When people find out I own my own plumbing and heating company, I’m often hit with a plethora of questions. Many of them refer to choosing the best hot water heater system. As you might guess, that will probably have a multi-faceted answer. I guess a better question to ask is what would be right for you? Many homeowners have different needs and wants. Some want hot water on demand. And some don’t mind waiting a minute or two (or three) for the water to get hot.
When selecting a new water heater for your home, you should choose one that will provide enough hot water. And will do so energy efficiently, thus saving you money. This includes considering the different types of water heaters available and determining the right size and also for what fuel source in your home.
Types of Water Heaters
It’s a good idea to know what different types of water heaters are out there and available to you before you purchase one. Also knowing the fuel type or energy source you use for water heating is good. It will not only affect the water heater’s annual operation costs but also its size and energy efficiency. Depending on how much hot water you use and how you’re heating the water (gas, oil, electricity), there are several choices of water heaters. The following shows a summary of different types:
- Conventional storage type water heaters offer a ready reservoir (storage tank) of hot water
- Tankless or demand-type water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank
- Heat pump (hybrid) water heaters move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly for providing hot water
- Solar water heaters use the sun’s heat to provide hot water – not exactly common in Pittsburgh
- Tankless coil & indirect water heaters use a home’s space heating system to heat water (also not common)
The first two choices above are the most common. Some tankless types claim to cut energy costs by up to half that of regular storage water heater models, but their added up-front costs could mean “payback” for this type of unit might take a little while longer. Actually, water heating accounts for nearly 20 percent of a home’s energy costs.
Most water heaters are sold on the basis of how many gallons they hold. A family of four, for instance, might take several showers, run the dishwasher, and wash a load or two of laundry in an average day, totaling 100 gallons of hot water or more. But that doesn’t mean they need a 100 gallon storage tank.
It’s more important to consider the “first-hour rating” (FHR) for a storage-tank water heater. It’s also important to consider the gallons-per-minute rating (GPM) for a tankless water heater. This is because that’s what tells you how much hot water the heater can deliver over a set period of time; that is, the first hour. After that, depending on how quickly you’re using up hot water, it could either become less hot or actually almost cool. It would then take a certain amount of time (varying by model and capacity) to return to its full FHR.
And while an on-demand water heater doesn’t “hold” any water (unless it has an auxiliary tank), it will have a rating of how much hot water it can produce in a given period of time, the GPM (as described above). You’ll get continuous hot water unless you draw from multiple sources at one time, for example, a shower and the dishwasher. If you frequently do this, you might consider having two tankless units installed. Another thing to consider is not to assume a new water heater will fit where your old one was located. Because of increased insulation and other efficiency improvements, some of the newer models may be wider and/or taller than your existing/old water heater.
Features and Other Things to Consider
Size: To provide your household with enough hot water and to maximize efficiency, you need a properly sized water heater.
Energy efficiency: To maximize your energy and cost savings, you’ll want to know how energy efficient a water heater is before you purchase it. Different manufacturers’ web sites should provide information on the energy efficiency of their particular brands.
Costs: Before you purchase a water heater, it’s also a good idea to estimate its annual operating costs and compare those costs with other less or more energy-efficient models.
Warranty: Coverage for most water heaters typically runs 3 to 12 years. While you’ll usually pay a bit more for longer-warranty models, it seems that they tend to have larger elements or burners that can speed up water heating, and also have thicker insulation for less heat loss. You should choose a water heater with the longest warranty available if it’s within your budget.
Anti-Scale Devices: Some brands advertise features that are supposed to reduce buildup of mineral scale at the bottom of the tank. Normally this is done by swirling the water. While scale buildup can shorten the life of the heating element, you don‘t need to invest in fancy features to get a long-lived water heater. Just look for one with a 12-year warranty, which typically includes a longer or thicker element.
Brass vs. Plastic Drain Valves: These drain valves are situated near the base of the water heater with a garden hose “hookup” for draining the water tank. Always look for brass drain valves; they are much more durable than plastic valves.
Glass-Lined Tanks: These are designed to reduce corrosion and should last longer.
Digital Displays: This will help you to monitor levels and customize operation. Some electric/heat-pump hybrid water heaters let you set a vacation mode. This helps with efficiency when you’re away. Displays on solar water heaters often show tank and collector temperatures, along with pressure readings and other info. You should know that in my experience most folks usually don’t really use the digital displays that much.
Comparing Fuel Costs and Water Heater Types
Comparing fuel costs is important if you’re building a new home. Especially if you have more than one fuel type available in your area. It’s always a good idea to compare fuel costs. Even if you’re replacing a water heater, you may find that you’ll save more money in the long run if you use a different fuel or energy source. Contact your utility for current fuel costs or rates.
And the type of water heater you choose will affect your water heating costs. One type of water heater may use a fuel type more efficiently than another type of water heater. For example, an electric heat pump water heater typically is more energy efficient than an electric conventional storage water heater. Also, an electric heat pump water heater might have lower energy costs. This is because of its higher efficiency than a gas-fired conventional storage water heater. Even though local natural gas costs might be lower than the electricity rates.
You may want a professional to check out of your home for the type of water heating system that might be best for you. There are things that a pro might find that you may not be thinking about. We at Proudfoot always believe that advance planning is much better than waiting until something breaks. So don’t wait for that 15-year-old water heater to quit working. You know it fail to provide hot water at that most inopportune moment! So, please click here or give us a call at 1-412-461-2198, especially if you’re worried about having to take that cold shower sooner rather than later!