What Are My Water Heater Choices?
Is it time for you to replace your water heater? There are many options available to you, so it can be hard to figure out what's best for you and your home. Although water heather repair or water heater replacement is best left for professionals, you can at least pick which one you want.
Here are some of the most popular types of water heaters:
CONVENTIONAL WATER HEATERS
Conventional water heaters, also called storage tank water heaters, are the most common type--they consist of an insulated tank in which water is heated and stored until needed. Natural gas water heaters typically use less energy and cost less to operate than electric water heaters, but can be more expensive and difficult to install.
Conventional water heaters require regular maintenance to operate efficiently and effectively over the years. They must be drained and flushed, removing sediment and buildup, at least once a year. The statistical life expectancy of a storage tank water heater is 10-12 years, depending on care and maintenance.
TANKLESS WATER HEATERS (ON-DEMAND)
Tankless water heaters use intense flashes of heat against water-filled coils to heat water on demand. Tankless water heater plumbing systems are more energy efficient than conventional storage tank models, but tend to have higher up-front costs.
Tankless water heaters can be sized to provide a continuous flow of hot water, making them suitable for large families that use a lot of hot water at one time. They're also better suited for use with natural gas, though they may require installation of a larger diameter gas line, a potentially costly endeavor. Electric tankless models may require an upgrade of the home's electrical capacity.
Like storage tank water heaters, tankless water heaters need to be descaled of minerals at least once a year to keep them functioning reliably.
HEAT PUMP WATER HEATERS
Heat pump water heaters, also called hybrid electric water heaters, capture heat from the air or ground and transfer it to the water. They cost more up front than standard electric models, but use about 60% less energy, meaning homeowners tend to see a return on their investment in the form of lower energy bills.
Hybrid electric heat pump water heaters don’t work well in very cold spaces. Because the heat pump is on top of the appliance, a hybrid unit may need as much as a 7-foot clearance from floor to ceiling.
SOLAR WATER HEATERS
Solar water heaters work using roof-mounted solar panels that absorb the sun's heat and transfer it to an antifreeze-like fluid in a closed-loop system that runs to the water tank and heats the water. The best solar water heaters deliver stellar savings in summer, making them attractive for warm, sunny regions.
Solar energy is free and plentiful.
Solar thermal panels are efficient. Approximately 80% radiation is turned into heat energy.
You will save money on fuel bills.
You are lowering your hot water carbon footprint.
There are often financial incentives. For solar hot water, those can include state and federal tax credits, and state, regional, and utility rebates.
Solar thermal panels can only heat water. Solar PV panels, however, generate electricity and some of this electricity can be used to heat water. So there is more flexibility with solar PV panels.
Annual maintenance is suggested because there are several parts to the system, that should be inspected to ensure they are performing correctly.
Even with federal and local rebates, what you'll spend to buy and install a solar system can mean waiting 10 to 30 years to recover your investment costs, although solar panels and equipment are becoming less costly all the time.
CONDENSING WATER HEATERS
Condensing water heaters have a tank like a conventional storage tank water heater, but they capture hot exhaust gases that would normally be expelled from a home out the flue. These gases are blown through a coil in the base of the water heater, where incoming cold water can absorb the heat. Condensing water heaters are a highly efficient type of water heater for homes that heat with gas and require a capacity of more than 55 gallons.