Choosing a New Water Heater

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Improvements in technology have given homeowners many great options to consider when selecting a new HVAC system for their home. And that’s also true for homeowners choosing a new water heater. Is your water heater has failed or is nearing the end of its expected lifespan of 10-15 years? Here are some of the options you’ll want to consider when choosing a replacement.

Storage vs. Tankless

Traditionally, most water heaters consisted of a large tank with a capacity of 20-80 gallons. These are known as storage water heaters. With a storage water heater, cold water runs into the tank where it is heated to the set temperature. It is then held at that temperature until it’s needed. The problem is that keeping that water hot all the time can be a big waste of energy, especially if the tank isn’t well-insulated.

To solve that energy problem, the tankless or “on-demand” type of water heater was developed. Standard water heaters heat up a tank full of water and then holding it at that temperature until needed. Tankless water heaters almost instantly heat up the water as it passes through the pipe on its way to the faucet. That way the water doesn’t have to be held at the desired temperature, wasting energy.

  1. Tankless water heaters can be up to 50% more efficient than storage water heaters, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, there is a bit of a catch.
  2. A tankless water heater can only heat about 2-5 gallons per minute. That means if you’re using hot water for multiple things at once a single tankless water heater may not be able to keep up.
  3. As the Department of Energy explains, to get the full 50% increase in efficiency, you’d need to install a tankless heater at every single hot water outlet in the home. That would significantly increase your purchase and installation costs, though.

Will One Tankless Water Heater Work For You?

  • If your home doesn’t use that much hot water (less than 41 gallons per day)
  • You’re willing to forego being able to run the dishwasher and the laundry at the same time.
  • The DoE says you can still get up to a 34% increase in efficiency with just one tankless heater.
  • It really all depends on the size of your household and your need for hot water.
See Also: Heat Pump Systems

Exploring Your Energy Options

When replacing your water heater, another issue to consider is what kind of energy you’ll be using to heat the water. Traditionally, we’ve had two major options: electricity and natural gas.

  • If natural gas is available for your home, check out your local utility’s rates.
  • Natural gas is often less expensive than electricity.
  • Homeowners sometimes find that a gas-powered water heater is cheaper to run than a standard electrical one, even if the electrical one is more energy-efficient.

A study reported by the Department of Natural Gas compared a traditional electric water heater with a comparable gas water heater. It found that the gas water heater cost 35% less to operate while delivering 36% more hot water before running out. It’s hard to beat more hot water for less money!

Solar Energy

Depending on where you live, solar energy may be another option for heating your water.

  1. When it’s warm and sunny, the solar heater runs cold water through a collector located on the roof of your home.
  2. The water soaks up the sun’s heat, then goes into a storage tank for later use.

Since this system doesn’t use electricity or gas to heat the water, it can lead to significant savings on your energy bills. However, in many areas you’ll need a second, back-up system to heat your water conventionally when it’s too cold or cloudy outside.

While solar energy is only practical in some parts of the country, the energy of the earth can be harnessed almost anywhere. If your home has a geothermal heat pump for heating and cooling, the system can be set up to use the waste heat produced to preheat your water as well. While this kind of system doesn’t generally produce enough heat to take care of your water heating needs completely, it will decrease the amount of electricity or gas needed to get the water all the way up to the desired temperature.

Heat Pumps Aren’t Just for HVAC

Finally, one of the most efficient options for water heating today is the electric heat pump water heater. Just like the heat pump you use to heat and cool your home, a heat pump water heater transfers heat from the air into the water. An Energy Star-rated heat pump water heater can use up to 65% less energy than a traditional electric water heater.

However, heat pump water heaters don’t work well when the outside temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. To solve this problem, there are hybrid heat pump water heaters were made.  They are able to switch to traditional electric heating when the outside temperatures get too cold.

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