During the heating season, having an Immersion Coil in your Boiler to provide Domestic Hot Water (DHW) makes a lot of sense. You are utilizing the hot water present in your boiler for area heating to additionally provide hot tap water at a very reasonable cost.
But what about when there is low or no area heating demand? Your boiler is still hot (typically between 160 and 190 degrees F) waiting to provide occasional domestic hot water (at about 120 to 140 degrees F). Meanwhile the boiler stays at temperature, radiating heat into the boiler room and leaking heat up the chimney, neither of which can be utilized.
A commonly used trick to save energy during the low demand period is to turn off the boiler entirely using the Emergency Switch (usually located near the main hallway door, but may vary). When hot tap water is needed the boiler is switched on and provides hot water within 15-20 minutes, typically. After use the boiler is again switched off. The really thrifty have learned to shut off the boiler before the last shower or then run the dishwasher to utilize the remaining boiler heat to advantage.
The efficiency answer is an Indirect Water Heater, a super-insulated storage tank heated by your boiler and substituting for your Immersion Coil. The best of these are made of stainless steel, super-insulated to lose about 1/2 degree F per hour and have lifetime warrantees. Additionally your Boiler Aquastat Control (controlling boiler temperature) should be changed to a “Cold Start Aquastat”, allowing it to heat ONLY when area heating or Domestic Hot Water is demanded or used to maintain tank temperature. Your boiler is now an “on-demand” type, lowering toward room temperature between cycles.
This storage of a quantity of heated tap water not only gives you instantly available hot water at any time but is inexhaustible, with your boiler cycling to meet any demand. No more initially hot water that cools down quickly with use caused by under-sized or sediment-clogging Immersion Coils either. Yes, the thrifty can still use the Emergency Switch trick for additional savings. In fact, one family of four with two young boys has found that they need only switch on every two days in the summer after several showers, dishwasher, wash the dog, etc.
Your boiler runs less and runs cooler on average too, prolonging its life while reducing radiated and chimney drafted heat losses. Efficiency gains all around.
Note: This argument also applies to separate Electric, Gas or Oil Hot Water Heaters by incorporating them into a managed, single fuel system.
Last Edit: 10/10/2012 pdm