Fish Out of Hot Water

hot water heaterPerhaps you are moving into a new home and want to ensure that your first morning shower is a pleasant experience. Or, maybe you’ve been in denial about the state of your hot water heater for a while and this morning you were jolted into the day with an icy blast from your shower head that refused to warm up. Either way, buying a new hot water heater can be tricky business. Before making the investment, there are many things to consider.  Read on for some straightforward advice about choosing your hot water heater so that you won’t end up being a fish out of hot water.

Understand Your Water Heater

The process of deciding on what hot water heater to purchase will be a lot easier if you understand what you are looking at. Take some time to educate yourself about how hot water heaters work. This great article from How Stuff WorksWater Heaters, can help tame your water heater intimidation.  

Fuel Sources

Electric: An electric water heater has large coils that hang down into the tank to heat up the water. If you don’t have a propane or gas hook up, this may be your only option. Electric water heaters are more affordable up front, but the cost of electricity is higher than that of natural gas or propane. On the plus side, electric water heaters don’t require any ventilation, simplifying the installation requirements.

Natural Gas: Natural gas heaters use a gas burner, fueled by a pilot light, at the bottom of the tank and a chimney system that sends all of the carbon dioxide and water vapor byproducts out of your home. Natural gas is more cost efficient than an electric water heater.

Propane: Mechanically, a propane heater works exactly the same as a natural gas heater.  This is an option for when your home doesn’t have access to natural gas. A propane provider can sell or lease you a propane tank and handle the propane deliveries as well.

Tank or Tankless?

Instead of heating a large water storage tank, a tankless water heater only heats water when you need it. While that sounds awesome, there are both advantages and disadvantages to a tankless water heater. Each home is unique, so you must consider what is the right option for you.  

Positives of a tankless heater

  • Most come with a tax rebate.
  • Tankless heaters last longer than traditional storage tank models.
  • Electric tankless heaters don’t produce greenhouse gases.

Negatives of a tankless heater

  • Natural gas tankless heaters can cost a lot more money up front and additional expenses will arise from the need for expensive tubing to ventilate the gas.
  • Natural gas models produce greenhouse gases and therefore require annual servicing.
  • Installation of tankless heaters is more expensive.
  • The time it takes for the hot water to get to your faucet can increase water waste.

A whole house electric tankless heater is comparable in price to the traditional tank heater. A whole house gas heater is generally about three times as much as it’s storage tank equivalent. A storage tank heater lasts about 10 years, a tankless model usually lasts 15-20. All of this said the best way to make this decision is to sit down and do some arithmetic. Consider the costs of gas vs. electric, upfront costs, installation costs and maintenance, then factor in the energy efficiency of the model you are looking at. Every heater will have a yellow Energy Star sticker on it to let you know its efficiency rating.

Size Matters

The easiest way to decide the size of your new water heater is to consider the functionality of your old one. Did your family draw straws every morning for who had to shower last? Then you should probably consider a larger heater. Will your family be growing in the near future? Better to make the decision to up-size now because you will be keeping the heater around for quite a while. Be smart in your estimate by taking a candid look at your daily water habits. While you are thinking about it, see if there are ways your family can modify your daily actions to be more efficient with your water.

Other Options

Solar Powered Heaters: A solar panel is installed on your roof to harvest the heat, then, depending on your model, the water is heated in different ways. The first type of solar powered heater uses the sun to heat the water directly. The second type uses a unique liquid to absorb the sun’s heat and then store it to heat the water later. If you live somewhere sunny, a solar water heater could be a great choice for you. You can always consider using a solar system in conjunction with an already existing system that you have. This can cut your water-heating bill by up to 80%.

Heat Pump: A heat pump takes heat from the air and brings it into the water with electricity. Heat pumps are two to three times more efficient than electric heaters, but they aren’t very popular yet and as a result can be expensive and hard to find. These heaters only work if you live in a region that regularly stays between 40-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

 Important Tips

Be green to save some green. Certain energy efficient hot water heaters are eligible for Federal Income Tax Credit. To see if your choice will save you money check out

It’s ok to ask for help! If you aren’t sure what is right for your home ask an expert employee at your local retailer or call a contractor and ask about consultation services. Choosing a hot water heater is a big decision.

So, when the time has come to buy a new hot water heater, don’t run and hide. Approach this project with knowledge and enjoy the results!

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