot water tap in the master bathroom until I got hot water.
This would be the same as if the Chilipepper had run until hot water arrived at the sink where the Chilipepper was to be installed. At the guest bathroom sink it now took 19 seconds, at the kitchen sink it took 7 seconds, at the 3rd bathroom sink it took 3 seconds.
After running the hot water until it gets hot in the master bathroom, the time to get hot water at the other fixtures was dramatically reduced. Since the Chilipepper can be controlled from anywhere in my home using the optional X-10 remote control system, I was considering putting a button at the kitchen sink, guest bathroom, and next to the alarm clock on my bed stand as well as having a button in the master bathroom.
Water and Energy Savings using a Hot Water Demand System
Water savings for a household of four occupants varied from about 900 gallons to about 3000 gallons per point of use, per year. Point of use is a single location at a home, for example a faucet where hot water is available. The water savings in a home with four points of use, on the average, would be 3,600 to 12,000 gallons per year.
Electricity savings for a household of four occupants varied from about 200 kW-h/year to 400 kW-h/year for a single point of use. Extrapolation to a home with at least four points of use would imply electricity savings from 800 kW-h/year to 1600 kW-h/year.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Time to install the Chilipepper
After cleaning out several years worth of accumulated cleansers, shampoos, and other mysterious bottles, sponges, etc. from under the sink I was ready to begin the installation.
I rolled up my sleeves and called the local handy man to have an electrical outlet installed under the master bathroom sink. That cost me $45.00.
The Chilipepper comes with a rubber mounting lug with a wood screw through the center for hanging the pump on the wall at the back of the cabinet. Alternatively the Chilipepper can be simply placed on the floor of the cabinet. (it has 4 little rubber feet)
The mounting lug must be screwed into a stud. The last time I tried to locate a stud behind sheet rock, I used an ice pick to locate the stud by stabbing the ice pick through the sheet rock until I found the stud. I think I ended up with nine holes. I do not recommend this method. Use a stud finder or something.
I opted for placing the Chilipepper on the floor of the bathroom cabinet. That was the easiest and I am by nature somewhat lazy.
The Chilipepper comes with a couple of T fittings and 6? of plastic tubing for connecting it to the sink fixture. After laying one of my wife’s best towels under the sink, I turned off both shut-off valves (angle stops) and removed the hot and cold hose fittings from the sink fixture inlet pipes.
Next I threaded the T fittings onto the sink fixture inlet pipes and re-connected the hoses to the bottoms of the Ts.
I cut the piece of tubing that came with the Chilipepper in half. Then I pushed one end of the tubing into the push-in fittings on the Ts and the other end into the fittings on the Chilipepper.
I turned on the shut-off valves and turned off the sink fixture. Noticing a steady dripping of water from the right side fitting on the Chilipepper, I quickly turned the shut-off valves off. Now wasn?t I clever putting a towel under the work area?
I finally figured out that I had cut the tubing at a slight angle. The tubing needs to be cut pretty square to properly seal in the push-in fittings. I re-cut the tubing ends square, and checked for leaks. Voila! Plumbing installation completed.
To mount the doorbell type button I needed to drill a hole in the cabinet.
I asked my wife if she cared where I put it. ?You?re going to drill a hole in my bathroom cabinet? OVER MY DEAD BODY!? she replied.
OK. Since I had purchased the remote control option with two extra remote transmitters, I simply plugged one of the remote transmitters into the outlet and set it on the counter top. Problem solved.
I attached the two leads from the telephone cord that came with the Chilipepper and hooked them to the two screws at the bottom of the remote control receiver, and plugged the receiver into the outlet under the sink. I plugged the end of the phone cord into the receptacle on the end of the Chilipepper. We should be ready to go.
I crossed my fingers and pressed the button on the remote transmitter. The Chilipepper roared to life! It sounded like a vacuum cleaner was under my sink, but it only ran for about 55 seconds. After it stopped I reached down and opened the hot water faucet. Hot water in 3 seconds. Woo Hoo! And no water was run down the drain.
Again measuring the time to get hot water at the other sinks I found it took 18 seconds to get hot water at the guest bathroom, 7 seconds at the kitchen sink, and 4 seconds at the 3rd Bathroom sink.
I put a remote transmitter next to the alarm clock by my bed, and in the morning when I switch off the alarm, I press the Chilipepper button. By the time I get to the shower I just turn on the faucet and hot water is there in about three or four seconds.
Soooo much better than standing there naked, and freezing, waiting for what seemed like about ten minutes for the arrival of hot water!
We have a remote transmitter on the kitchen counter too, and use it frequently. (Did you know that all major dishwasher manufacturers recommend that your dishwasher get full temperature hot water on the first cycle?)
Finally I don’t have to feel guilty about running all that water down the drain, I just push the button!