Water Heater Buying Guide: 7 Tips for Buying a Water Heater

Water Heater Buying Guide: 7 Tips for Buying a Water Heater

Like most people, you take your old faithful water heater for granted—until it stops working and that hot shower you were looking forward to isn’t happening. Unfortunately, with an average life of ten to fifteen years for water heaters, every homeowner faces water heater replacement sooner or later.

When that happens, it’s essential to know what your options are. Advances in technology and efficiency mean you have more water heater types to choose from than a few years ago.

This water heater buying guide—with water heater reviews, water heater brands, and water heater replacement cost—will help you make the right decision.

Water Heater Buying Guide
Water Heater Buying Guide

1. Water Heater Replacement

The simplest—and often the cheapest—way to go is to install the same size and type of water heater you had. But before you take that route, you should know your options.

The key factors you want to think about and compare are the different water heater types available today, water heater sizing and capacity, and energy efficiency.

You’ll be living with your water heater replacement for years to come, so do your research before jumping to a decision. Reaching out to a pro for advice and recommendations is always a good idea.

2. Storage Tank Heaters

Storage tank water heaters keep a ready supply of pre-heated water in a cylindrical tank. Proven and reliable, these water heaters are the most common. They use electricity or gas to heat the water in various gallon capacities.

The upside is that these heaters are simple to install and cheaper than other water heaters. Pricing varies based on construction (ceramic lining vs. stainless, for instance) and efficiency.

The most energy-efficient water heaters cost more upfront but offer added energy savings over the long run.

The downside is that these heaters require regular maintenance to prolong their lives, and you are paying to keep the water in the tank hot even when not running a faucet.

3. On-Demand Tankless Water Heaters

Using high-energy coils to heat water as needed rather than storing the heated water in a tank, tankless water heaters are more energy-efficient than tank heaters.

Tankless heaters capable of providing water for an average home (roughly seven to ten gallons per minute) are widely available. In addition, smaller tankless heaters can provide hot water individually for showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers.

Powered by electricity, natural gas, or propane, tankless heaters cost more upfront but delivery significant energy savings.

Switching to an electric tankless water heater may require expensive electrical upgrades to your service as the larger units can require multiple circuit breakers.

4. Solar Water Heaters

Taking advantage of free, abundant sunshine and being great for the environment are the top features of solar water heaters.

The solar panel heats a liquid similar to antifreeze circulating via a closed-loop to the tank where it heats the water. Solar water heaters typically use a backup system (electric or gas) to get the water hot enough during those inevitable cloudy periods.

Significant energy savings offset higher upfront and installation costs. The payback period is typically 15 to 25 years depending on available tax rebates.

5. Heat Pump Hybrid Water Heaters

These heaters work like a refrigerator but in reverse. Instead of extracting heat, they draw in heat from the surrounding air (requiring about 1,000 cubic feet of air space), heat it further, and use it for heating the water in the tank.

Although requiring up to seven feet of vertical height (the heat pump is on top of the tank), heat pump water heaters are highly efficient, saving up to 60 percent vs. a standard electric tank heater.

Their higher initial cost is more than offset by energy savings over a relatively short period.

6. Water Heater Size And Capacity

Correctly sizing your water heater is essential. You don’t want to pay for the ability to produce more hot water than you’ll need, nor do you want to run out while you’re in the shower!

For tank heaters, 40 to 50 gallons is generally sufficient for two to four people. With more than four people, upgrading to a 55 gallon or larger tank is required.

There are readily available guides for simple water heating sizing calculations on heat pump hybrid systems and on-demand tankless systems.

7. Water Heater Brands And Efficiency

Quality storage tank heaters are available from several manufacturers, with A. O. Smith and Rheem being the most prominent suppliers. These—and tanks from other top manufacturers, including G.E., Westinghouse, and Whirlpool—are available from all of the major big box stores and other outlets.

Navien and Rinnai’s on-demand tankless water heaters are well-recommended for both their high efficiency and excellent warranties and are widely available.

Other manufacturers include Bosch, EcoSmart, Noritz, Rheem, Stiebel Eltron, and Titan.

Balancing your water heater’s annual operating cost with the purchase price is essential. While saving money on the purchase often sounds appealing, it might end up costing more in the long run if the heater is not as energy efficient.

For energy efficiency details, every water heater has a federally required yellow and black Energy Guide label. This will give you a good idea of the average annual operating costs. Weighing these figures for different models will help you calculate initial cost vs. long-term energy savings trade-offs.

Look too for Energy Star labels indicating a highly efficient unit. Many Energy Star natural gas units qualify for state rebates, too. And f you’re switching from an electric water heater to a gas water heater, you are eligible for a state rebate.

Getting to the Bottom of the Tank

When it’s time to replace your water heater, doing your research can save you money over the long run. Water heater replacement can be straightforward—replace what you have, or better yet, start looking at alternative options.

There are plenty of choices and today’s water heaters are far more efficient than they were just a few years ago, saving you money over the long run. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about how to replace a water heater. Give us a call!

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