a closeup of a water recirculation pump with a black background and water running to and from both ends of it

A hot water recirculation pump is an excellent investment to reduce household expenses. Not only will you save water, but you’ll also cut down your energy bill since you won’t have to wait as long for hot water to reach your fixtures. But what exactly is a hot water recirculation pump?

A hot water recirculation pump is a device that instantly circulates hot water from the water heater. A timer or a thermostat operates the pump, which distributes the water in the system and maintains the water temperature at a set point.

In this article, I’ll help you understand how a hot water recirculation pump works, its benefits, and where you should install it. I’ll also give you a step-by-step guide on how to install a water heater recirculating pump.

What Is a Hot Water Recirculation Pump?

A hot water recirculation pump is a device that moves hot water to the faucets in your home without a storage tank.

The pump is installed on the main water line and has a timer that turns the pump on and off as needed. Some models use a thermostat, so the hot water recirculation pump only runs when the water is cold.

a white hot water recirculation pump attached to an undersink piece of wood, showing the plumbing running to it

How Do You Recirculate Hot Water in a House?

You can recirculate water in a house through a process known as a “hot water loop.” You can create a hot water loop by installing a small pump in the water line that runs to the hot water tank. The pump circulates the water in the line and keeps the hot water at the top of the tank where it’s used.

A timer usually controls the pump, so it only runs when necessary. However, some pumps can run continuously, which can drive up your energy consumption if you’re not careful.

Do Hot Water Recirculation Pumps Work?

Hot water recirculation pumps do work.

The pump kicks into action when your water temperature falls below a certain level. Since they allow you to use hot water immediately, hot water recirculating pumps can significantly reduce water consumption.

A hot water recirculation pump sends hot water via a dedicated return line or the existing cold water line throughout your house. Consult a plumber or a similar expert if you need help deciding which line to use.

How Much Does a Hot Water Recirculation Pump Cost To Install?

A hot water recirculation pump costs between $200 and $800 to install. The price depends on factors such as the type of pump you choose, the pump’s size, and the installation’s complexity.

Let’s look at these factors in more detail.

  • Type of hot water recirculation pump: You can choose from two hot water recirculation pumps: electric and non-electric. Electric recirculating pumps are more expensive to install than non-electric recirculating pumps. The former also consumes more energy than the latter, though it’s also easier to use.
  • Size of the recirculating pump: The size will determine the flow rate and the amount of hot water that can circulate. The larger the recirculating pump, the costlier it will be to install.
  • The complexity of the installation: The further the recirculating pump is to the plumbing fixtures, the more installation will cost.
  • The installation of additional pipes: I should note that these may not be essential since you’ll often use the existing cold water line over the dedicated return line.

Since hot water recirculation pumps require heaters, you may be interested in this article on how much tankless water heaters cost.

A low-flow showerhead in a shower dispensing water
You can reduce your household water usage with a hot water recirculation pump.

Where Should a Recirculating Pump Be Installed?

The recirculating pump should go close to the water heater. The closer the pump is to the heater, the faster and more efficiently the water will circulate through the system.

In some cases, the recirculating pump may also be installed near the areas they’re most likely to be used, such as the bathroom and kitchen sink. This is usually the case if the house’s water system only uses the existing cold water line.

According to research by Energy Solutions, circulator pumps that run continuously consume as much electricity as two standard refrigerators and increase the energy required to heat water by 50 percent.

On the other hand, if you have a circulator pump designed to operate on a timed basis, you only need to turn it on for a specific period each day. These circulator pumps are typically used in smaller homes or apartments.

How Long Do Recirculating Pumps Last?

Recirculating pumps usually last between five and 10 years.

Some pumps have been known to last for 20 years. You can maximize the lifespan of a recirculating pump by performing regular maintenance and keeping an eye out for any potential problems.

The lifespan of a recirculating pump is directly related to the quality of its parts and the environment in which it operates.

A man maintains a hot water recirculation pump
Maintaining a hot water recirculation pump can increase its lifespan.

A properly installed and maintained pump can last many years, while a neglected pump will have a much shorter lifespan.

For example, suppose your water heats less than it used to. In that case, that’s a good indicator that you need to give your recirculating pump a second look.

How Much Electricity Does a Recirculating Pump Use?

A typical recirculating pump uses about 80 watts of electricity per hour. This means a recirculating pump uses 1,920 watts per day or 57,600 watts per month. Your recirculating pump will account for about 10 percent of your total electricity usage.

The amount of electricity a recirculating pump uses depends on several factors, including the pump’s size, efficiency, and the length of the loop the pump is circulating. The greater the size of the pump, the greater the energy consumption.

