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posted: 7/17/2011 12:01 AM

Ask the plumber: More on hot-water systems

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  • Recirculating pumps get hot water to your shower fast, but add to electric bills.

    Recirculating pumps get hot water to your shower fast, but add to electric bills.
    Scripps Howard News Service/Courtesy DIY Network

By Ed Del Grande

Normally, to keep this column fresh, I like to take a break of a couple of months or so between discussions of similar plumbing topics. However, a primer from earlier this month on recirculating systems for water heaters generated such a huge response that a follow-up is in order right now.

A reader wrote complaining it took a few minutes to get hot water to his shower. His water heater was on the opposite side of the house, and all the hot-water piping has to empty out cooler water before fresh hot water makes its way through the system.

This causes gallons of water to be wasted with every shower. In a year's time, thousands of water can go down the drain unused and be wasted in a standard household.

We discussed having the reader ask his plumber to add a hot-water recirculating pump to his water-heater storage tank. A recirculating pump can keep warmer water throughout all the hot-water lines, and get hotter water to the shower head more quickly, thus reducing the amount of wasted water.

Readers who have had such a system installed agree that it is a good system for getting hot water to far-away plumbing fixtures faster, and it saves water. But they want to let people know that there can be a little higher operating cost in order to heat the extra water piping.

To help offset this, talk to your plumber about the options of installing "on demand" switches so you can run the pump only when you need hot water. Or, if you're on a regular schedule, you can have a "timer switch" system on your pump to run the recirculating pump only during regular shower hours (mornings, for instance). Also, if possible, insulating your hot-water lines can help cut energy costs as well.

These are just a few follow-up ideas if you're thinking about having a hot-water recirculating system installed.

One of my favorite responses came from a reader who said, "I simply put a bucket under my shower to collect the cool water, then later I water my plants with the bucket of water."

• Master contractor and plumber Ed Del Grande is the author of "Ed Del Grande's House Call" and hosts TV shows on Scripps Networks and Visit or write