In Hot Water: Considering Water Heater Options

water_4Without a doubt, the unsung hero of household appliances is the water heater. It hums along in obscurity, usually in a corner of the basement or tucked away behind folding doors. The water heater is the source of a relaxing hot shower after a long, tiring day. It provides many of us that all-important jumpstart we need to get going in the morning. However, unless it malfunctions or starts to leak, we never really consider the significant impact water heaters have on our daily lives.

When water heaters stop functioning properly, it is always an inconvenient time. We suffer through a cold shower or are forced to work out early and shower at the gym. Simply replacing a heating element will sometimes solve the problem. In higher-efficiency units, the fix may be to replace the control panel on top of the appliance. The homeowner with knowledge or expertise in the plumbing or electrical area may be able to perform these repairs, but a licensed professional is typically recommended.

water_1If the unit is beyond repair and needs to be replaced, there are many options to choose from. There is the standard storage-type of water heater. Tankless water heaters have become very popular. There is even a hot water dispenser which mounts to your sink similar to a faucet, which provides instant hot water. So how does the homeowner choose which water heater is best?

By far, the most popular and traditional water heater is the storage tank type of water heater. Available in electric, liquid propane (LP) and natural gas, these tanks are insulated and store heated water until it is ready for use. Storage tank size is measured by the number of gallons the tank holds. This is important to know in order to choose the correct size unit for your home. Factors to consider in choosing a new water heater include the number of people living in the home as well as the number of hot water outlets which may be used at any given time. Many homes today have two or more bathrooms where hot water is used in addition to the kitchen and laundry. A household of two to three people would typically need a 30- to 40- gallon tank. If there are four to five individuals in the home, a 40- to 50- gallon tank would suffice. Depending on usage, five or more people in the home would require a 50- to 80- gallon tank to ensure plenty of hot water for everyone. Another factor to consider when choosing a water heater is recovery rate. Units with a high recovery rate heat the water faster. This ensures more hot water will be available for use in less time.

water_3Tankless water heaters make hot water available as you need or use it. Available in electric, liquid propane and natural gas, these units heat water as it passes through coils inside the unit. They are typically more energy-efficient than the storage type of water heater, reducing electricity costs. In circumstances where the demand for hot water is not high, a tankless unit might be preferable. Homeowners would need to avoid using multiple hot water outlets at the same time in order to maintain the hot water flow rate. They are ideal in situations where space is very limited.

Many homes utilize more than one water heater. Again, based on family size, usage and space constraints, this is a viable option. Manufacturers make a low-profile or ‘low boy’ unit. This type of heater is more compact to fit in tight spaces, yet has the same capabilities and holds the same volume of hot water as a standard-size water heater. Some homeowners have a need for tabletop or utility water heaters to provide hot water to garages, sheds, or other areas that are not located near the main source of hot water.

As with most appliance purchases, start by determining the desires and needs of your family. Conduct research to determine what products are available to suit those needs. The possibility of obtaining a tax credit for upgrading and replacing your old, less energy-efficient water heater should also contribute to your decision-making process.

Editor’s Note: For more information on tax credits, see the article “Give Yourself a Little Credit”.

Thanks to Foster Fuels and Terrell Moseley for supplying photography for this article.

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