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It seems like Legionnaires’ disease has been in the news a lot lately, with outbreaks in New York, a California prison, a state veterans’ home in Illinois, and now more new cases in Illinois. While each of these outbreaks had a different starting point, it is important to remember that they were all related to water. And what’s the main source of water in your home? Your plumbing.

We would like to take a moment to encourage our readers to maintain their plumbing systems. You typically can’t get Legionnaires’ disease from drinking infected water, but it is easily picked up by breathing in contaminated water – such as mist from your shower, spray from a fountain or a hose, and even steam from hot tubs and cooking. The easiest things you can do to help keep your family safe is to ensure you maintain adequate levels of disinfectant in places where warm water sits (like hot tubs or fountains) and that you keep your water heater set at 140°F (60°C) or higher to ensure bacteria cannot grow in the tank or in the pipes as the hot water circulates.

Now, we know that many of you are saying, “But the EPA/utility company/somebody on the Internet said that I can save energy and money by setting my water heater to 120°F!”…and this is true. But setting it that low also creates a prime breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria, including the legionella bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease. Is it really worth it to risk the health and possibly the lives of you and your family?

If you’re concerned about saving energy and money, and feel that your old tank-style water heater is one of the culprits enlarging your carbon footprint, we suggest investing in a tankless water heater. While you must still set this at 140°F to ensure the circulating water is hot enough to kill bacteria in the pipes, you are definitely saving energy by not maintaining a big tank of water at 140°F all the time. Additionally, you may even be able to receive energy credits or a rebate from your state if they have an energy-saving appliance program. If you have children, elderly, or disabled family members – or if you’re just concerned about scalding in general – installing thermostatic mixing valves at key delivery points in your plumbing system can mitigate the risk of burns without having to turn down the water heater.

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