Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Immersion Water Heater

Water heaters.  Modern homes could not function without them.  All of us in the developed world rely on them for our safety and comfort.  This is the kind of appliance that can be totally ignored until something goes wrong.

In Iowa, we were blessed in our home to have the American standard water heater.  By American standard I mean the heater most Americans have in their homes:  "That big tank thing in the basement about which I know nothing, not even the brand!  It just works and has hot water ready when I shower!"

Ours did what water heaters do- it kept water hot.  All the time.  At at comfortable temperature.  All the time.  I never turned off the water heater in the four years we lived in that house, and never gave it a second thought.

Enter the new system of which I approve very much, the immersion heater.

Water heater used in Dublin, Ireland by Americans living there.

It's difficult to photograph the workings of the water heater, but the basic principles can be explained.  Instead of a 50-plus gallon tank heated to a comfortable temperature at all times, we use a small tank with an electric element immersed in the water within.  It works much like the electric kettle we use to boil hot water for coffee, tea, and cooking.  The electric heating element blasts the water within, boiling the water touching it almost instantly, taking no time at all to get the full container nice and hot.  When hot water from the water heater is needed, flip the switch to turn on the unit, and the whole thing heats up in about 30 minutes.

Switches for the immersion water heater used in Dublin, Ireland by Americans.

"But what about that small capacity!"  One might say.  True, that much water might not be enough for a long shower or full bath.  We get around that with high temperatures.  The water is the American water heater is set to a safe and comfortable temperature that can be used full-strength if you're tough.  This heater gets the water blazing hot.  I mean hot.  It can not be used full strength from the tap without scalding.  Even the taps and pipes get too hot to touch when this water is flowing through them.  The result of this is, of course, a shower or bath that uses a much lighter mix of hot and cold water to create a safe and comfortable water temperature.

Now for the trade-off.  To get this efficiency, we sacrifice some of the convenience of the good ole American Huge Tank.  Hot water requires advance planning.  There are no spontaneous showers here.  For a morning shower, we usually flip the switch just as we wake up.  After coffee and breakfast, we are set to go.  Some households here have automatic timers to get around this problem, but we haven't found a way to hook one up on our setup.  If we ever need a small amount of hot water in a pinch for dishes or shaving, we just use our small electric kettle.

This product seems like it will save a lot on energy use and bills.  I admire many of the small innovations we have seen here to save energy and materials.    Stay tuned for many more of the small changes that will add up to big savings of money and environmental impact.

Update:  An Irish friend recommended a great stand-up routine by Des Bishop, an American comedian living in Ireland.  After watching it, I think he captures the American perspective on the water heater change perfectly.  Thanks, Lord Stilton!


More about Des Bishop here.

33 comments:

  1. Google des bishop immersion.. He's an American stand up living in Ireland

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    1. I watched it as soon as I saw your comment. What a great bit! I embedded the video of it as an update. Thanks for the tip!

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    2. Tip 2..try make a trip to the bars around croke park this sunday..The match is sold out but the atmosphere and craic around the ground will be well worth the trip to experience..Dublin V Kerry is steeped in history

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    3. in case you havn't got around to seeing the sport in action http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtnJPTENOKk

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  2. very interesting. Is that how everyone does it there? I think of young children and the possible dangers.

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    1. I can't speak for everyone here, but they seem to be used by a lot of the people I have met. I suppose kids would have to be careful in homes like ours with it. We're still learning about it ourselves!

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    2. I can't speak for everyone here, but they seem to be used by a lot of the people I have met. I suppose kids would have to be careful in homes like ours with it. We're still learning about it ourselves!

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  3. A great article, and clearly shows just how much we all take immersion heaters for granted as a standard in the UK!

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    1. They seem to be a good way to save power if you use them correctly. Ireland's gas and electricity costs much more than American energy, so we try to save any way we can. Thanks for reading!

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  4. Thanks for the video, I hope we can get similar heaters in the UK seeing as they save so much money!

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. Really nice concept of tankless water heaters. Thanks for sharing such a great post.
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  7. Although standard water heaters in America seem much more convenient, it’s true that this one conserves energy and is more economical. Thank you for enlightening us about other types of water heaters, as a lot of people are not familiar with it. Good day!

    Rosa Nelson @ HVAC Philadelphia

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    1. Hi Rosa, I am effectively studying this and would like to find conclusive evidence of that statement..

      Heating the water up to high temperatures is going to result is huge losses during the transportation phase, as well as the loss of heat because the "lagging jacket" you can see in the picture is a lot less efficient then the fully sealed insulation on the water tank.

      This just reeks of the equivalent of heating up the house for an hour or so a day, with high heat radiators instead of keeping the heating on a low level throughout the day, only to lower by a few degrees at night. There is plenty of evidence that the latter is a lot more economical.

      In mainland Europe, we have the same system as described for the US home. Nowhere but in UK and Ireland have I heard of the immersion tank as it is used here.

      One friend put it down to the lack of guaranteed water pressure and incompatibility of such a water supply with the sealed tank system, but I still struggle with that as I don't see a principle difference in both type of heaters, apart from the operating temperatures and the way they are constructed/
      insulated

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    2. Very thoughtful. I can't speak specifically for our energy use compared to larger tank systems, and we certainly don't have the most modern or efficient insulation system. It seems to work well enough for us, not that we can do anything about it in our small apartment. :)

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  8. Should work for a warm, quick shower

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. On top of the hot water tank is an immersion heater – this is not anything to do with the boiler – rather it runs on electricity straightforwardly and basically goes about as a huge kettle.This implies regardless of the fact that the boiler is on the blink,you can turn on the immersion heater at the switch and still warm up enough water for a shower or bath.

    @Tina Long.

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  11. Industrial immersion heaters are used for direct liquid immersion heating applications. Boiling hot water on tap is now safe and easy. Check out: Electric Hot Water Systems for more info!

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  12. Good idea for saving energy and money for your home, nice post. please view My Sourcing Blog

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  13. Thanks for sharing the article. Yes these water heater are so much necessary.

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  14. Ya sure these water heater are way too necessary for a modern home. Because temps goes low.

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