You can also save electricity by using the right kind of water heater. To know which water heater suits your needs best, read this article.

Do Circulator Pumps Run All the Time?

Circulator pumps run all the time if they’re designed to run continuously. These pumps are typically used in larger homes or commercial buildings. However, some circulator pumps operate on a timed basis.

In other words, the type of circulator pump you have will determine how often it needs to be run.

Can I Turn Off My Hot Water Recirculation Pump?

Since the pipes are insulated, you can turn off your hot water recirculation pump. This means you don’t need to worry about your hot water pipes losing heat if you turn off your recirculating pump.

Also, turn off your recirculating pump when you know you won’t be using hot water for an extended time (e.g., if you’re going on vacation for a week or two). This way, you can keep your energy bills in check.

How Do I Install a Hot Water Heater Recirculation Pump?

Here are the steps to install a hot water heater recirculation pump in your home.

Switch Off the Water Heater Breaker

Locate the correct breaker to the water heater and flip the breaker to the “off” position.

This will cut power to the water heater, preventing it from operating and keeping you safe while you install the pump.

If you’re unsure where the switch is or can’t find it, you can always shut off the power to the house at the main breaker. This will shut off all power to the water heater and everything else in the home, so be sure you know how to turn the power back on before you flip the switch.

Also, let everyone in the house know that you’ll be shutting off power at a specific time.

Turn Off the Water Valve

First, locate the water valve. This is usually above the water heater.

Once you’ve found the valve, turn it to the “off” position. If the handle is hard to turn, you may need a wrench.

If using a wrench, ensure you exert enough force to turn the handle without breaking it off.

A man wearing a light blue shirt, dark blue hat, and dark blue overalls looks at a white hot water recirculation pump
Make sure you turn off the water valves before installing a hot water recirculation pump!

Drain Hot Water From Fixtures and the Water Heater

To drain the hot water in your house:

  1. Find the lowest fixture in the house and turn on the hot water.
  2. Allow all the hot water in the house to drain.
  3. Connect to the drainage spigot on the water heater.
  4. Open the valve and allow the water to drain to a sink utility.
  5. Once you’re done draining, use the flat-head screwdriver to close the valve.

Disconnect the Hot Water Pipe From the Water Heater

Use a wrench to loosen the pipe fitting at the heater. Once the fitting is loose, you can unscrew the pipe from the heater.

Be careful not to damage the pipe or the fitting as you disconnect them.

Connect the Pump to the Hot Water Outlet Threaded Nipple

To connect the pump to the hot water outlet threaded nipple:

  1. Choose the right kind of copper tee. If your recirculation pump has a 3/4-inch (1.91-centimeter) hose barb outlet, use a 3/4-inch (1.91-centimeter) copper tee. If your recirculation pump has a one-inch (2.54-centimeter) hose barb outlet, use a one-inch (2.54-centimeter) copper tee.
  2. Attach the tee to the hot water outlet threaded nipple. Use Teflon tape and two wrenches to get it tight.
  3. Attach the recirculation pump to the tee. Make sure the pump is always below the water level in the tank.

Link the Hot Water Line With the Pump and Turn the Water On

Connect the hot water line to the pump with a wrench. Use Teflon tape to ensure the connection doesn’t leak.

Next, turn on the water to the water heater and run a plumbing fixture in your house until all air is removed from the house piping system.

Install the Sensor Valve

The purpose of the sensor valve is to help your hot water recirculation pump do its work. Specifically, the valve detects temperature changes that warrant hot water use.

To install the sensor valve:

  1. Locate the flex line where you will install the valve. The flex line should be between the water supply and the fixtures or appliances where you want to control water flow.
  2. Cut the flex line at the desired location for the valve. Use a sharp knife or cutter so the line is cleanly cut and there are no jagged edges.
  3. Once the flex line is cut, wrap the threads of the valve with Teflon tape and screw it to the flex line. Ensure you use the wrench to tighten the nut that secures the valve to the flex line.

Note: If you have a larger house, you may need to install more than one sensor valve.

Turn On the Water Supply to the Flex Line

After you’ve finished the installation, turn on the water heater breaker and open the water supply to the flex line to test out the new hot water recirculation pump.

Check if it runs at a comfortable temperature. Watch out for concerning issues like leaks or strange sounds.

Do Circulation Pumps Push or Pull?

Circulation pumps both push and pull.

The pumps pull water into them through their inlet and push water out via their outlet. You can check the flow direction using an arrow on the pump’s casing.

In a closed-loop system, circulator pumps are designed to transfer water or other fluids. They are commonly used to circulate hot or cold water through a piping system in HVAC systems.

