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Our Web Poll results: Waiting for hot water is the real national pastime

Ed Osann

Posted April 24, 2014

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Shower Head with Droplets.JPGThe crack of the bats during the first month of the new baseball season brings a bit of excitement to lots of us who enjoy what was once considered the “national pastime.”  But one activity – repeated more than 200 million times a day – gets far more Americans lathered up than Major League Baseball on the best of days: standing by the shower – passing time – waiting for the water get hot enough to step in. 

Back in January, I wrote of NRDC’s efforts to modify the building and plumbing codes for new buildings to cut down on the waste of water, energy, and time waiting for hot water in new homes.  We invited readers to take a web-based poll to report how long they usually waited for hot water before stepping into the shower, and what they usually did during this time. 

The results of the poll are now in.  While our 63 respondents are by no means a statistically valid sample of all US households, the results are consistent with expert views on the topic, and suggest that the plumbing in our buildings is forcing many of us to waste considerable amounts of water and energy, as well as time, on a daily basis.

For all respondents, the time usually spent waiting for hot water to arrive at the shower averaged 68 seconds – or enough time at typical showerhead flow rates for about 1.8 gallons of cooled-down hot water to run down the drain.

Our respondents live in buildings that are roughly representative of the US housing stock – over 60% reported their experience in single-family homes, and the great majority of these homes were 20 or more years old.  For single-family homes, the average reported wait time for hot water at the shower was 71 seconds.  Interestingly, the average wait time in homes more than 20 years old was 67 seconds, while the average wait time for newer homes was 84 seconds.  Newer homes tend to have more square footage and longer lengths of pipe between the hot water heater and the furthest bathroom fixtures.  Long lengths of uninsulated pipe mean that more cooled-down hot water has to be purged before hot water arrives that is hot enough to use.

Those who live in apartments reported an average wait time of 65 seconds, a bit less than the average for single-family homes, which was to be expected due to the smaller square footage of apartments and the greater use of hot water recirculation systems in multi-family buildings.  The small group of newer apartments performed relatively better, with wait times averaging 48 seconds compared with older apartments averaging 71 seconds.



Average Wait for Hot Water before Showering

All Respondents (63)

68 seconds



All Single Family and duplex Homes (39)

71 seconds

All Homes 20 or more years old (27)

67 Seconds

All Homes 5 to 19 years old (11)

84 seconds

All Homes less than 5 years old (1)

15 seconds



All Apartments (24)

65 seconds

Apartments 20 or more years old (19)

71 seconds

Apartments 5 to 19 years old years old (4)

48 seconds

Apartments less than 5 years old (1)

20 seconds

What do people do while passing the time waiting for the hot water to get hot?  Some just watch the water run down the drain, while others said they position a bucket in the shower to catch and use water that would otherwise go to waste (including water for later use to boil pasta – Bravo!).  Many respondents reported doing absolutely nothing, while others reported a variety of activities, including getting undressed, stepping on the scale, laying out clothes, brushing teeth, putting on make-up (before showering?!?), preparing music, going to get coffee, walking away, and standing there fidgeting.  Plus one unprintable activity, performed within an implausibly short period of time. We’ll leave it at that -- you know who you are.

What comes through from these responses is a picture of the forced acquiescence of millions of Americans with plumbing systems that operate inefficiently, wasting their time, energy, water, and of course money, on a daily basis.  About one out of six of our respondents report usually waiting for hot water for 2 minutes or more.  Yikes!

Whenever hot water is turned on but it is not hot enough to use, formerly hot water runs down the drain and the energy that was expended to make the hot water hot in the first place has gone to waste.  From the perspective of the user, this is not wasteful in the sense of being reckless or careless – on the contrary, it is entirely rational not to step into a shower that has not yet warmed up.  It’s the building design and piping layout that allow so much hot water to cool off quickly between hot water draws that is wasteful. 


Pipe insulation.jpg

                                            (Photo Credit: Eva Ekeblad | Flickr

Next week, code officials meeting in Las Vegas will have the chance to curb this type of energy and water waste in new buildings.  A committee of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials is meeting to consider changes to IAPMO’s model plumbing code.  Pending before the group is a proposal submitted jointly by NRDC and the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry.  The NRDC-UA proposal would require that all hot water pipes in new buildings be insulated.  NRDC estimates that pipe insulation can curb the waste of hot water in new buildings by 15 to 30%.  Over 2 billion gallons of hot water are used in the US every day for showering, with faucet use adding even more.  If we can start building new buildings with even modest savings in hot water use, the energy and water savings will really start to add up. 

