Few things are more unpleasant than a cold shower. If you’re suffering through a frigid blast of water every morning, it's time to invest in a new water heater.
As you might expect, there are many options when it comes to purchasing a new hot water heater. You'll need to choose the right one in order to meet your home's needs, while also reducing energy costs and your environmental impact.
Here are some factors to consider when shopping for hot water heaters:
- Size: You'll need a water heater with the capacity to provide your household with enough hot water.
- Efficiency: To save on heating costs and minimize your environmental impact, choose a water heater that delivers the best energy efficiency.
- Cost: Compare the annual costs associated with running different water-heating systems. Generally, there will be trade-off between up-front costs (higher for more efficient systems) and annual costs (higher for less efficient systems).
- Fuel: The energy source (gas, oil, electricity) you use to heat your water will have an impact on running costs, energy efficiency and capacity.
Now that you know which criteria to take into account, consider the different kinds of water-heating systems on the market.
Storage Tank Water Heaters
The most common water-heating system is the storage tank, which provides a ready supply of hot water.
The tank is insulated and can store 20 to 80 gallons of water. When you turn on the hot water tap, the tank releases hot water from a pipe on the top of the tank. The tank is then replenished with cold water. Because storage tanks use energy to ensure the tank water is constantly heated, they can drain energy even when you aren’t using hot water.
Seek out models with stronger insulation, which help reduce heat loss (so the tank doesn’t have to keep using energy to reheat cooled water). Models with a thermal resistance (R-value) of R-12 to R-25 can reduce heat loss.
Storage tanks use a range of fuel sources to heat water, including natural gas, propane, fuel oil and electricity. On the whole, natural gas heaters use less energy and cost less to run (by about half) than electric water heaters.
Tankless or On-Demand Water Heaters
As the name suggests, tankless or on-demand systems provide hot water only as needed. Tankless systems use heating coils to heat the water. They're unique in that they can avoid standby heat loss, which can translate into cost savings.
The drawback of tankless systems is that they provide a limited flow of hot water per minute: around 3.5 gallons. These on-demand water heaters are best if you draw water for only one use at a time. They usually can't supply enough hot water for simultaneous uses. For instance, if you're running a shower and a dishwasher at the same time.
Gas-fueled tankless systems are able to produce greater hot-water flow rates than electric ones. That’s why tankless water heaters are best for homes that use natural gas to heat water.
Heat-Pump Water Heaters
Heat pumps transfer heat instead of generating heat to provide hot water. They capture heat from the environment and redirect it to heat the water. Heat pumps are typically used to heat and cool homes. But heat pumps can also be used as a stand-alone water-heating system, or as a hybrid water-heating and home air-conditioning system.
These systems use about 60 percent less energy than standard electric heaters. While they are more expensive than electric models, they can make up that extra cost in running cost savings over a short period of time.
Heat-pump systems work best in climates that stay in the 40 to 90-degree range. You need up to 1,000 cubic feet of uncooled space to capture enough heat for the heat-pump system to work at capacity.
Solar Water Heaters
Also called solar domestic hot water systems, solar water heaters can be a very cost-efficient and environmentally friendly way to generate hot water. Naturally, they work best in sunny climates and during the summer months. On cold and cloudy days, most models deploy a backup system.
The key disadvantage to solar water heaters is the upfront cost. Even with government rebates, the cost of buying and installing a solar system can take 10 to 30 years to recoup the cost through energy savings.
Condensing Water Heaters
Condensing water heater systems use a tank like conventional systems do, but they recycle the exhaust gases to reheat water. The gases are blown through a coil in the base of the unit, where they heat the inflowing cold water.
These systems are a good option if your home heats water with gas and if you need a system with a 55-gallon capacity or greater.
Water-heating systems can last for up to 10 years. Take your time when deciding which system you want to commit to in order to ensure years of pleasantly steamy showers.