Friday, June 24, 2011

What is a safe temperature for the hot water heater?

We have all heard of the advice to "lower the temperature of your hot water heater to save money." Perhaps you've read it online or maybe a friend or family member advised you. But my wife recently brought up the idea that it could be dangerous to do this for your health. While you may no longer scold you from burning hot water, you may get some bacterial or fungal infection due to an increased growth in the now warm (no longer killer), wet, dark tank that is your hot water heater.  So I determined it was my job to find the truth!

The answer to is it safe for you to lower the temperature is - it depends.  Below is information from the European Guidelines, OSHA, and Shriners Burn Institute to help inform & guide you.

It appears to me that at 60ºC (140ºF), everything is killed off rather quickly and is generally recommended by everyone, however, you risk getting burned in under 5 seconds.  Even OSHA can't make up their mind on what to recommend as you'll see below; so the question remains what will I do?

120-125ºF. This temperature wont scald us and we don't have a weakened immune system that would make us prone to falling ill easily. This temperature is also recommended for when you have children to help protect them. (Random side note: Temperatures of 60ºC or higher cause gradual erosion of glassware in a dishwasher.) Also, at 125ºF, while it may not kill bacteria, it likely wont encourage bacterial growth, which is good enough for me since the cold water will still likely have bacteria in it anyway. Lastly, temperatures above 60ºC encourage limescale deposits and since we live where the hardest water in the country is, I try to prevent it as best as I can. However, I do use the water booster on the dishwasher so that the dish detergent works at its optimal temperature.

So my question to you is, what temperature do you have yours set to?  After reading this, do you plan on changing it to a higher or a lower temperature?

Two more additional random side notes: From "For each 10ºF reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs." and even our own power company recommends that we keep the water heater tank at 120ºF.

Caution:Below is for the nerds like me who want to know everything.

Here are some facts that you should know about water, burns, and the human skin from Shriners Burn Institute:

Likewise, the most dangerous bacteria mentioned (or that I could find) in regards to water heater is the Legionella. The name came about from an outbreak in July of 1976 from a hotel where there was a convention from the American Legion when this mysterious disease made 221 people sick and caused 34 deaths. 

Here are the facts about Legionella (USA suffers from between 10,000 and 50,000 cases each year, mostly being sporadic cases not associate with outbreaks) and how temperature affects it and the typical water heater colored in yellow and typed in bold font:

Temperature rangeEffect on Legionella
70 - 80ºC (158-176ºF)Disinfection range
66ºC (151ºF)Legionella will die in 2 minutes
60ºC (140ºF)Legionella will die in 32 minutes
55ºC (131ºF)Legionella will die in 5 to 6 hours
50 to 55ºC (122-131ºF)Legionella can survive but do not multiply
20 to 50ºC (68 - 122ºF)Legionella growth range
35 to 46ºC (95 - 115ºF)Legionella ideal growth range
Below 20ºC (68ºF)Legionella can survive but are dormant

Likewise for other bacteria in general from the foodsafetysite:
74ºC (165°F) Most bacteria die; some spore-forming bacteria survive.
60ºC (140°F) No bacteria growth; some survive. 
59ºC (139°F) Danger Zone.
52ºC (125°F) Some bacterial growth; many survive
37ºC (98.6°F) Body temperature - Greatest bacterial growth and toxin production by some.

It is recommended that hot water should be stored at 60°C and distributed such that a temperature of at least 50°C and preferably 55°C is achieved within one minute at outlets. Care is needed to avoid much higher temperatures because of the risk of scalding.
OSHA or the Occupational Safety & Health Administration also has two important pieces about the disease:
Q. Can Legionnaires' disease be prevented?  
A. Yes. Avoiding water conditions that allow the organism to grow to high levels is the best means of prevention. Specific preventive steps include:
  • Regularly maintain and clean cooling towers and evaporative condensers to prevent growth of LDB. This should include twice-yearly cleaning and periodic use of chlorine or other effective biocide.
  • Maintain domestic water heaters at 60°C (140°F). The temperature of the water should be 50°C (122°F) or higher at the faucet.
  • Avoid conditions that allow water to stagnate. Large water-storage tanks exposed to sunlight can produce warm conditions favorable to high levels of LDB. Frequent flushing of unused water lines will help alleviate stagnation.
Q. Do you recommend that I operate my home water heater at 60°C (140°F)?  
A. Probably not if you have small children or infirm elderly persons who could be at serious risk of being scalded by the hot water. However, if you have people living with you who are at high risk of contracting the disease, then operating the water heater at a minimum temperature of 60°C (140°F) is probably a good idea. Consider installing a scald-prevention device.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Money saving tips for heating and cooling using Energy Star

Energy Star appliances have become a common place in today's world.  Most people would really have to try to NOT have an energy star appliance or device in their home today. So let's see what makes a device an energy star one!

What is Energy Star?
According to, the energy star label is a:
...trusted, government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.
The ENERGY STAR label was established to:
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy; and
  • Make it easy for consumers to identify and purchase energy-efficient products that offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features, and comfort.
One of the best features of the ENERGY STAR label is the fact that once they have the market share of products, meaning once there is 50% or more of an ENERGY STAR device under one category, they revise the specifications and raise the minimum efficiency standards, they impose harder performance and quality standards, etc.  Yes, in a way, that could make your device no longer ENERGY STAR, however, that makes the field grow ever better in terms of efficiency, quality and makes the world a better place. 

