Your old water heater is running on its last fumes, and you’ve decided to swap it for a brand new model. Or maybe you just moved to a new place that needs a water heater installation. It’s advised to do some research before you decide on a model. Or you can just call a water heater service near you and ask their expert opinion. In any case, you have to consider your hot water needs, types of available fuel, and how much money you can spare. Some of the pricier models can save you money in the long run if you factor in the servicing costs and fuel consumption.
5 Main Types of Water Heaters
There are thousands of models on the market, but they generally fall into one of five categories based on their technology. Some of them are universal, others require specific environmental conditions to operate at full capacity.
Conventional Tank Models
Heaters that have storage space (tanks) represent the most popular and relatively less expensive type of such appliances. Depending on your family size, you may choose a model that has from 20 to 80 gallons of water storage. The source of heat is located at the bottom and hot water exits from the top of the reservoir. The dip tube brings in cold water to keep the tank full.
Advantages of this type include lower price and maintenance costs, relatively simple construction. However, tank appliances waste energy when idle because of the heat losses to the surrounding environment. Make sure to choose energy-efficient water heaters that have tank insulation that gives them thermal resistance of R-24 and more.
Also called instantaneous or on-demand water heaters, these models provide a better alternative for people who are conscious about their electric bills. Unlike conventional storage appliances, tankless models don’t heat water when nobody uses it.
Their main advantage is much lower energy needs and higher life expectancy. But since they don’t have a reservoir of preheated water, their output is also much lower. If you have a large family, you might need to install two or even three on-demand heaters.
Usually, heat pumps are bought as a multipurpose alternative to conventional AC units. They can cool and warm the air inside the house. But you can also use them for your water needs. They operate like an inverse fridge, by cooling the surrounding air and heating the water in their storage tank.
Advantages of these models include energy efficiency and their ability to work with conventional tank heaters. But you can’t use them to their full potential unless your environmental conditions meet certain criteria. The surrounding air temperature has to be from 40º to 90ºF all year round. Heat pumps suffer from sub-par performance during cold months.
This is a perfect option for those people who want to have an off-grid, self-reliant heating system. Solar models work the best in locations with the higher solar insolation, such as southern US states.
Depending on whether you have freezing winters or not, you may choose between direct and indirect circulation models. Direct circulation models heat the water itself, while the indirect option requires a special non-freezing fluid that transfers heat.
Their chief advantage is the ability to operate off-grid. However, they are costly, require a complicated installation process, and can operate only in specific environments.
Integrated Heating Systems
Indirect and tankless coil heaters rely on the power of the whole home heating system. They are great for people living in a cold climate and can bring down energy costs.
Indirect models use a special fluid that transfers heat from the main boiler. They are efficient during cold months, as you keep your house warm and have a steady supply of hot water at the same time. Tankless coil heaters operate in a similar way, but they don’t have a reservoir. The cold water flows through a special coil located in the main boiler and heats up instantly.
These models are next to useless in hot climates. They can also be pretty bulky and require a spacious basement or a utility room. On the upside, they have a relatively simple construction. Advantages include lower installation and maintenance costs and improved energy efficiency.
3 Things To Consider Before Choosing a Water Heater
Once you have decided what type of water heater works best for your home, consider three important factors that can determine your buying decision.
Fuel costs will greatly influence your selection process. For example, if you live in a location with expensive electricity but have easy access to lower-priced natural gas, get a gas-powered model.
Main fuel sources include:
- Solar energy
- Geothermal energy
- Electrical grid
- Natural gas
- Propane tanks
Availability and costs of these fuel sources vary throughout the US. If you are building an off-grid, sustainable system, look into solar and geothermal energy sources. If you have cheap oil or gas, try these sources instead. If you live in a city apartment and are limited to using electricity only, opt for appliances that have Energy Star certification.
If you can switch to a different fuel source to lower your utility bills, consider doing that, since you are going to install a new heater anyway.
Don’t always look for the least expensive model. You can lose money on wasted energy and frequent repairs. Energy efficiency often depends on the fuel source. Some types of heaters work better with gas than electricity.
It all boils down to how many people in your household you have to supply with hot water. If you have two or three bathrooms, opt for a model that has a larger tank, or install several water heaters. An integrated heating system works great for a mansion. But it’s better to equip smaller apartments with tankless heaters that require less space.
Up to 18% of your utility bills come from water heating, which is the second-largest expense in an average American household. When selecting a new heater, don’t hesitate to ask for expert advice, compare different models and available fuel sources. Depending on how thorough you are with your selection process, a new water heater can become a great investment or a constant headache.