Hot Water Recirculating Pump: What To Know Before You Buy

Say goodbye to waiting for hot water. A hot water recirculating pump provides a warm shower on demand.

When you turn on the tap, how long does it take to get hot water? Letting it run can waste money and water, not to mention time and patience.

One solution ensures you’ll never have to wash your hands in cold water again: a hot water recirculating pump. These handy devices are game changers.

What Is a Hot Water Recirculating Pump?

A hot water recirculating pump attaches to your water heater. It circulates hot water throughout your pipes to keep it readily available at the faucet. It’s affordable and doesn’t waste water. (Psst! Here’s how to save money this winter on your energy and water bills.)

“The recirculating pump costs about the same as operating a 25-watt light bulb,” says Umberto Griccino, a commercial plumber and HouseGrail consultant.

Many systems turn on and off automatically to keep the water within a specified temperature range. Others run on a timer. Both options use less energy than a continuously-running system.

Types of Hot Water Recirculating Pumps

There are two main types. One requires an additional plumbing line to send unused water back to the water heater after it drops below a set temperature. The other returns the unused heated water via your existing cold water pipes.

The first type is best for new construction. Along with the usual hot and cold lines, a plumber will install a third pipe to return the unused hot water, usually between the water heater and the furthest fixture. A full system like this is expensive and difficult to install in an existing home.

The second type, called a comfort system, is cheaper and a much easier choice for existing homes, says Griccino. The unused heated water runs back through the cold water pipes. Since it uses the same pipes for warm and cold water, there’s one major drawback: It takes longer to get cold water. A system with a temperature sensor can correct this problem.

Why To Get a Hot Water Recirculating Pump

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), studies suggest that “over 10 percent of all the hot water drawn for showering in a typical single-family home is wasted waiting for hot water to arrive.”

Much of the water sitting in those pipes was once heated. Without a recirculating pump, it’s left in the pipes to cool. That’s a lot of water, energy and money down the drain.

How much money does a hot water recirculating pump really save? While it can save some, it’s mostly for convenience. “In 12 months, they can save you roughly $120,” says Griccino.

A recirculating pump is relatively affordable. So even if you save less than $120, it can still pay off quickly. The time saved might be enough to justify the initial cost, even without a major reduction in utility bills.

To save more water, combine a hot water recirculating pump with water-efficient appliances and fixtures. A dual-flush toilet and efficient shower head go a long way toward cutting utility bills.

Hot Water Recirculating Pump Costs and Considerations

Griccino says a hot water recirculating pump costs about $200, and many comfort systems can be DIY installed. Better to go with professional installation if you need new plumbing.

DIYers should install the pump near the water heater and power source, and the sensor valve at the fixture furthest from the heater, Griccino says. Turn off and drain the water heater before beginning work. If you’re unsure about your DIY plumbing ability, contact a pro.

Hot water recirculating systems need little maintenance. Keep an eye and an ear out for leaks or unusual sounds. If you do run into a problem, Griccino says call a plumber immediately. Barring any malfunction, you should get about 10 years of use from the pump.

Mikayla Borchert
Mikayla is an assistant editor for Family Handyman, specializing in indoor and outdoor gardening, organization and décor. She has one cat and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, she likes running, skiing, hiking and tending her balcony garden.