Water Heaters: What Type is Right for You?
For any homeowner, selecting new appliances can be a major headache. Making the right decision is difficult when brands jockey to win you over. Besides, you probably have a lot of questions that need adequate answers before making a purchase decision: What are other consumers saying about product quality? Can I purchase a warranty? What style do I want? Are there different versions? Installation costs? This list goes on…
You might not give it much thought when considering the appliances hidden away deep in your basement or utility room – like your water heater, for instance. If you didn’t know, there are many types of water heating systems on the market, so it’s important to take a look at your options before diving in head-first.
Conventional Water Heaters: The most common type of water heater in North America is the conventional gas or electric water heater, also known as the storage water heater. These consist of a cylindrical vessel or container which water is kept continuously hot and ready for use. The typical sizes for storage water heaters are between 20 and 100 US gallons.
- Low initial purchase cost ($150 – $350 + installation)
- Use energy at a relatively slow rate
- Can supply large volumes of hot water (depending on tank size)
- Relatively low maintenance
- Over time, the water inside the tank cools and requires more heat
- Large heating delay after the storage reservoir is exhausted
- Temperature fluctuations occur more frequently in smaller tanks
- Shorter lifespans compared to other options (10 – 15 years)
Tankless Water Heaters: Commonly referred to as on-demand, instantaneous, continuous flow, inline, flash or instant-on water heaters because, well, they do just that – heat and supply water on the spot and without a tank. These systems are relatively new in US markets, but are growing in popularity. They work by heating water as it flows through the device and do not retain water (except for the water actively in the copper heat exchanger).
- Endless supply of hot water
- Tankless systems save approximately 30 – 50 percent in energy costs
- Systems are small and can be hidden virtually anywhere (hang one in a closet)
- A lag time of 3 to 8 seconds occurs while the burners heat up
- Tankless installations often become major projects ($900 – $1200 + installation)
- Requires regular maintenance and cleanings with special chemicals
Hybrid Water Heaters: These systems integrate technologies from both storage water heaters and tankless water heaters. Hybrid systems successfully maintain water pressure and an on-demand hot water supply for multiple hot water devices.
- Tank-like water flow combined with tankless-like efficiency
- Built-in small storage reservoir (2 – 20 US gallons)
- Lowest operating cost of any electric water heater on the market
- Relatively long lifespan (15 – 25 years)
- Hybrids cost much more than conventional heaters ($800 – $2000 + installation cost)
- The heat pumps tend to be taller or wider than standard tanks
- Installation sometimes requires water pipe reconfiguration (increased installation cost)
- Requires frequent maintenance
- The heaters typically require 1,000 cubic ft. of surrounding air (will not fit in a closet)
Solar Water Heaters: Harnessing the sun’s energy isn’t a new concept; in fact, translating solar radiation into electricity has been around for decades and was first developed by NASA for satellites. Solar water heating systems are composed of solar thermal collectors (panels) fastened to the roof facing the sun. The panel heats up a heat transfer fluid, which is pumped to a heat exchanger to transfer the energy to the water in the storage tank.
- Very ecofriendly and highly efficient
- The lowest operating cost compared to other systems
- Eligible for a Federal Tax Credit
- The systems pay for themselves within their lifespans
- Solar technology works surprisingly well in gloomy states
- Higher up-front cost for equipment and installation ($1600 – $3000 + Installation)
- Tanks with larger volumes require more solar panels
- Solar systems take up more space than other types
- Tanks can produce a significant amount of heat
- More equipment requires more maintenance
Although there are many options, selecting a suitable water heater simply requires a bit of research. You should also try to prevent compatibility issues by hiring a professional to inspect the area in which the heater will be placed prior to making a purchase decision.
Author Mark Healey is a content development specialist and frequently writes about and follows the home improvement industry.