How to Choose a Water Heater

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How to Choose a Water Heater

how to choose a water heater blog imageWhen you need to replace or add a water heater to your home, do your research and choose one that will provide enough hot water for your family in the most efficient way. You will save a lot of money in the long run by  learning how to choose a water heater system you can afford (low utility cost to heat the water, lasts longer), and your family will be happier with having enough hot water for all their needs.
Today’s efficiency of a water heater is typically displayed as the “Energy Factor” (EF). A higher EF rating means a more efficient system in terms of energy use for heating and storing the water. There are some higher EF water heaters that may qualify for a federal tax rebate, helping you save even more.

Choosing the wrong water heater will cost you

The annual savings you could realize depends on a number of factors, including the size of your family, where the water heater is in the home, and even the size of the water pipes and how they are routed throughout the structure. According to home appraisal experts, under sizing or oversizing your water heater can be a mistake that could cost you in the end.
Mistakes can happen when the research is not done to get a good understanding of the hot water needs of your household. There are many variations of water heaters out there, such as tank storage, demand, heat pump and solar, gas fired or electric, and finding the one that works best for your home requires you to do your homework and talk to a professional plumber like those at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. Just choosing what looks and sounds good based on price and convenience could actually end up backfiring on your opportunity to save money in the long run. Which is why we stress that you properly learn how to choose a water heater.

Comparing Water Heaters

All water heaters are not created equal – and that’s because there are many different applications to engineer and design for. In addition to high capacity, low capacity, and even on-demand water heaters, there will be variations of each that apply to every need and budget. It’s important to understand the different types of water heaters available before you purchase one.
Here are the primary options commonly used in the Charlotte, North Carolina region. We’ll go into more details on each below.

  • Conventional storage water heaters. These are the typical “tanks” we all recognize as a water heater. Tank style heaters heat and store hot water.
  • Tankless on-demand water heaters. Tankless units heat the water only when needed, or on-demand.
  • Solar water heaters. This is a system that uses the sun’s light to heat water and then transfer it to a tank for storage.

Conventional storage tank water heaters

Tank style water heaters are referred to as “conventional” simply because it has been the most common type of water heater system for many years. The technology used for storage, insulation, and heating the water has advanced tremendously in recent years. A new high-efficiency storage tank water heater will almost always be more efficient than an older unit you may need to replace.
Tank style water heaters typically hold between 20 to 80 gallons of hot water at a temperature around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Choosing the right size is important, so it’s best to talk to a qualified plumber to help make the best decision.
The cost of a tank style water heater with installation varies, but is generally less than a tankless style. They are relatively easy to install, typically within a few hours. This style water heater has an average lifespan between 10 to 15 years.
Advantages of conventional storage tank water heaters include their affordable upfront cost, easy installation, and in a power outage you have a supply of hot water in the tank.

Tankless water heaters

Tankless water heaters are also referred to as “on-demand” heaters because they heat the water only when it is needed. They do not store hot water, or use energy keeping water hot when not in use. When you turn the faucet for hot water the unit heats the water immediately as it travels through the unit. The heating is done with either a gas burner system or an electric heating element system. As long as you have the faucet on the unit is heating the water. It stops when you stop.
Tankless water heaters have many benefits. The number one reason people choose one however, is because it never runs out of hot water. Tankless water heaters are an excellent choice for families with busy schedules. Think about all those times you’re having to plan schedules for showers, laundry and doing the dishes – all because there’s never enough hot water for everyone.
Normally set at 125 degrees Fahrenheit — although the temperature can be changed according to your needs — the water heater heats water as it flows through, instead of being constantly kept warm. Depending on your family’s hot water consumption, you can save  up to 40 to 50 percent on your water heating bill.
Good applications for a tankless water heater include large houses with remote bathrooms far away from the tank water heater, hot tubs, and used as a booster for households with high volume demands for dishwashers, clothes washers, and showers.
For a household that uses an average of 41 gallons or less of hot water per day, tankless on-demand water heaters can be 24% to 34% more energy efficient than the tank style water heaters. For a household that uses as much as 85 gallons or more per day, they can be up to 14% more energy efficiency. For larger homes you can achieve even higher energy savings of up to 50% if you install multiple tankless on-demand water heaters in key areas, such as the kitchen/laundry room area and the bedroom/bathroom areas. ENERGY STAR ® estimates that a typical family can save $100 or more per year with an ENERGY STAR qualified tankless water heater.
The initial cost of purchasing and installing a tankless water heater is more than a conventional storage water heater, but the tankless water heaters will typically last longer and have lower operating and energy costs. This is where you offset its higher purchase price. Most tankless water heaters have a life expectancy of more than 20 years. With proper maintenance you can extend their life by many more years. In contrast, storage water heaters last 10–15 years.
Tankless water heaters are smaller than conventional tank heaters. This can be a benefit when remodeling or building new construction, as it could provide valuable living or utility space.

Criteria for how to choose a water heater

  • Consider the type of fuel used to heat the water, it’s availability in your area and the cost. The type of fuel (natural gas, propane gas, electricity, solar) used for heating your water will not only affect the annual operating costs but can also dictate what size is needed and energy efficiency you could achieve.
  • Get the size and type of water heater that will provide your household with enough hot water. A properly sized water heater will help to maximize efficiency. You will also keep maintenance costs low and reduce the risk of breakdowns by not over-working the heater to keep up with demand.
  • Selecting the highest energy efficiency (Energy Factor EF) poosible will provide long term cost savings on your monthly utility costs.
  • Don’t make your decision on sticker price alone. It’s a good idea to look at the estimated operating costs and compare those costs across a couple different models. You should also factor in the estimated life span.

Fuel options to heat your water

Here in the Charlotte, NC area we have electricity, natural gas, propane gas, and solar energy as our primary fuel sources. There are other options, such as geothermal, wood, and fuel oil, but the most abundant in our region is electricity, natural gas, and propane gas. Solar is also a good option as a supplemental energy source because of the abundance of sunshine we get year round.
Using whatever energy source you currently have in place is usually the most cost effective option. However, there are cases you may want to consider changing if you can get a longer term cost savings. For example, the utility company may provide cost incentives to add a certain number of natural gas fired appliances.

  • Electricity is readily available to fuel conventional storage, tankless or on-demand type, and heat pump water heaters. It can also be used to combine water and space heating systems.
  • Natural gas is also readily available in most areas of the Charlotte, NC region. Natural gas can be used to fuel conventional storage water heaters as well as tankless on-demand water heaters.
  • Propane is common and available in our area, and is a reasonable option for people living in areas where natural gas is not available.
  • Solar energy is a good option in the Charlotte, NC region to use as a primary source of hot water, as long as it is backed up with an electric or gas fired system. You don’t want to be caught without hot water during period of extended cloudy and rainy weather.

Choosing the right water heater for your home is a big decision. Your qualified plumber at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing will be happy to assess your household needs and advise you on options.