Time to Replace Your Water Heater? You Have a Lot to Choose From

Your hot water heater is probably one appliance you take for granted, mainly because there is little or no interaction with this appliance. As long as you turn on the hot water tap and warm or hot water comes out, all is well and you don't give it another thought. But one morning (and it seems it only happens first thing in the morning), you turn on your tap and only cold water pours out. Now you MUST give some thought to this appliance, especially if you're a home owner. You must replace your water heater if you ever want a nice hot shower again. These days, there are many more models and types to choose from. This article will give you basic information on what's available, price ranges, and other information to help you make the right choice if you need to replace your hot water heater.

Water Heater Types

Here's information on the basic types of water heaters available today:
  • Conventional Storage Water Heater. Chances are, this is the type of water heater you're likely to find in your home right now. They're the cheapest to buy, but probably cost more to operate. They are a ready reservoir of hot water, in sizes ranging from 20 to 80 gallons. When hot water is used from the tank, cold water comes in at the bottom and must be heated to keep it warm for your use. If the temperature in the tank falls below the thermostat setting, the heat source comes on automatically to heat the water again. It's this constant cycling that adds to your gas or electric bill. Storage water heaters' life expectancy runs about 10-15 years.
  • Tankless, or "On-Demand" Water Heater. This type of water heater does not rely on a storage unit to keep water hot for your use. Instead, when a hot water tap is turned on, water flows into the unit and is heated as it passes through to the tap that has been turned on. You don't need to wait for the storage unit to heat the water up if it has been depleted. However, if your household uses a lot of hot water for different applications at the same time, such as showers and running a dishwasher, you may find that a tankless heater can't keep up with the demand. Households that use about 40 gallons or less daily may find the tankless unit to be from 24% to 34% more energy efficient than their storage tank cousins. If you use a lot of hot water (around 86 gallons a day), tankless models save from 8% to 14% in comparison with the storage type heater.

  • Solar Water Heaters can be a cost-effective way of heating water for your home because the energy source they use is free--sunshine. Solar heating systems include storage tanks and solar collectors. Solar water heating systems almost always require a backup system for cloudy days or times of increased hot water usage in the home. If you are considering installing this system to heat water in your home, we recommend careful study and consideration before proceeding. You'll need to determine the source of your hot water energy in your area (freezing temps, etc); the correct size for your household; and the system's energy efficiency.
  • Other Types of Water Heater. These include tankless coil and indirect water heating systems, and heat pump systems. These three types are not as common as the first three listed, A tankless coil depends on a heating coil installed in your main furnace or boiler to create hot water. This system won't work well in warmer months when your furnace isn't used much, or in warmer climates. There is no storage tank in this type of system. The indrect water heating system does use a storage tank, and can be a very efficient method to heat water for your home. Heat pump water heaters work similarly to the heat pump you may have installed to heat and cool your home. Your regular heat pump can be altered to heat water well.

More Information From the Following Sources

Here are some of the sources we found that should give you more information to help you decide:

The US Dept. of Energy has a web site that gives information on the above types of water heating systems and how to select the one that's right for you based on fuel type, size, energy efficiency and costs--both to purchase as well as operate.
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is another excellent source for information on water heaters of all types. Their information includes types of water heaters, water heater efficiency, selecting a new water heater, and comparing the true costs to heat water.
Epinions.com compares water heaters by type, brand and price. Read their reviews to help you decide.

Pricing, Where to Buy, Final Advice

Price ranges for standard tank water heaters range from about $240 for 40 gallon capacity electric tanks, to about $600 for an 80 gallon natural gas tank. The tankless models will be more money initially, Prices start around $600 and go up to a $1,000 or more, depending on brand and capacity. You can buy from Lowe's, Home Depot, Sears, or if you have a favorite appliance dealer in your area you can check them out as well. Additionally, there are more choices online for information and to purchase.

We recommend planning ahead before your hot water heater fails you. If you have an idea of what you want to replace your old unit with, before you need to actually replace it, you should make a better choice, both in terms of money spent for the heater itself as well as what it will cost you to operate it.

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