Choosing a New Hot Water Heater

by Carmen Corbin on January 23, 2012

The best time to choose a new hot water heater is before you actually need one.  But for those of you who are faced with the imminent or immediate failure of your current water heater, we’re presenting an overview of the two most common types on the market to save you a little time and frustration.

Storage Water Heaters

These are the types of water heaters that most people are familiar with.  Like their name suggests, they are basically a holding tank for hot water.  As you use the hot water, a cold water line replenishes new water into the tank, which is then heated to a thermostat-controlled temperature.  Models serving single family households usually have a holding capacity of between 20-80 gallons of water, and are available in gas, electric and fuel oil powered.

Pros:  Storage tank water heaters last for about 10-15 years (or possibly longer if regularly maintained), and are fairly inexpensive (compared with other types), with most in the $300-500 range.  Their greatest advantage is that you instantly have hot water on demand (as long as there is adequate water in the reservoir).

Cons:  Because of their size, they can take up valuable space.  When hot water is not being drawn, storage water heaters are in “standby” mode, which constantly uses energy to avoid heat loss.  However, by purchasing a well insulated model (R12 to R25 is recommended by www.energysavers.gov) , the energy efficiency is near equal to a tankless model, for much less cost.

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless hot water heaters use either a gas burner or electric element to heat cold water as it passes through the box-like unit.   

Pros:  Tankless water heaters last longer than tank heaters, about 20 years.  They’re a great space saver, and can even be mounted on walls.  Separate units can be installed near Jacuzzi tubs and other hot water usage areas for optimum performance and convenience.

Cons:  The flow rate of water often can’t keep up with demand, especially if you’re using hot water in more than one place at a time (i.e. shower, dishwasher, washing machine, etc.).  Tankless units are more expensive than traditional tank models, and you probably won’t break even on the energy savings for years.  Erratic hot water delivery is often another consumer complaint.

Whether you choose a storage tank model or a tankless water heater, you’ll still have to wait for cold water to clear out of your pipes until the hot water is delivered.  To reduce heat loss, consider having a plumber insulate your pipes.

Safety Tip:  To avoid accidental burns, keep the thermostat temperature set no higher than 120˚F.

For more information on choosing the right hot water heater for your home, contact your local plumbing contractor or home improvement professional.

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