In addition, circulator pumps are featured in hydronic heating systems to circulate water and other fluids through the pipework.

Do Circulator Pumps Go on Supply or Return?

Circulator pumps usually go on the return side of the system after the last heat exchanger. This is because the temperature of the water in the return line is cooler than the water in the supply line, and the circulator pump is designed to operate at a specific temperature range.

If the circulator pump is installed on the supply side of the system, the water in the supply line will be too hot for the pump, and it will not work correctly.

Does the Circulating Pump Go on Flow or Return?

Circulating pumps go on the flow side since they are responsible for supplying water. Therefore, circulating pumps will always function well when placed in the flow.

However, in the return line, they might not work correctly and cause difficulties.

How Can I Make My Hot Water Faster?

You can make your hot water faster by insulating your pipes. You can also check the system’s pressure and ensure it’s not too low.

Of course, you can always consult a professional if you have questions about making your hot water faster.

How To Insulate Your Pipes

Foam pipe sleeves are an easy and inexpensive way to insulate your pipes and make your hot water faster.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to insulate your water supply pipes using foam pipe sleeves.

  1. Measure the length of your pipe. You need one foam pipe sleeve for each foot of the pipe.
  2. Cut the foam pipe sleeves to the appropriate length.
  3. Slip the foam pipe sleeve over the pipe.
  4. Secure the foam pipe sleeve in place with tape.
  5. Repeat for all of the water supply pipes in your home.

The video below shows how to insulate your pipes using foam pipe sleeves.

Is a Recirculation Pump Worth It?

A recirculation pump is worth it. When you don’t have a hot water recirculation pump, your pipes can cool off, and you’ll have to wait for the hot water to reach your fixtures. This wasted water can add up over time and increase your water bill.

Where Do You Buy Hot Water Recirculation Pumps Anyway?

The good news is that these units generally aren’t that big. This means that retailers won’t pay a ton for free shipping, and it opens them up to be able to sell online. I took a look at my local Home Depot and Lowes (affiliate links to hot water recirculation pumps they offer), and they actually didn’t have many in stock locally.

Walmart seems to have a good selection, and so does SupplyHouse.com. You can also find them at your local plumbing supply house or other smaller online plumbing supply stores.

For Amazon, here are the 5 bestselling hot water recirculation pumps currently listed, so you can get a good idea for prices and options:

