Save money and energy by managing hot water

February 23, 2008|By BOB KESSLER

One of the best ways to save money on energy is to use less energy. Hot water is a significant cost in running your household. But there are ways to save thousands of gallons of water per year and save energy - too.

The Consumer's Guide to Home Energy Savings provides some tips on conserving hot water. First, reduce the amount you use. If you have a shower head that has been in place for 14 years, it probably uses more than the 2.5 gallons per minute recommended today. Replace your shower head with a new one that uses less water.

Change the aerator on each faucet to one that delivers a half-gallon to a gallon of water per minute. Also change your faucet to one with a convenient shut-off handle, so water doesn't run needlessly while you scrub a dish or wash your hands or brush your teeth. Even a small amount of warm or hot water down the drain is a waste of money and water. With these changes throughout your house, a family of four can save more 14,000 gallons of water a year - and the energy it took to heat it.


All hot water has to flow from the hot water heater, which is often stuck in a corner of the house with pipes to other areas. In a large house, that means running a lot of water down the drain before the hot water arrives at the faucet. Insulate your hot water pipes to reduce heat loss as the water flows to the faucet, and while it sits in the pipes until you need it again. If you have a hot water recirculation loop, it is critical that these pipes be insulated.

A few simple changes can save money on energy and conserve your water usage, too.

Gardening with kids

If you love to garden, why not teach your kids to enjoy gardening? One way: Start seeds with them. You don't need a lot of fancy equipment. I have seen it done using an egg shell that has a small hole drilled in the bottom for drainage. Shells are put in an egg carton and filled with a potting soil mix. You can use any other kind of containers you want as long as they have drainage holes.

Use a potting soil mix intended for seeds in your container and fill the shells or other containers almost to the top. Wet the mix so it will settle. Annual flowers like marigolds and zinnias can easily be started from seeds. You also can start vegetables like tomatoes from seeds, and then transplant them when they get bigger.

Seeds can be placed on top of the potting mix and pressed lightly into the soil. Then sprinkle a light covering of potting soil over the seed and water it again. Place it in a well-lit window sill; or if you have a shop light or a desk lamp, the seeded containers can be placed under the light. As the plant grows, keep it about one to two inches from the light. The closer the seeds are to light, the better quality of light the emerging plant will receive.

Explain to your children that light helps the plant produce food from the chlorophyll that makes the plant green.

Without good light, the plant will grow too tall and have a weak stem.

When the seedlings have the first set of leaves, they can be transplanted into other containers, such as peat pots. Continue to help your children with their plants and show them how to tell if the seedlings need water. Once the danger of frost has passed, around mid-May in the Tri-State area, help them plant their new plants outside in a flower bed or in their garden.

Encourage your children to take care of the plants, and fertilize and water them as needed.

Gardening is a traditional activity that has been passed down from one generation to the next. Be sure to pass on your love of gardening by teaching some young people.

Poisonous houseplants

You would not likely go around your house and eat your houseplants, but young children and pets might. Do you know if you have a poisonous houseplant in your home? Most toxic plants might only cause a mild stomach ache or skin rash or swelling of the mouth or throat, and, often, a large quantity of the plant must be consumed to have an effect.

So which plants are poisonous? Most people have philodendrons in their homes. Others include the daffodil, dumb cane, elephants ear, English ivy, hyacinth or mountain laurel and yew, which often are found in Christmas greens.

This list is not a complete list of all poisonous houseplants. A more complete list can be found from online sources, or ask your local garden center.

People often think the poinsettia is poisonous, but it is not. Its sap, however, can cause irritation. This also is true of weeping fig and fiddle leaf fig, piggyback plant and wandering Jew.

If you don't know the name of the plant you are concerned about, go to a local plant shop and see if you can find one with a label identifying it.

Some people can be sensitive or allergic to a plant even if it is not considered poisonous. If you have a reaction to a plant, you should contact your local doctor. If you can't reach your doctor, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222. If treatment is needed, the staff there can suggest alternatives to you.

Bob Kessler is an extension agent specializing in farm and garden for Penn State University. He can be reached weekdays at 717-263-9226 or by e-mail at

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