Adjusting your hot water heater is a simple procedure that helps you keep your family safe and comfortable and can even lower your energy bill. The process of adjusting a water heater’s temperature changes slightly based on a few factors, with the most important being whether you have a gas or electric hot water heater.

Keep reading for tips to help you adjust your hot water heater to achieve an optimal temperature.

Hot Water Heater Settings

Your hot water heater is one of your most energy-intensive home appliances. Setting the water heater to a lower temperature can be a quick and easy way to reduce your energy expenses. Establishing the best water heater setting for your family depends on finding the balance between meeting your hot water needs, avoiding scalding temperatures, and keeping your water warm enough to kill off any waterborne bacteria.

Lowest Safe Temperature 

Most new water heaters come set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the water temperature that is capable of killing harmful bacteria. It is also the temperature recommended by the US Department of Energy as the most energy-efficient temperature for most homes’ water heaters.

Highest Safe Temperature

As the water temperature increases, the faster pathogens are killed. That’s one reason why some health experts recommend 140 degrees Fahrenheit for households with family members who may be immunocompromised.

It is important to point out, however, that 140 degrees is very hot. That temperature is capable of scalding the skin within five seconds of exposure. While everyone is at risk of scalding, the risk is higher for both young people and the elderly due to their thin or sensitive skin.

How to Turn Up a Gas Hot Water Heater

As you look for that happy medium, you may need to adjust your hot water heating settings. For some older gas models, it’s as easy as turning a small dial located near the bottom of the unit. These older units don’t have a readout or gauge to let you track the temperature. It might be easier to adjust, but it takes more experimenting because you’ll have to let the water temperature adjust and then check it at your sink or shower.

Adjusting a more modern gas water heater is just a bit more involved:

  1. Turn off power to the water heater at the circuit breaker. Refer to your circuit breaker labels to find the correct switch.
  2. On the water heater itself, locate the thermostat access panel. You may need to use a screwdriver to remove the panel.
  3. Using the screwdriver, adjust the temperature setting by turning the control up or down. The water heater thermostat may have temperatures indicated, but it may simply be denoted by a “+” or a “-“ to indicate warmer or colder.
  4. Replace the panel and restore power to the hot water heater at the panel.
  5. You may need to relight the pilot light.
  6. Wait at least three hours to test the water temperature at a faucet or shower. You may have to adjust your settings again to establish your desired temperature.

How to Turn Up An Electric Hot Water Heater

Today, most electric hot water heaters offer indicators that let you adjust the temperature to the desired setting quickly and easily. The process is similar to that of a gas unit, with just a few small differences.

  1. Turn off power at the circuit breaker. Most electric units utilize 240 volts, which means you may need to turn off two breakers.
  2. Remove the thermostat access panel. It may have a thin sheet of insulation located behind the cover. Remove this to reveal the thermostat itself.
  3. Use a screwdriver to adjust the temperature setting. Again, any temperature above 120 degrees Fahrenheit poses a burn risk.
  4. Replace the insulation and the panel. Return power to the unit at the circuit breaker panel.
  5. Wait three hours to test the temperature and adjust accordingly.

What Is the Best Temperature for a Hot Water Heater?

If your priorities are reducing the risk of scalding and optimizing energy efficiency, 120 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature setting. However, warmer temperatures reduce the risk of pathogen growth inside the hot water tank.

To find the right temperature for your home, test your tap water temperature. Don’t use any hot water for two hours, then use a meat or water thermometer to test your faucet running water at its highest temperature. The reading should be accurate after two to three minutes. If the temperature works for you and your family, mark the temperature setting on your hot water heater thermostat to keep track of it in case you need to adjust it later.

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Finding the right balance between comfort and efficiency is easier with help from professionals. Keep your water heater in good working order with help from our professional water heater service. We offer regular maintenance and emergency services. Call (800) 893-3523 or request an appointment today!