If your water heater is getting older, it’s a good idea to shop for a replacement before you run out of hot water, or worse… wake up ankle-deep in it!
Take note of the energy sources available to you, and the amount of hot water you expect to use. Not every form of energy will work with every kind of heating appliance and some work slower than others. Tanks work with solar, electricity, oil and gas (natural or propane) but tankless units work with only electricity and gas sources. Heat pumps use only electricity.
Estimate how much hot water your household uses during peak hours and look for a heater with a first hour rating (FHR) that meets your demand. A licensed plumber is the best person to make this calculation and help you choose the right size.
Hot water can add up to 25% of your energy bill, so be sure to choose an energy efficient heating appliance.
This is the most common in residential applications, heating and storing hot water until needed. When you open a faucet, the released hot water is replaced by incoming cold water, which is heated and stored again at a temperature controlled by one or more thermostats in the tank.
Storage tanks are simple, maintenance-free and relatively inexpensive to install – but due to constant reheating they use energy 24/7 even if you’re not running any hot water. Electrically heated tanks can be covered with an insulating blanket to help save energy, but not gas or oil-fired tanks.
Tankless water heaters, also known as “on demand” heaters, heat water without a storage tank, using energy only when needed – rather than maintaining a tank of hot water. Sometimes individual units are used in a number of locations throughout a house, but most newer homes have one high-output tankless heater to supply hot water throughout the home.
Due to the storage volume of hot water tanks, and the high-output nature of tankless heaters, both are commonly used for heating a home with in-floor radiant systems or through a radiator coil in a forced-air heating system.
Heat pump (hybrid)
Heat pump water heaters are not directly heated. They use electricity to pump heat from the air or the ground to your water tank, using less energy than traditional water heaters.
You can install a standalone heat pump water heater or combine your water heater with your heating and cooling system, employing an air or ground source heat pump. Although installation costs are higher, heat pump water heaters cost less to run over the longer term.
Solar collectors can be used to harness the sun’s energy and heat your water almost for free! Solar water heaters use a primary tank for storing pre-heated water before it is transferred to a conventional hot water tank, operating on electricity, gas or oil.
Solar collectors can be installed on roofs or on stands at ground level. Shop for a better quality, energy efficient model which will last longer and save money.
Features to Consider
- Warranty: Typically three to twelve years. Purchase prices are closely tied to warranties, and longer warrantied water heaters tend to be better built and better insulated. In addition to choosing a water heater with a good warranty, check consumer reporting websites and reviews from individual owners.
- Anti-scale devices: Although scale can shorten the life of a water heater, you don’t need to invest in extra features to get a dependable water heater. Just buy a good quality tank with a good warranty.
- Brass vs. plastic drain valves: Near the base of the water heater, these valves are used to periodically drain sediment from the bottom of a tank. Brass drain valves are more durable than plastic.
- Glass-lined tanks: Are designed to minimize corrosion.
- Digital displays: Easily monitor and control the operation of your tank; set the temperature of the water, set a vacation mode and other functions.
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