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5 Water Heater Types Examined: What are the Pros and Cons?

One of the hardest working appliances in our homes is the humble water heater. This vital appliance produces heated water for showering, bathing, laundry, cooking and many other activities. We tend to take our water heaters for granted until something goes wrong, and investing in a new unit can be problematic. There are different types of water heaters on the market, and for many people the choice seems to be limited to what their plumber has on hand. If you were happy with your old water, it may make sense to make a replacement with a similar model. The installation costs may be cheaper, but there are other factors that you may want to consider before you make a final decision.

Making the Right Decision

There is no one size fits all solution to the choice of a new water heater. But, in the average home, the heating of water can consume around 18% of the annual energy budget. So, when you decide to replace the unit, it makes sense to invest in a high-efficiency water heater to save money on your energy bills. There are energy efficient electric and gas powered models on the market and the technology is consistently evolving and improving. When you’re making a choice, the Department of Energy recommends that consumers take several factors into account, including installation costs, fuel source, energy efficiency, and system size. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of five popular water heater types in more detail.

1.  The Storage Tank Water Heater

This is often referred to as a conventional water heater because it’s the type that’s installed in most homes across America. A storage water heater has a tank that can hold 30-50 gallons of heated water in an insulated tank to keep it warm until it’s needed. At the top of the tank is the pipe that delivers the heated water, and this unit can be fueled via electricity or gas. The gas powered models tend to be less expensive to operate than electric models due to the lower fuel costs in most areas.

  • Available is a large selection of sizes.
  • Generally lower purchasing prices.
  • An efficient option in many climates.
  • A high flow rate ensures good performance for multiple usage at the same time.
  • Lower installation, maintenance and repair costs.
  • Gas powered models will function during power outages.
  • Ongoing maintenance is essential.
  • The storage tanks are bulky and hard to accommodate in tighter spaces.
  • Water leaks are pretty common as the storage tank ages.
  • The utility costs can be higher, but gas fueled models are more reasonable.
2.  The Tankless Water Heater

This is becoming a popular alternative to a storage tank water heater because the water is supplied on-demand. These units can be powered via gas or electricity and the water is heated quickly as needed with no need to store it in bulky tanks. If you have a long run from your water heater to the bath or kitchen faucets, it is possible to install point-of-use tankless water heaters to boost efficiency. A recent Energy-gov report revealed that the average household could save at least $100 per year after an Energy Star tankless water heater installation. The upfront costs are higher, but the energy savings, tax credits, and rebates can help the homeowner to recoup the costs quickly.

  • Excellent energy efficiency.
  • A longer useful lifespan.
  • Gas and electric models are available.
  • The design saves space because a storage tank is not required.
  • There is no possibility of a burst water tank.
  • The initial purchasing cost is higher.
  • The installation costs are higher.
  • Larger homes may need multiple water heaters.
3.  Hybrid Water Heaters

If you have a heat pump to heat and cool your home, it can be used to heat your water too. This can be a stand-alone system or it can be combined with your existing heating and cooling equipment. This is known as a hybrid water heater and it works using the heat contained in the surrounding air and ground. Less fuel is required and significant energy savings are possible.

  • This is a low maintenance system.
  • This is an environmentally friendly option.
  • The energy savings can be significant.
  • The initial purchasing and installation costs can be high.
  • For optimal efficiency at least 1.000 cubic feet of space is required.
  • A climate with consistent temperatures in the 40-90º range is needed.
4.  Solar Powered

These roof mounted black panels and tanks rely on the power of the sun to absorb energy to heat water. A closed-loop system connects the power source to the water tank to make the water warm. A backup system is needed for those cloud days or if the demand for warm water is higher. Tax incentives and rebates are available and this can reduce the purchasing price and installation costs significantly.

  • This is a low maintenance system.
  • A more environmentally friendly choice.
  • This is an energy efficient option.
  • Adding a backup heater ensures consistent hot water supplies,
  • A longer useful lifespan.
  • The initial costs can be high.
  • The water heater performance is reliant on the current climate conditions.
5.  Condensing Water Heaters

This water heater type uses the heated exhaust from an installed natural gas system. This heat is collected and funneled into the water heater, in a similar manner to a conventional water heater storage tank. This is an excellent option if you already have natural gas as the primary source of energy in your home. A condensing water heater can be a high-efficiency unit that is designed to transfer and retain more heat than a conventional gas water heater unit. This can reduce the total energy use and it will help the water heater to retain more heat during normal operation.

  • This is an energy-efficient option for existing natural gas consumers.
  • This water heater supplies hot water on-demand.
  • The carbon footprint is reduced.
  • A longer useful lifespan.
  • This is not a suitable option for homes that don’t have a natural gas line.
  • Corrosion can be a significant problem without regular maintenance.

If you’re considering a water heater installation for your home, contact your local certified and licensed plumber today.