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Plumbing > Tips for Choosing a Water Heater

TIPS FOR CHOOSING A NEW WATER HEATER

Water Heater Basics

The time will come when your hot water heater needs to be replaced.  The decision may be thrust upon you in the form of a surprise cold shower or, worse still, a surprise leak.  Or, you may decide to buy a new water heater when you weigh the cost of repair against the cost of replacement.

In the past it was a simple choice: Replace your current storage tank water heater with another exactly the same.  Today, however, there are a lot of new options to consider as you seek to improve energy efficiency and the green living profile of your home.

Things to consider when shopping for hot water heaters:

• Number of people living in your home (hot water demand)
• How well your old unit supplied your demand
• Fuel type, availability and cost
• Estimated energy efficiency of various models
• Length of warranty
• Maintenance and repair information
• Cost of unit as it relates to annual operating cost

You’ll want the right size hot water heater with the best recovery rate for your family’s needs.  It should deliver hot water when and where you need it in the most energy efficient and cost conscious manner.  Depending on the layout of your home, you may need more than one hot water heater to effectively supply your demand.

Repair or Replace?

According to ARS / Rescue Rooter’s Home Connect plumbing expert Curt Gandy, a good rule of thumb is never spend on repair more than half the cost of replacing your hot water heater.  “In most cases, residential water heaters that are out of warranty should be replaced,” says Gandy.  “The cost savings from a new water heater’s efficiency far outweighs the repair cost and lack of performance of an old water heater.”

Types of Hot Water Heaters:

• Conventional storage gas water heater, the most common in American homes
• Electric-powered storage water heater
• Tankless water heater
• Solar water heater

Fuel for gas hot water heaters is either natural gas, propane or oil-fired.  Gas models have a reservoir or tank holding from 20 to 80 gallons of water.  When you turn on your hot water tap, hot water comes to you from the top of the tank.  Cold water to be heated enters the bottom of the tank, so the tank is always full unless supply has been exhausted.

While electric water heaters have storage tanks and provide hot water in much the same way as do gas ones, they heat water using two electric elements, each with its own thermostat. 

A tankless water heater costs substantially more than either gas or electric.  Yet, their efficiency advantage is obvious; they provide hot water only as needed so there is no storage tank and no standby heat loss.  Some brands promise up to 40% energy savings.  Since there is no tank, the space saving feature is huge.  Multiple hot water demands at the same time may tax a tankless water heater, and in these situations more than one unit is optimum.

A solar water heater includes a storage tank and solar collector.  They are powered using free energy from the sun.  Systems installed in higher latitudes may require additional design requirements that will add to the complexity and cost of the system. 

Cost Considerations

Water heater prices vary for a wide range of reasons, including the water line connections, valves, venting, gas line, strapping, access, and type of water heater.  Contacting a professional plumber for a free in-person evaluation of your particular situation is the best way to check pricing.  A “blind” quote over the phone is often inaccurate.

Choosing a new water heater can become even more confusing when you factor in the standard, deluxe and premium models within each type.  Refer to the warranty to assist you.  Five, ten and seven year warranties are the most common.

The life of a storage tank water heater is dependent on the tank itself. A tank that is built better is usually going to cost a bit more and have a longer life. Spending a little extra up front will give you a more efficient water heater, which will save you money in the long run.

For both tankless and solar water heating systems, the larger initial financial outlay may discourage many people from these options, even though long-term savings are substantial.

Energy Efficiency Considerations

Although both gas and electric water heaters lose some of their efficiency because water is constantly being heated in the tank, their efficiency is much improved over the past. Both gas and electric storage water heaters, if heavily insulated, significantly reduce heat loss and have a thermal resistance (R-value) of R-12 to R-25.  Always look for an R-16 or better insulation rating.

Some tankless hot water heaters claim up to 40% in energy savings.  The energy efficiency is obvious:  no storage tank equals no heat loss and no running water as you wait for it to warm up.

Overall, high efficiency hot water heaters will use 10 to 50 percent less energy than older standard equipment.  Look for units with the Energy Star® symbol to further enhance the green living standard of your home.

Routine Water Heater Maintenance Makes a Difference

To keep your traditional storage hot water heater in tiptop operating condition, you should have it flushed and inspected annually by a qualified plumbing contractor.

A tankless water heater requires two types of regular maintenance: Check the in-line screen filter for debris and flush the unit to keep it free of scale and lime.

Contact your local ARS/Rescue Rooter for information and assistance regarding water heater maintenance or selection of a new hot water heater, including a tankless water heater and a solar water heater.

 

 


 

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