Technician in blue overalls, blue cap and blue shirtin front of a water heater.

Do you know how long your water heater runs?

It depends on the type you own, but it can be anywhere from two to five or more hours.

If you don’t need hot water the entire time the water heater is on, then this can be a waste of both energy and money.

But is switching to a water heater timer really the way to go?

Water heater timers are convenient and energy-efficient since they ensure the water heater is only running when you’re home to use it. Using a water heater timer in combination with other efficiencies, you might reduce your yearly water heating costs by up to 25 percent.

In this guide to water heater timers, we’ll explain how the timer works, how it improves your water heater’s energy efficiency, how to choose the right heater, and how to install it.

With so much great info coming up, you won’t want to miss it!

For more energy saving tips related to hot water heating, read our article on Water Heaters: The 10 Best Ways to Save Energy.

What Is a Water Heater Timer? How Does It Work?

Closeup of a hot water heater timer being adjusted by a person's hand.
Adjusting the time that your water heater turns on and off is a good way to save a little money on your energy bills.

As the name implies, a water heater timer is a timer that controls the power supply to your water heater, turning it on or off at different times according to how you set it up.

You select the times the water heater will run based on your preferences and configure the timer accordingly.

The timer is easy to program, so whether you want to set the water heater schedule for the day or longer term, you can (of course, that also depends on the model).

For example, let’s say that your family gets home between 3 p.m. (for the school-aged kids) to 7 p.m. (for the working adults). You would set the water heater to be on between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., as that’s when most household members shower.

Voila, for as long as you have the water heater timer set, it will continue to ensure the flow of hot water to your faucets and shower heads.

The hot water is also used for doing dishes, cooking dinner, or running the washing machine or dishwasher. So make sure you factor these requirements in when you set up your water heater timer.

How Does a Timer Make Your Water Heater More Energy-Efficient?

A natural wood colored question mark on a white background.
The question is how does a timer help you save energy? It’s all down to minimizing standby losses.

In this modern age of convenience where you only need to turn on a faucet and hot water magically appears, many homeowners mistakenly assume that the water heater only turns on when you’re using it.

But this is not always the case.

If yours is a tankless water heater, it fires up in response to someone opening a faucet and may run for perhaps less than two hours per day.

Storage water heaters that store the hot water in an insulated tank can run for much longer to keep the temperature of the water in the tank sufficiently high.

Each time your water heater turns on but you’re not home to use it, that’s a waste of energy.

The water heater went through all the trouble of producing hot water that no one is there to use. So, over time, the water will cool, losing heat into the room in what is known as standby losses.

It also causes wear and tear on the unit to warm water unnecessarily. Imagine if you used your fridge for food you never intended to eat or an air conditioner in a room that no one ever goes into.

Each time these units run when they don’t have to, they’re wearing down more, little by little.

Enter the water heater timer. 

As we talked about in the last section, a water heater timer ensures that your water heater produces hot water when you need it most.

More so than that, the timer guarantees that your water heater isn’t running in vain. For example, if you set the water heater to turn on only from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., then remain off until the next day at 5 p.m. this will help save energy.

You don’t have to worry about it running while you’re sleeping (yes, this happens!). You don’t have to stress while at work or school that your water heater is chugging along, producing hot water that nobody will use.

You know your water heater is only on when it should be, which will help you save a little money.

How Much Energy Can You Save by Switching to a Water Heater Timer?

Stopping your water heater from needlessly running by installing a timer will help to increase the unit’s energy efficiency.

According to Magnificent Plumbing & Rooter, adding a timer to your water heater can cut your water heating costs down by 25 percent a year.

This seems a little on the high side to us but combined with other efficiency measures, such as those set out in the “Energy Savers” guide from the U.S. Department of Energy, you could cut your energy costs by a comparable amount.

Inspire Clean Energy states that per year, a typical household will shell out between $400 and $600 on water heating.

