Disrupting an industry is never an easy task—especially when it is an industry that has been more or less the same for literally centuries.
The method for heating water in our houses and buildings has remained almost exactly the same for over 100 years—since the Industrial Revolution. Water is collected and stored in a large container—60 to 80 gallons for a single-family home, anywhere from 200 to 5,000 gallons for a multi-unit or commercial building—where it is kept hot, 24/7, either by a fire underneath the container or an electric element within the container.
This system has successfully provided us with hot water for over a hundred years. It works. Why disrupt this industry?
Because while this system works, it works at the expense of efficiency, at the expense of space, at the expense of health, and at the expense of the environment.
Keeping a large quantity of water hot all day, every day, uses a huge amount of energy. Nearly every household has a big, bulky tank in the basement, with a heating element that is always on, sending greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Hundreds of millions of fires, sitting and burning, all day, every day, all around the world.
And that is not the only waste: when a tap is turned on, the hot water has to make its way from the container to the tap, pushing out the cooled water sitting in the pipes. This is why we usually have to wait for water to warm up, while letting good, clean water go down the drain, wasted.
Keeping water in these large containers is also unhealthy. A bacteria called legionella thrives in lukewarm temperatures, typically 90 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. While a tank of water might be kept very hot, there are zones where the temperature is cooler. That, coupled with nearly stagnant water velocity, creates a very conducive environment for bacteria growth.
Reimagining a centuries-old system is a challenging problem—and I am a very unlikely person to do so. I had no background in water heating, or the plumbing industry, or any building trades industry. In fact, I only stumbled upon this problem by accident—when my own water heater broke and flooded my basement. When this happened, I began looking into how we heat our water; and when I learned how incredibly inefficient the system is, I knew there had to be a better way.
Although I had no background in water heating, my diverse projects, experiences, and interests—from my love of motorcycles to my experiments with intelligent machines to my work with marine engines at Caterpillar—combined to put me into a very unique position from which to consider this problem. Above all, I had a passion for efficiency and reducing waste—and I could see this was somewhere I could make a real difference, a real change.
Out of that passion, I formed my company, Intellihot, with the mission of creating a smart water heater that heats water on demand and predicts when you are going to need hot water—eliminating the energy wasted by storing hot water and the water wasted waiting for it to heat up.
Water heating is not the only industry ripe for disruption. Just because something has “always been done this way” does not necessarily mean it is the best way. If you can see a better way, and you are passionate about creating that change, you can make it a reality—even if you come to it by the most unlikely path.