What are my options when it comes to water heaters?
Electric, solar, conventional, gas heaters, tankless, hybrid and high-efficiency water heaters...it’s no surprise that it’s hard to know which option is best for you.
Most homeowners don’t realize that the number of water heater options is staggering. At Hamm and Sons, we like to keep things as simple as possible and will be focusing on two main types of water heaters for the purposes of this article.
Conventional storage tank
This type is most common and is the most easily recognized by most people. It features a storage tank that holds and heats water, the capacity of which can vary depending on what your family’s needs are. This style should be serviced twice a year to remove sediment, mineral scale and corrosion buildup. With proper maintenance, this type of water heater typically lasts 10–12 years; unmaintained, that lifespan can be expected to be shorter.
Conventional storage-tank water heaters are typically the most affordable and easy to install, but it can only hold a finite amount of hot water at one time. For families who have more demanding hot water needs, a larger capacity tank may be needed; when the hot water runs out, it may take up to an hour to heat another tankful.
A tankless water heater provides hot water on demand by using super-heated coils to heat and route the water as you need it. As the name suggests, this type of water heater does not have a storage tank, but you’ll still need to choose the size that’s right for your family – if you have a large family, you may need to consider installing more than one may unit in order to meet the demand.
Though they come with a higher initial investment, tankless water heaters are considered to be highly efficient, as water is heated on demand rather than being held and heated throughout the day. Tankless water heaters are available in both electric and gas, though electric models are not typically recommended, as they tend to demand large amounts of electricity and dramatically increase your household’s energy costs.
Tankless water heaters require annual maintenance, including heat exchanger flush, for proper operation and for the warranty to remain valid and must be done by licensed professional plumbers. Additionally, it is recommended by plumbing professionals to purchase and install a water softener, as hard water scale buildup compromises the inner workings of the heater. The typical lifespan of this type of water heater is 8–10 years.
What type of water heater is best?
More specifically: what type of water heater is best FOR YOU? The answer is going to depend on several factors, including the following:
Tank vs. tankless. This can come down to your personal preference, but your household’s demand for hot water should come into consideration.
Fuel type. Is your home equipped with gas fuel lines, or is it reliant completely on electricity? Typically, homeowners stick with the same fuel type as their old heater to avoid any need for renovation or retrofitting, but if it makes sense to switch, it could be a good investment down the road.
Capacity. Storage tank water heaters can range anywhere from 6- to 100- gallon capacities. Generally, a small household with just two or three members will find a 40- or 50-gallon tank sufficient for their needs. For larger households, a larger tank may be advised, increasing by 10 gallons per person. If you’re considering a tankless model, you’ll have to find out what the ideal flow rate for your household will be; this is determined by figuring out how much hot water is needed at any one given time.
First-hour rating (FHR). This is how much hot water you can get from your water heater in its first hour of operation; this figure is typically given in the product specifications or printed on the tank. Your ideal FHR should closely match the amount of water your family uses at the peak time of day, in which multiple sources of hot water are being used (shower, dishwasher, washing machine, etc.).
Energy efficiency. In a typical home, the water heater accounts for around 18% of the home’s electricity usage. If your water heater is older, it’s a good idea to consider upgrading to a more energy-efficient model.
Budget. The water heater you choose should meet your basic needs while working with your budget. Typically, storage tank water heaters are less costly than tankless models.
Warranty. Most manufacturers have a standard 6-year warranty, with some offering the option to purchase an extended warranty. Routine maintenance will extend the life of the water heater.
Overall cost. The cost of the water heater isn’t limited to the initial purchase. You have to figure installation costs into your budget as well as how it will impact your monthly energy costs.
If you’re still not sure which water heater to choose, the experts at Hamm and Sons can evaluate your unique situation and make helpful suggestions.
At what point should I look into replacing my water heater?
While there is no set age at which a water heater should be replaced, there are certain signs that it is time to replace your water heater, including the following:
There’s no hot water. Cold water is typically the first sign of a problem. If you’re not getting any hot water, and the problem persists, it may be time to replace the water heater. Though it could be a number of other factors, such as an unlit pilot (for gas models), it’s best to call a plumber and get a professional diagnosis.
It’s leaking. A water heater leak, generally speaking, is bad news. It could indicate that the inside of the tank is corroded, cracked or otherwise broken. We’d advise against trying to fix it yourself, as it is, at best, a short-term solution and could even be dangerous. Instead, have a plumber come out and look at it; it’s likely necessary to have it replaced, which should only be done by a professional.
Your water bill inexplicably skyrockets. A sudden increase in your water bill could indicate that your water heater is running inefficiently. Unchecked, this will cost you more and more over time. Give Hamm and Sons a call and our professionals will thoroughly inspect the situation and make recommendations based only on what you need, want and have the budget for.
Though most of the parts on a water heater – the heating elements, anode rod, thermostat, valves, etc. – are replaceable, the obstacle most often encountered is corrosion, making it difficult for the typical homeowner to work with them. The replaceable parts, once corroded, tend to become damaged and can easily break during removal. It’s always best to have a professional inspect the water heater and its main components and perform any needed repairs.
What does water heater maintenance involve?
Water heater maintenance is best done by professionals, though some minor actions can be performed by homeowners who are up for a challenge. Traditional storage tank models require semiannual checkups, which include checking the anode rod, changing as necessary, and flushing the unit every six months or so to prevent rust, corrosion and scale buildup. Tankless models require less maintenance, due to the absence of a tank, but any type of maintenance on tankless water heaters should always be performed by a licensed professional plumber.