What you need to know before buying a water heater

Many owners wait until their water heater fails before purchasing a replacement. Because they are in a hurry to get their hot water back, they often cannot take the time to buy the most energy-efficient unit for their specific needs. This is unfortunate since the cost of buying and operating a water heater can vary greatly, modifying the type, brand, and model selected, and the quality of the installation.

To avoid this scenario, do your research now before facing an emergency purchase. Get acquainted today with options that allow you to make an informed decision when the need to purchase a new water heater arises.

Remember, most, if not all, jurisdictions have a plumbing permit to replace a new water heater. Most places understand that if your water heater is turned off over the weekend, it immediately replaces it and allows you to come in on Monday to present the permit.

In recent years, a variety of water heaters have been made available to consumers: conventional storage, demand, heat pump, tankless battery, indirect and solar. It is also possible to buy water heaters that can be connected to your home’s heating system.

Storage water heaters

There are a variety of fuel options available for electronic storage water heaters for electricity, natural gas, oil, and propane. With a size ranging from 20 to 80 gallons (75.7 to 302.8 liters), storage water heaters are still the most popular type for residential heating needs in the United States. A storage heater works by releasing hot water from the top of the tank when the hot water faucet is opened. To replace that hot water, cold water enters the bottom of the tank, ensuring that the tank is always full.

Because the water is constantly heated in the tank, energy can be wasted even when there is no faucet open. This is called standby heat loss. Newer and more energy-efficient storage models can reduce the amount of calorie loss on hold, making it much less expensive to operate. To determine the model with the highest energy efficiency, refer to the Energy Guide label required on storage water heaters. The Energy Guide labels indicate the estimated annual cost of operating the system or the energy efficiency ratings.

TIP: Doityourself plumbing consultant Wayne McCarthy suggested: “If you have an electric water heater and are required to use a gas one, consider the cost of running the vent pipe to the outside and a gas line to the heater itself. The same thought applies when converting from gas to electric. How much will the wiring to the water heater and its electrical service cost large enough for the additional load?

Demand for water heaters

It is possible to eliminate standby heat losses from the tank and reduce energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent with on-demand (or instantaneous) water heaters, which do not have storage tanks. Cold water travels through a pipe to the unit, and a gas burner or electric element heats the water only when necessary. With these systems, you never run out of hot water. But there is a potential downside to on-demand water heaters: limited flow rate.

Typically, hot water demand heaters at a rate of 2 to 4 gallons (7.6 to 15.2 liters) per minute. This flow rate may be sufficient if your home does not use hot water in more than one place at the same time (for example, showering and automatic laundry). To meet the demand for hot water when using multiple faucets, you can install demand heaters in parallel sequence. Although gas demand heaters can have higher flow rates than electric ones, they can waste energy even when the water is not heated if their pilot lights stay on. However, the amount of energy consumed by a pilot light is quite small.

TIP: Wayne says, “When buying a gas water heater, try to get one with a pilotless ignition. They save you money on gas. ”

On-demand tankless electric water heaters are available. The latter in size, from those mounted under a sink to the entire house. The small ones are ideal for that half bathroom without a bath or shower since you only have to run a line of cold water.

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Heat pump water heaters

Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of directly generating heat. To heat water in homes, heat pump water heaters like refrigerators in reverse.

Heat pump water heaters can buy integral units with built-in water storage tanks or as add-ons that can retrofit an existing water heater tank. These systems have a high initial cost. They can also be installed in devices that stay in the range of 40 to 90 degrees F (4.4 to 32.2 degrees C) year-round, and contain at least 1,000 cubic feet (28.3 cubic meters) of air space around the heaters. Water To operate more efficiently, they should be placed in areas with excess heat, such as oven rooms. They will not work well in a cold space.

Tankless coil and indirect water heaters

The space heating system in a house can also be used to heat water. Two types of water heaters using this system are indirect and tankless coil. You don’t need a separate storage tank in the tankless coil water heater because the water is heated directly inside the boiler in a hot water heating system. Water flows through a heat exchanger in the boiler every time a hot water tap is opened. During the colder months, the tankless coil works well because the heating system is used regularly. However, the system is less efficient during warmer months and in warmer climates when the boiler is used less frequently.

A separate storage tank with an indirect water heater is required. Like the tankless coil, the indirect water heater circulates the water through a heat exchanger in the boiler. But this heated water flows into an insulated storage tank. Because the boiler does not need to run frequently, this system is more efficient than the tankless coil. When using an indirect water heater with a highly efficient boiler, the combination can provide one of the least expensive methods of heating water.

Selection criteria

As with any purchase, balance the pros and cons of different water heaters in light of your particular needs. There are many factors to consider when choosing a new water heater. Some other considerations are capacity, efficiency, and cost.

Determining capacity

Although some consumers base their purchase on storage tank size, peak hour demand capacity, First Hour Qualification Indices (FHR) on the Energy Guide label, it is the most important figure. The FHR is a measure of the amount of hot water supplied by the heater during a busy hour and is required by law to specify this on the unit’s Energy Guide label. So, before you buy, calculate your home’s peak-hour demand and look for a unit with an FHR in that range.

Gas water heaters have higher FHRs than electric water heaters of the same storage capacity. Therefore, it is possible to meet your water heating needs with a gas unit that has a smaller storage tank than an electric unit with the same FHR. The most efficient gas water heaters use various non-standard provisions for the intake and exhaust of combustion air. However, these features can increase installation costs.

TIP: Wayne adds: “The size of the water heater is based on the FCF according to plumbing codes. The Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) establishes that the minimum size must comply with Table 5-1, which is Chapter 5, Table 1. It is determined by the number of bathrooms and rooms you have in your house. For example, a 3-bedroom, 2-bath home requires a 67-gallon FCF. Please note that these are minimal. If you have a large Roman tub like mine, you may want to go with a larger FCF. “

Rating efficiency

Once you have decided which type of water heater best suits your needs, determine which water heater in that category is the most fuel-efficient. The best indicator of a heater’s efficiency is its Energy Factor (EF), which is based on recovery efficiency (i.e. how efficiently heat is transferred from the energy source to the water), standby losses (i.e., the percentage of heat lost per hour from the stored water compared to the heat content of the water), and cycle losses.

The higher the EF, the more efficient the water heater will be. Electric resistance water heaters have an EF between 0.7 and 0.95. Gas heaters have an EF between 0.5 and 0.6, with some high-efficiency models around 0.8. Oil heaters range from 0.7 to 0.85, and heat pump water heaters range from 1.5 to 2.0. Manufacturers’ product documentation generally gives the appliance an EF rating. If not, you can get it by contacting an appliance manufacturer association. Some other energy efficiency features to look for are tanks with at least 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) of foam insulation and energy efficiency ratings shown on Energy Guide labels.

Cost comparison

Another overriding factor on the minds of many consumers is cost, which encompasses the purchase price and lifetime maintenance and operating costs. When choosing between different models, it is advisable to analyze the life cycle cost, the total of all costs and benefits associated with a purchase over its estimated useful life. EREC has more information on performing life cycle cost analysis.

However, units with longer warranties generally have higher prices. Often the least expensive water heater to buy is the most expensive to operate.

TIP: Wayne reminds you, “Please note that your existing water heater may still be covered under warranty if it is turned off and you can get substantial savings by replacing it with the manufacturer.”

Wayne McCarthy, a professional plumber, contributed to this article.

Looking to buy a water heater? See our Water Heater Buyer’s Guide.

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