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Choosing a Water Heater

on July 29, 2016

Choosing a Water HeaterHot water, while not as essential to life as clean water, is pretty important for modern living.  From washing dishes to taking a hot shower in the middle of winter, hot water gives us access to powerful and comfortable cleaning year round.  It might surprise you to know (or not) that water heaters come in more than just the electric tank style.  Learning to choose the water heater that’s the right combination of energy efficiency and convenience can be difficult, especially when choosing between both tank and tankless water heaters.  Let’s explain.

Tank vs Tankless Water Heaters

Most people are familiar with the traditional tank water heater.  Water is pumped into the tank, where a gas furnace or an electric heating element heats up the water and keeps it hot until it’s called for.  Tank storage provides a lot of hot water immediately, and gives you a little more control over just how hot you can get the water.  The drawback is that it takes a lot of energy to keep that water hot at all times.  Easily 30% of your utility bill is spent on heating.  You shouldn’t attempt to save money by reducing the temperature your tank is set to either.  Hot water tanks need to be kept hot to prevent bacteria and contaminants from growing in the water.

Tankless water heaters avoid the energy costs of storing water entirely.  The absence of the tank means no storage problems, less energy spent on heating stored water, and more space in your utility closet or garage.  When water is called for, the heating element inside the water heater begins to warm the water.  Rather than delivering a stored reserve of hot water, the water is heated as it’s sent, giving you consistent access to hot water. Of course, this means you’ll need to run your water for a little bit longer before the hot water arrives since you’ll be waiting on heating and travel time from heater to faucet.

And don’t worry about running out of hot water either.  Tankless water heaters don’t have a “stored supply” limit.  While they are limited by the amount of water they can deliver at one time, that limit is based on how fast a unit can heat up the water.  So the limit is in flow rate not the stored amount of water.

Electric, Gas, and Solar

Water heaters are also available in more than one style of heating system.  The fastest and most effective heating method is gas.  Especially when it comes to tankless systems, we recommend using a gas-heated system because they are faster and can deliver more hot water quickly.  Electric heating is useful for tank-storage systems and hybrid systems for an emergency heating boost.  Electric also has the advantage of working without a gas system if your home lacks one.

The final option is a solar water heater.  These systems are nearly energy-free since they use the sun’s heat to warm the water.  A water pump pushes water into a roof-tank that collects solar heat and warms the water.  While this system still works in the winter, it’s often best to supplement it with extra heating systems for those extended overcast weeks.


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