Water Heater- Sense Success Story

I moved into my home in 2018. We have a gas water heater with a re-circulation system in our house. I always knew something wasn’t right with the re-circulation system, but I hadn’t been able to quantify it. Even when the re-circulation pump was on a timer or smart plug (I tried both), we had hot water instantly at every tap 24x7.

I tried a little internet research, insulated the hot water lines I could get to (most are in the walls), but largely gave up because I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

When I installed Sense over the summer, I was able to quickly see what was going on. I could see the electric usage from the water heater power vent fan. It was turning on 10 minutes of every hour! I then dug into the math on my gas bill, and figured that this water heater was costing me over $450/yr in gas and electricity. Not to mention premature wear on the equipment.

I dug back into internet research and figured it out it was likely a bad check valve. After being ghosted by two plumbers, I just went to Lowe’s and got $50 worth of tools and parts to fix it.

Now the re-circulation system is set to work on a scheduled smart plug. It runs for 4 hours a day. I’m ordering a few smart buttons as well so I can turn it into a true “on-demand” re-circulation system.

I expect this change will cut my water heater expense by 50-60%.

Can you see the moment I made the fix?


Had you done plumbing work before? Was working on the unit fairly easy? When our regular 50 gallon nat gas water heater sprung a drip at the start of 2020, I wanted a heat pump installed. The problems were that no plumber in northern illinois knew what those are, and there was no electricity, especially 220v, running to the unit. I wanted to do it myself, but have only “successfully” soldered one pipe ever, and done virtually no other plumbing work. Eventually my wife won and we bought the same-same replacement unit. Now that we have solar, I’m extra bummed we didn’t get that and will be living with this unit for at least 9 more years.

This was my first time doing plumbing work. I kept it simpler than a plumber would have.

The failed check valve is soldered in place, but it failed in the “open” position, so I just left it where it is.

The rest of the plumbing is PEX. So all I had to do was to drain the water, cut the PEX line, and click a “sharkbite” check valve in place. The system took hours to drain, but installing the valve took all of three minutes. I realize some plumbers think the sharkbite connections aren’t as durable as a soldered connection. I was able to install it directly above the drain-pan for the hot water heater, so if it ever fails (either the connection or the valve), the consequences will be pretty minor, and it will be easy to swap out.

I’m also looking at a heat-pump water heater. I was planning to DIY the project after those plumbers ghosted me, and it does look doable. I’d buy some extra pipe to practice soldering on first. But it doesn’t look that complicated.

I’m having an electrician out next week to put the wiring in for a heat pump. If you want a heat-pump unit in the future, it might be worth putting the wiring in now. There’s nothing like the pressure of “OMG I have no hot water” to push you in the direction of the fastest solution.

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In our old house, I diyed a gas WH. Copper pipe soldering and all, after not doing anything since I got a Plumbing merit badge in Boy Scouts, 40 years ago. WH still running without leaks!

In our newly built house we have PEX. The plumber that installed the HPWH made it look very simple. I installed a little WH in my garage using PEX and sharkbite connectors. If I have to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate to use the sharkbite connectors, although if I had a bigger job, I would just likely get the proper PEX tools for crimping.

The 50 gal Rheem HPWH is running great, I have it in HP Only Mode and for the two of us, it works well.

Thanks for sharing! This would be a great story for sensesaves.sense.com :slight_smile:

What area of your house is it located in? Mine would’ve been in the basement, which can get “cold” in the winter. We have a nat gas spaceheater for the heating, so I wouldn’t want to rob peter to pay Paul. However, Sense hadn’t detected the 100w single-speed fan of the unit. Not sure why because it has very sharp on-off triggers, doesn’t ramp or change speed, and in the winter comes on very often.

Anyways, I just rewired it so I have it going through a KP115. This will allow me to see how many times it turns on over night, and this I could extrapolate how many more times it’d need to turn on to cover the HPWH.

Of course this is all moot since our replacement nat gas unit is just a year and a half old and we shouldn’t need to replace it for at least another 8.5 years. The previous one last 13 years. Then again, then don’t make anything like they used to. At least by the time we’ll need a new one, the technology will have had a decade to advance, improve, and hopefully get cheaper.

Minor update: I was going to DIY the new water heater install, but I found out that our $800 utility rebate for a heat-pump unit is only available if it’s done by one of their certified contractors. I guess I’ll see if any of these guys will call me back.

Even though my water heater still works, I want to do this now, as I plan to expand our solar system in the near future. I want the water heater to be included in the sizing calculation.

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It is in the basement. We are in Zone 6, sw WV. It does get chilly in the winter. It is next to a dehumidifier, so that helps offset the WH.