Insulation will not eliminate hot water waste or wait times, but it can make a meaningful reduction and start saving money and energy for new home purchasers on the day they move in.  We think it’s time to build buildings that don’t force us to waste hot water on a daily basis, and insulation of hot water pipes is a sensible first step.

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Barb RadisavljevicApr 26 2014 04:38 PM

Waiting for water to get hot is one of my major frustrations. For me, the longest wait is the kitchen sink. I agree that saving the water is good, but there just isn't enough room in my small shower for enough containers to save all that cold water. Most people don't want to clutter their homes with buckets of waters everywhere, either.

Those of us getting older don't have the strength to lug large containers of water around to use in other parts of the house or outside. Our family doesn't eat pasta anymore and doesn't use faucet water for drinking. I agree this problem needs to be solved.

Ed OsannApr 26 2014 05:21 PM

Barb, you're right. I gave a shout out to some of our respondents who go "the extra mile" to capture water that would otherwise go to waste. But water is pretty heavy, and few want to carry it around. And even then, there's no recapturing the energy or the time wasted by millions of people every day, just running a shower or faucet waiting for hot water to arrive. Stronger building and plumbing codes can be adopted now to curb this waste in new homes. Then let's turn to the even bigger challenge in existing buildings.

Dave GrieshopApr 27 2014 01:36 PM

Great metaphor - our national pastime is waiting for hot water!!!! It has to be the national champ given we have 70+M homes with such plumbing.

People do not realize such waiting times do NOT have to be the norm.

I find it a bit ironic EPA Energy Star is focused on the water heaters while WaterSmart is focused on the fixtures with nobody looking a the pipe/pump designs which connect the two ends. But, times are changing.

QuestionsApr 28 2014 01:49 PM

I know we need to conserve water but do you think there is a way to encourage builders to use more efficient designs without making it illegal? When they consider adding requirements to the codes are they looking at all variables? Ground water temp varies geographically and seasonally. Final thought: Insulating pipes won't help the person who takes the first shower in the morning if water has been cooling for 8 hours.

Marshall HartApr 28 2014 04:08 PM

There is a solution to help alliviate this problem of waiting for the water to be comfortable when stepping into the shower. has a pump system that does not require running extra piping.
The pump system is labeled D'Mand.

Installed under the fixture farthest away from the water heater. when hot water is needed the pump is started either by pressing a button, remote control or by just walking into the room, your choice. The pump starts and pulls water from the Hot water heater and pushes water back to the water heater via the cold water side. When the temperature rises to a set value, the pump turns off and hot water is at the fixture ready to use.

I have no vested interest in the company and I know there are others that accomplish the raising of water temperature without wasting any and without the cost of installing a recirculation hot water system. I do know they work as I have them in my own home.

Milt BurgessApr 28 2014 04:09 PM

The answer is, of course, recirc systems with timers and other energy-saving devices. I live in a condo where the HWH is the hydronic source of heat for a fan coil. It is essentially a recirc system. My wait for hot water is less than 10 seconds,, even in the summer when the A/C is on. The water/energy nexus favors more energy and less water consumption. In the not-to-distant future, those that follow us will be perplexed how we could possibly flush our toilets with clean drinking water, and watch water go down the drain waiting for it to get to bathing temperatures. But little will really get done until the taps are dry...human nature.

Ed OsannApr 28 2014 04:14 PM

I agree that even with pipe insulation, there will still be a wait for the first use of hot water in the morning. But insulation reduces heta loss that would still take place while hot water is flowing, shortening the wait time a bit and, more importantly, allowing the temperature level on the hot water heater to be set a bit lower than if all pipe were uninsulated. The lower temperature setting will save energy and money 24-7-365.

Joyce WrightMay 2 2014 12:14 PM

I also have the D'Mand pump system in my home as well as insulated pipes. I only wait a few seconds for the cold water to be forced out of the last couple feet of pipe between the T and shower head.

The plumber that did the installation for us was so intrigued with the system that he purchased one to install in his own home. It made me happy that we influenced his water usage in a positive way and hopefully he is busy installing them for other customers.

Ed OsannMay 3 2014 06:11 PM

UPDATE: On April 29, plumbing officials meeting in Las Vegas voted overwhelmingly to make a change to the 2015 IAPMO model plumbing code to require that all hot water pipes in new homes and commercial buildings are insulated. Thanks to all who pitched in to help shed light on this issue. There's much more work to do, but this is a great start.

JakeMay 3 2014 08:20 PM

Marshall Hart, that was a very nice advertisement you posted. However, your "D'Mand" system is just a big energy waster, which defeats the purpose of conservation.

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