Expert advice on how to speed up delivery of hot water to your faucets and showers by buying a hot water recirculating pump. Includes types, pros and cons, costs, installation advice, and more.

Do you stand shivering while waiting for hot water to reach your shower or bathroom faucets? If so, you know the frustration only too well—hot water can take forever to get there, especially if the shower or faucet is a long way from the water heater. This is because water that’s heated at the water heater has to replace all of the cold water that’s sitting in the pipes before it reaches you.

shower hot water recirculation
Get hot water immediately at your shower with a hot water recirculation system.

Beyond the chill and frustration, one of the biggest problems is the amount of this precious resource—water—that’s wasted. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), waiting for hot water wastes over 280 million gallons of water each day!

Fortunately, there is a relatively simple solution that drastically cuts wait times and conserves water: hot water recirculation by a recirculating pump (also called a recirculating system).

A hot water recirculating pump moves hot water through the pipes so you can get almost instant hot water at showers and fixtures.

In this article, we’ll explain the types of hot water recirculation pumps available, the pros and cons of recirculating pumps, and discuss how to have them installed.

Types of Recirculating Pumps

Recirculating pumps are installed next to or above the water heater or, in some cases, under a sink. They draw hot water from the water heater while simultaneously returning cool water from the hot water pipes back to the water heater to be reheated.

There are two main types of recirculating pumps: traditional pumps and on-demand pumps.

Traditional pumps operate continuously, delivering hot water throughout the house. This conventional recirculating pump must be installed next to (or at the top of) the water heater, and it requires an extra dedicated return line (pipe) that runs from the water heater to the fixture furthest away. The pump inlet connects to the return pipe and the pump outlet connects to the water heater. The pump must be plugged into an electrical outlet.

recirculating pump on water heater supplies hot water immediately
This recirculation pump mounts on the water heater. It is timer controlled and doesn’t require a return pipe from the distant fixture. AquaMotion

Traditional pumps ensure that hot water is always immediately available at fixtures. On the downside, they consume more energy than on-demand pumps because they may run continuously. Though traditional pumps tend to be slightly less expensive to buy than on-demand pumps ($200 to $500 for materials), they are usually more expensive to install because the dedicated return pipe requires more material (pipe and pipe insulation) and considerably more labor when retrofitting it in an existing home.

On-demand pumps only turn on when hot water is requested, minimizing energy waste and resulting in lower energy bills. These pumps do not require a return line, making installation far simpler. Two types are made: one installs at the water heater, the other is installed under the sink furthest from the water heater.

undersink recirculation pump
Under-sink recirculation pump is quick to install. This timer-controlled type, installed under the sink furthest from the water heater, requires an electrical outlet. AquaMotion

With the type that’s installed at the water heater, a special heat-sensitive check valve is installed beneath the farthest sink. The pump must be plugged into an electrical outlet. It is turned on by a flow sensor or a pressure sensor that detects when hot water is being drawn. The pump circulates water until hot water reaches that fixture. Once hot water arrives, the pump automatically shuts off until it is triggered again by turning on the hot water tap. The purchase price typically runs $300 to $800 or more, depending on the brand and features.

Timers for Energy Efficiency

Timer-based pumps are available for both traditional and on-demand recirculation systems. With these, a timer (a feature that is included with some pumps) turns the pump on during specific times when hot water demand is high. By running the pump only during peak demand periods, you save energy. Timer-based control can be especially beneficial if you have a predictable hot water demand schedule.

Pros and Cons of Recirculating Pumps

Recirculating pumps have both advantages and disadvantages, which are as follows:


  1. Reduced water waste. With a recirculating pump, hot water is delivered to fixtures more quickly, reducing the amount of water wasted while waiting for hot water to arrive.
  2. Improved comfort and convenience. Recirculating pumps provide hot water more quickly to faucets and showers, improving comfort and reducing the risk of burns from scalding water. When hot water is readily available, there is less risk of someone accidentally turning on only the hot water tap and being scalded by the water.
  3. Energy savings. While recirculating pumps do increase energy consumption to some extent, the energy savings from reduced water waste usually outweighs this added energy consumption. This is particularly true for on-demand pumps that only activate when hot water is requested, as they use less energy than traditional pumps that circulate hot water continuously.


  1. Installation costs. The cost of installing a recirculating pump can be significant, particularly for homes with complex plumbing systems.
  2. Maintenance. Recirculating pumps require occasional maintenance to ensure they continue to function properly, becoming an added expense for homeowners.
  3. Noise. Some recirculating pumps can be noisy when operating, which can be a nuisance for homeowners. If you plan to install the pump close to a bedroom or living room, look for a high-quality pump with a low-decibel (dB) rating. A rating of 20–30 dB is considered quiet.
  4. Energy consumption. While a recirculating pump can save water by reducing the amount of time it takes for hot water to reach the tap, it may also increase energy consumption to some extent. This is because the pump is circulating hot water through the plumbing system, which can cause the water heater to cycle more frequently to maintain the desired temperature.

How Much Do Recirculating Pumps Cost to Operate?

The energy cost of running a recirculating pump depends on several factors such as the pump’s power consumption, how much you run it, and the cost of electricity in your area.

The wattage of high-quality recirculating pumps can vary depending on the specific model and manufacturer. However, most traditional recirculating pumps range from 75 to 250 watts, while on-demand pumps typically range from 25 to 100 watts. Note that the wattage may also depend on the flow rate and head pressure required for a specific plumbing system. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to determine the wattage.

To calculate the energy cost per hour, you can multiply the pump’s wattage by the cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in your area. (Call your utility company or examine your electric bill to determine this.) For example, if your pump uses 100 watts of power and your electricity rate is $0.15 per kWh, then the cost to run the pump would be $0.015 per hour (0.1 kW x $0.15/kWh = $0.015).

Just remember that most recirculating pumps don’t run continuously. On-demand pumps or timer-controlled pumps turn on only when you need them, resulting in lower energy costs. Also, ask your local utility company whether they offer incentives or rebates for installing energy-efficient recirculating pumps.

How to Get a Recirculating Pump Installed

Recirculating pumps can be installed by licensed plumbers or HVAC technicians with experience in hot water recirculation systems. To ensure that the installation is done correctly and safely, it’s important to choose a reputable and experienced professional.

Here are some questions that homeowners should ask when hiring a professional to install a recirculating pump:

  1. Are you licensed and insured?
  2. Have you installed recirculating pumps before? Can you provide references from satisfied customers?
  3. What type of recirculating pump do you recommend for my home based on my hot water usage patterns and my home’s plumbing system layout?
  4. What is the estimated cost of the installation, including materials and labor?
  5. What kind of warranty or guarantee do you offer on the pump and installation work? Typically, manufacturers will offer a warranty on the pump’s parts and workmanship, with the length of the warranty varying from 1 to 5 years. In addition, some plumbers or HVAC technicians may offer a separate warranty or guarantee that covers any issues that arise due to faulty installation.
  6. How long will the installation process take, and will there be any disruption to my water or other utilities during installation?

By asking these questions, homeowners can ensure that they are hiring a qualified and experienced professional to install their recirculating pump and can have peace of mind that the installation will be done correctly and safely.


Installing a recirculating pump is a game-changer for homeowners seeking the convenience of instant hot water with the added benefit of water conservation.

If you have any questions or want to share your experience, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let’s start the conversation! For additional resources and professional assistance, feel free to reach out to our trusted plumbing partners.


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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort