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First a little background, two things. I'm married to a Russian wife, which means hot water for showers are mandatory to keep the wife happy (only mostly kidding, we've been through tough times together and that's not why she loves me). Also, I've only ever known electric water heaters. One day 2 years ago, the thermostat fortuitously went out on our electric water heater and we resorted to only turning it on at the breaker. I was busy with my day job. Our electric bill went WAY down, like 30-40% !!! I knew they cost money but that drove the point home.

Now, we have natural gas which goes to a brand new HVAC unit, so that heating is done by gas. A 50 gal gas water heater looks to be about 300-400.00 more expensive if it has a WiFi module. My specific question is whether or not, or when, the cost-benefit of using WiFi to completely shut the water heater down at night and when we're away will/would make the WiFi worth it. If you have numbers from actual experience that would be great!

PS I'm disinclined to install tankless water heaters - it's an old house, I know as I've worked on it.

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    Why does the age of the home disqualify installing a tankless heater for you? Having the water heater run only when you need it and the ability to take long showers appear to be things you are after—both of which are provided by tankless heaters. I just installed a tankless heater in my “old home” last year and have been very happy with it. – statueuphemism Jul 23 at 9:11
  • In the US, the energy cost of electricity is higher than the energy cost of natural gas, so if natural gas is an option I'd say to buy a natural gas water heater. As a side note, in the Continental US, electricity goes out pretty often compared to natural gas. It's not uncommon for storms to knock out power lines, but unless you're on an island, natural gas almost never goes out. – Dotes Jul 23 at 13:12
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    Turning your water heater's thermostat down can also save a ton of energy. Electric water heaters shouldn't be set less than 140F because of the risk of Legionnaires Disease, but some groups recommend going as low as 120F on gas water heaters. I think the difference in fuel types is that electric heats evenly, and gas only heats the bottom of the tank where the sediment is that harbors the bacteria. So the idea is that the sediment gets hotter than 140F in a gas heater even if it's only set to 120F. But an electric heats the middle and sediment on the bottom doesn't ever get hotter than 140F. – Dotes Jul 23 at 13:22
  • i have dozen of wifi "things", and love to connect everything i can up to my system. That said, i can't see any strong advantage to making a seldom-executed task marginally more convenient. – dandavis Jul 23 at 16:27
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One does not have to resort to an expensive internet capable device to enjoy the money savings of a controlled water heater. There are a number of mechanical electrical timers which would serve the intended purpose.

Prior to installing a solar water heater panel on the roof, our house was equipped with a water heater timer rated to 220v which had multiple trigger attachments for on and off. A large diameter clock dial to cover seven days provided the reference surface to which the triggers attached.

An internet article suggests that this type of device can save money. I know from experience that it worked for us. Sporadic use of hot water in a small household gains the most, especially if you can block the times you need hot water and apply those to the timer disk.

water heater timer Image courtesy of Home Depot.

I clearly have to read more thoroughly before answering!

Take a look at the site that obviously sells a specific product:

Gas water heater timers!

gas water heater timer

It appears to serve as a gas flow control device. Under one hundred dollars US and there may be other manufacturers/dealers from which to choose.

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    This solution is perfect for an electric water heater, but I don't think this solution will work for a natural gas water heater. I have a natural gas water heater, and it actually doesn't even need to be plugged in. The heat of the gas pilot light on the thermocouple generates about 500 millivolts, which is enough to power a solenoid to open the gas valve when the thermostat calls for heat. While it might be possible to put a timer/relay on the millivolt gas valve, it's a little more complicated than doing the same thing on a 240VAC electric water heater. – Dotes Jul 23 at 13:03
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    Another one of those pesky small words that I overlooked. (gas) See edit above. – fred_dot_u Jul 23 at 18:20
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So you say 30 to 40% - that translates to how many dollars, then compare that to the 300-400 that you say the wifi equipped unit costs extra.

How long based on your use and savings will it take to cover that. You can now decide.

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