Courtesy of HomeDepot.com. There are a few things to bear in mind when deciding which timer to choose for your hot water heater. Not least of these are cost and ease of use.

If you take 25 percent off a $400 bill, that’s $100 deducted for an overall total of $300 per year on water heating.

If your bill is $600, 25 percent off that is $150. Your new yearly water heating costs would be $450.

That’s quite a significant chunk of change to save year after year.

Choosing a Water Heater Timer – What You Need to Know

Wow, maybe you hadn’t the foggiest that a water heater timer could make a difference in your water heating spending. You’re now very interested in proceeding with a heater, but how do you select the right one for you?

Here are some factors to keep in mind.

Price

  • Water heater timers needn’t be overly expensive.
  • The starting price is about $30, and some cost upwards of $65 to maybe a little over $100 for a really good one. You shouldn’t break the bank for one of these.
  • The small price you pay for a water heater will more than come back to you as you save year over year on your water heating costs.

Type

Not all water heater timers are created equally. Here’s an overview of the various types so you can select the one that’s best for your home.

  • Smart water timer heater: Smart technology truly has permeated every corner of our lives, including water heater timers. Yours might run on Wi-Fi and connect to your smartphone so you can turn the water on and off even when you’re not at home.
  • Water heater box timers: A box timer includes a series of dials that you can use to control your water heater on-off times down to the second. Although they are basic in appearance and functionality, water heater box timers are relatively inexpensive.
  • Water heater switch: A water heater switch is exceptionally easy to use, as you just turn it on when you want hot water and then off when you want the hot water to stop.

You must remember to turn it back on in time to get your water hot, though, and turn it off again when no longer needed. This is an extra hassle that many of us could do without.

Ease of Use

As you can see from the points above, water heater timers run the gamut.

We can’t suggest one over another because which one you’ll find easiest to use will depend on your preferences and needs.

For example, if you’ve used box timers for a swimming pool or even for controlling the on/off times of your Christmas lights, then it’s no big deal to buy a water heater box timer.

For those who have never used a box timer, you might be better off with a water heater switch, or – more conveniently – a smart water heater timer.

Now that you know all the above, where is the best place to buy a hot water heater timer? Amazon has a great selection at good prices, with their usual fast shipping. You can click here (this is an affiliate link which helps fund the blog) to visit the top results for hot water heater timers.

In addition, here are the top five selling water heater timers on Amazon as well:

SaleBestseller No. 1
GE Heavy-Duty 7-Day Digital Box Timer Switch, Metal, Tamper Resistant, Battery Backup, Universal Voltage, 120, 240, 277 VAC, NEMA 3R-Rated, Indoor/Outdoor, Ideal for Pool Pumps, Water Heaters, 46537
1,050 Reviews
GE Heavy-Duty 7-Day Digital Box Timer Switch, Metal, Tamper Resistant, Battery Backup, Universal Voltage, 120, 240, 277 VAC, NEMA 3R-Rated, Indoor/Outdoor, Ideal for Pool Pumps, Water Heaters, 46537
  • Heavy-Duty Digital Timer – The rain and rust proof metal construction is designed to withstand any weather forecast and is lockable tamper resistant and NEMA 3R-Rated
  • Universal Voltage – Auto-sensing 120 VAC 240 VAC and 277 VAC compatibility adapts to required power to support a variety of equipment
  • Programmed Settings – Up to nine ON/OFF timer settings are available including multiple weekday combinations single-day settings countdown or a summer time setting to personalize a 7-day cycle
  • Variety and Convenience – This timer is compatible with single-pole single-throw and double-pole single-throw switches block terminals hold wires securely and has ½” and ¾” knockouts for easy wiring
  • Ideal Use – Perfect for pool pumps water heaters outdoor lights fans AC units and other heavy-duty appliances this indoor/outdoor box timer is cUL Listed and recommended for certified electrician installation
Bestseller No. 2
Intermatic WH40 Electric Water Heater Timer, Gray, 7.75 x 5 x 3 inches
1,400 Reviews
Intermatic WH40 Electric Water Heater Timer, Gray, 7.75 x 5 x 3 inches
  • Easy to use
  • Convenient external override switch
  • 10,000 watts, 40 amps, 250 volts, 60Hz capacity
  • Steel case for durability
  • Trippers can be set in the morning and evening when you need and use hot water
SaleBestseller No. 3
GE Heavy-Duty Mechanical Box Timer Switch, Metal, Tamper Resistant, Voltage, 120, 240, 277, NEMA 3R-Rated, Indoor, Ideal for Pool Pumps, Water Heaters, Outdoor Lights, 46536, 24-Hour Universal VAC
762 Reviews
GE Heavy-Duty Mechanical Box Timer Switch, Metal, Tamper Resistant, Voltage, 120, 240, 277, NEMA 3R-Rated, Indoor, Ideal for Pool Pumps, Water Heaters, Outdoor Lights, 46536, 24-Hour Universal VAC
  • Heavy-Duty Mechanical Timer – The rain and rust-proof metal constructions is designed to withstand any weather forecast and is lockable, tamper resistant and NEMA 3R-Rated
  • Universal Voltage – Auto-sensing 120 VAC, 240 VAC and 277 VAX compatibility adapts to required power to support a variety of equipment
  • 24-Hour Cycle – The 30-minute interval pushpins accommodate several daily settings, allowing you to personalize multiple daily settings
  • Variety and Convenience – This timer is compatible with single-pole single-throw and double-pole single-throw switches, block terminals hold wires securely and has ½” and ¾” knockouts for easy wiring
  • Ideal Use – Perfect for pool pumps, water heaters, outdoor lights, fans, AC units and other heavy-duty appliances; this indoor/outdoor box timer is cUL Listed and recommended for certified electrician installation
Bestseller No. 4
Aquanta Digital Water Heater Timer - Wifi Smart Water Heater Controller/Control - Smart Hot Water Heater Alternative - Programmable, Works with Electric Hot Water Heater - Leak Sensor Included
386 Reviews
Aquanta Digital Water Heater Timer - Wifi Smart Water Heater Controller/Control - Smart Hot Water Heater Alternative - Programmable, Works with Electric Hot Water Heater - Leak Sensor Included
  • Convenient control of water heater from your smart phone
  • Hot water availablity gauge
  • Weekly and monthly usage data comparison
  • Maintenance alerts, including leak detection

How to Install a Water Heater Timer

How do you get your water heater timer up and running?

While the instructions will vary depending on the type you choose, here are some general instructions that should work for most water heater timers.

Step 1 – Confirm Whether Your Water Heater Is 120 Volts or 220 Volts

Some water heaters are only 120 volts. In that case, the installation is as simple as plugging in the water timer heater, setting the time, and enjoying the savings.

For those water heaters that are 220 volts, you’ll need a 220-volt water heater timer.

Step 2 – Turn Off the Water Heater Circuit Breaker

Before you tinker with the water heater, you must disconnect it via its circuit breaker.

Go to the breaker panel in your house and turn the circuit breaker off.

Step 3 – Mount the Water Heater Timer

Mounting the timer usually involves screwing it in with a standard screwdriver and wiring it up correctly. Set the timer to your liking.

Step 4 – Turn the Power Back On

Power your water heater back on by first switching the circuit breakers back on. The water will begin warming up, but only according to the water heater timer settings.

Conclusion

Water heater timers are a smart and convenient way to ensure your hot water heater runs only when you need it (such as when you’re at home).

You could reduce your annual water heating by implementing this simple change, and who doesn’t like saving money?

No matter the age of your water heater, we’d also recommend a timer to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the unit.

We’ve got many more tips on saving energy around the home. Read our article on 39 ways to save on your energy bill to find out more.

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