Currently some of the biggest bills out there that a person has is from the heating and cooling of a home accounting for approximately 29% and 17% respectively.  Following that is the water heater (14%), appliances like the refrigerator, dishwater, and clothes washer/dryer (13%), lighting (12%), electronics like the TV, DVD player, computer etc (4%) and of course, the 'other' category like the ceiling fans, home audio, vent fans, etc (11%).

The heating and cooling of ones home is by far the most expensive parts of ones budget and there are some simple ways to save a few bucks without buying a new, more efficient device.  However, if your device is more than 12 years old, replacing it could save you 30% off your bill which would result in a pretty quick payback period!  To be an energy star device you need to have a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (or SEER) and an Energy Efficiency Ratio (or EER) of 14% more efficient than standard models.  Here are some tips to help save money!
  1. Change your air filter regularly (preferably every 3 months) a new filter allows the air to flow easier and the system work less, saving you energy. Likewise, a clean filter will help keep the air cleaner in the home because dirty air wont be circulating around. I recommend getting a 3M Filtrete filter, they are capable of filtering out bacteria, pet dander, smog, mold, smoke and just about everything that isn't good! I like 3M because their products are top of the line and if you can filter smoke, then everything else will get filtered as well.
  2. Tune-up your HVAC yearly. Your car needs a tune-up, why wouldn't your heating/cooling system? This should be done by a professional.
  3. A programable thermostat will save you money. These typically will pay for themselves very quickly as you can tell it to raise/lower the heating/cooling while you are gone and when you return so it's like nothing ever happened, except a lower energy bill.  ;-)
  4. Seal & Insulate the heating and cooling ducts.
  5. Insulate your home!  Not having a tightly sealed home is like leaving your windows open.  A home energy inspector should be able to tell you where your home is lacking insulation along with many other tips and look at your home as a system instead of individual pieces.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to keep (and stay) clean at your office

It's easy to go unrestrained in an office when you don't keep things in check. You might pull something out because it is needed then get distracted and completely forget about it.  The distractions are endless no matter where you work and the piles can only get higher and deeper. So here are some simple tips to help you keep clean and organized.

  1. Keep a system for all of that paperwork! 
    1. This could be an inbox (which should only be used as an inbox) where once you are tasked with a duty you handle it so it's done and your inbox stays within control.
    2. Filing cabinets do wonders as long as they are properly maintained and organized. So keep extra filing folders handy and labels so you can always put them in the proper folder and not laying on your desk waiting to (never) be put away.
    3. Keep a recycling bin and trash can close by so when it's complete, it can be recycled or trashed. 
    4. Schedule every couple of weeks in your calendar to clean your desk and your habit will stick eventually.
Now that  you have a system in place it is time to clean off your desk and do some of the tasks that are needed of you.
  1. Act: If it takes less than 5 minutes (I say 5 because it frequently can take longer), do it, get it over with and mark it off the list and put it where it needs to be.
  2. Delegate: If you can't do it, it was wrongly assigned, or needs someone else to help on the matter, give it to them so it be promptly worked on and kept moving.
  3. Defer: If it takes longer than 15 minutes, defer it to later when everything is cleaned up so you can properly work on it.  I would recommend everyone as separate into four piles that are:
    1.  Important/Urgent
    2. Not Important/Urgent
    3. Important/Not Urgent
    4. Not Important/Not Urgent 
 Some more tips to keep clean:
  • No need to print everything off from your computer.  If it's absolutely necessary perhaps investing into a kindle or a tablet to read and take notes would be better.
  • Forget about post-its. These little friendly critters get lost, never have the full story and frequently get put under a pile of other "important" post-its. If you have to use them, date them and try to include important information on them, like times, names, places... the basic who, what, when, where, and how.  But having a date of when you took them is absolutely necessary that way when you find them again, you'll realize how old it is and can likely be tossed.
  • Toss the pile of pens. How many pens do you need/use?  Two? Three? Four at most? Only keep those around.
  • Keep those books on those darn bookshelves!  Books can easily pile up and become a mess of resources which are never helpful once completely stacked upon each other.  Invest in a few bookmarks, mark the page and stack them in the shelf. When you come back to that book, if the bookmark doesn't bring back a clue, then remove it, that way you don't have 20 bookmarks in the book and defeating the purpose.
  • Keep the memorabilia at the conferences, don't collect the free junk.  Who needs that stuff anyway unless you really use them. Everyone collects free junk from conferences, but it's important that it will just clutter your desk and make a mess. When was the last time you used X from that conference you went to a few years ago?  Exactly.  Toss it.
  • Eat away from your desk. No one wants to hear you slurp your food or munching away. Also walking away gives you that break that you need, removes the clutter of napkins, cups, etc from laying around on the desk and also keeps your desk free of stains and crumbs.
  • Invest in a digital photo frame. No need to keep a dozen photo's on your desk of your loved ones. You only need one frame and have it rotate the pictures every few minutes, hour, day, etc. What ever you prefer.
Hopefully these tips will help you keep productive at work and organized.  What do you do to stay organized?  Do you use any of the tips mentioned?