SaleBestseller No. 1
Watts Premier Extremely Quiet Instant Hot Water Recirculating Pump System with Built-In Timer for Tank Water Heaters, 6.2 Inches x 6.0 Inches x 5.0 Inches Device + Equipment
  • The recirculating pump uses a heavy-duty stainless steel pump head with aluminum pump housing, PES impeller, features high resistance to stain and corrosion, operates on 120 volts, weighs 8.5 pounds, and measures 6.2 x 6.0 x 5.0 inches
  • System includes pump, 24hr programable timer, sensor valve with thermal actuator, 10ft power cord, adapters with rubber washers, valve mounting screws, and two 12-inch supply lines; easy installation to existing plumbing and maintenance free
  • Extremely quiet and energy efficient this system supplies instant hot water in about 15 seconds at every faucet or shower when needed and helps eliminate wasted water using thermal by-pass technology with no return line or under-sink outlet required
  • A sensor valve opens when the water on the hot water side cools, pushes the cool water back to the water heater, and closes when hot water line hits 98º F; if multiple hot water loops present a Watts Premier Sensor Valve Kit needed (sold separately)
  • Pump mounts directly onto water heater, can be used with all types of pipe, and is only for indoor use on standard tank water heaters for residential buildings; cannot be used with tankless water heater or outdoors
Bestseller No. 2
Grundfos 595916 1/25 Horsepower Comfort Series Recirculator Pump, Model: 595916, Outdoor & Hardware Store
  • TLC = Timer, Line Cord, 6-Foot
  • Flow range: 0 - 9 U.S. GPM, Head range: 0 - 6-Foot
  • Motors: Single phase, 115V
  • Connection: 3/4-Inch M by 3/4-Inch FNPT
  • Maintenance-free, low energy consumption, easy to install, quiet running
Bestseller No. 3
ZeroPone Hot Water Recirculating Pump, 93W Water Circulator Pump NPT 3/4' w/NPT 1/2' Adapter, Stainless Steel Head,15-6S 3 Speed Control for Electric Water Heater System
165 Reviews
ZeroPone Hot Water Recirculating Pump, 93W Water Circulator Pump NPT 3/4" w/NPT 1/2" Adapter, Stainless Steel Head,15-6S 3 Speed Control for Electric Water Heater System
  • 【Premium Material】- The recirculating pump uses heavy-duty stainless steel pump head, aluminum pump housing and PES impeller, featuring high resistance to stain, water, corrosion, leakage. Brass fittings and water-stop also included, which enbales several years of good resistance.
  • 【Main Parameter】- NPT 3/4 inch (19.05 mm) inlet/outlet. Voltage/Frequency: 110-120V, 60Hz. Rated power: 93/67/46 W. Max pressure: 145 psi (10 bar). Three speed modes. Flow: 40/29/20 LPM (10.4/7.66/5.28 GPM). Max head: 6/4.9/4 m (20/16/13 ft). Fluid temp range: 0℉ -+212℉.
  • 【Humanized Design】- Low noise (around 25dB) and less energy consumption; less cold water waste and waiting time. Instant hot water now enables you to get hot water about 15 seconds compared with 2-3 minutes in the past (note: the kitchen takes about 1 minute to get hot water for the flow restriction).
  • 【Easy installation】- Just a wrench to connect the pump to pipeline, saving the cost of plumbers. Extraly equipped with a common NPT1/2” adapter. The pump with constant circulating hot water prevent the pipe from freezing, which is especially useful for extremely cold areas in winter.
  • 【Wide Application】- Our hot water circulation pump is suitable for a wide range of application scenarios: city buildings, suburban villas, houses, industrial equipment, air conditioning, boilers, solar circulating water and so on.
Bestseller No. 4
Crispaire Instant Hot Water Recirculating Pump Kit with 304 Stainless Steel Bypass Valve for Tank Water Heaters, with Everything Needed to Install, 20-in PEX Supply Lines for Potable Water
  • Instant Hot Water: Having HOT WATER coming out at every faucet or shower in seconds, no longer in minutes. Helps eliminate wasted water down the drain. Using thermal by-pass technology with no return line or under-sink outlet required. No need to install tankless/instant hot water heater, solve the problem in the most economical way.
  • Straight Forward Install: This product came with everything needed to install. No trip to the hardware store. After hearing suggestions from many customers, we add plumber tape in the package and upgrade the 2 supply lines to 20in.
  • 304 Stainless Steel Bypass Valve: The old plastic valve is not durable under high temperature, so we upgrade it to a 304 Stainless Steel one. It will open when the water on the hot water side cools, pushes the cool water back to the water heater, and closes when hot water line hits 104℉ (higher than plastic valve, so the waiting time will be further shortened); if multiple hot water loops present, our Sensor Valve Kit is needed (sold separately).
  • Smart Timer Control: Automatically turn on before morning shower or dish washing. Extremely quiet. Mount the pump directly onto water heater, compatible with all types of pipe. ONLY for indoor use on standard tank water heaters for residential buildings; cannot be used with tankless water heater or outdoors.
  • Drinking Water Supply Lines: 20in Length, 3/8" Comp x 1/2" FIP, PEX Inner Tube for Potable Water + Anti-burst 304 Stainless Steel Braid. Non-Toxic. Lead Free. Different from other cheap hoses of which the Inner Tube is made of smelly EPDM.
Bestseller No. 5
Grundfos GRU-595916 Recirculating Hot Water Pump Comfort System 25 Watts, Easy Install. Instant hot water throughout system. Entire Kit Included
  • TLC = Timer, Line Cord, 6-Foot
  • Flow range: 0 - 9 U.S. GPM, Head range: 0 - 6-Foot
  • Motors: Single phase, 115V. Supply Voltage:115-120 VAC, 60 hertz, Contact Rating: 16 amps
  • Connection: 3/4-Inch M by 3/4-Inch FNPT.Maintenance-free, low energy consumption, easy to install, quiet running
  • The Grundfos circulator pumps, Series UP, are specifically designed for heating systems. The pumps are also suitable for circulation of hot domestic water and for circulation of liquid in cooling and air-conditioning systems

All these options should hopefully give you a good idea of what’s out there.

Final Thoughts

A hot water recirculation pump is a great way to save energy and water since it only heats the water up when you need it. Also, these pumps are easy to install and can save you money on utility bills.

Sources

 Family Handyman: Hot Water Recirculating Pump: What To Know Before You Buy |  Learn Metrics: Hot Water Recirculating Pumps Explained: Why, How, Costs (+Tankless) |  Home Inspector Secrets: Hot Water Recirculation Pump Installation (12 Step Guide) |  Ask Dr. Power: What Does a Recirculation Pump Do and Does It Cost Me Much to Use? | Horne: Circulator Location – Flow vs Return | Bola Systems: Installation of circulator pumps

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