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How to Find the Best Water Heater
A water heater is one of the most important purchases you can make for your home. If you’re renovating your home and it needs a lot of work, getting the right water heater is imperative. A decent water heater will help you to be more efficient and make a living in your home every day more enjoyable. Alternatively, you might be wanting to replace a broken water heater; in which case, you’ll want to find a reliable model quickly to get things up and running again.
They’re a big purchase, however. A right water heater, plus installation, can cost thousands of dollars. So, how do you find the best water heater? We’re going to have a look at the different types of water heater, considering the differences between them, and then examine a few of the best models you could choose from.
Why is a Good Water Heater Important?
A water heater uses an energy source of some kind to heat water above its natural temperature. The plumbing system circulates cold water into the tank and hot water out of it.
A thermostat in the tank of a traditional gas-powered water heater monitors the temperature of the water. If it falls below a certain level, it sends a signal for heat. The ignitor (if applicable) gets the signal and generates sparks, at the same time that the gas valve opens. The water then heats up until the temperature reaches the correct point again. A venting system creates circulation, which is essential for safety purposes.
A thermocouple is used in water heaters with a standing pilot. This keeps the gas valve open when the pilot light is on and switches it off when it goes out. Meanwhile, tankless heaters only work when you turn on the water, using a sensor that can tell when water is flowing.
Generally, in a home, people use a centralized hot water system. This means all the hot water in the house comes from the same tank. Larger buildings use a point-of-use (POU) system, which lessens the wait for hot water.
In the US, hot water tanks are most commonly powered by gas, as it’s usually the cheapest option and most towns and cities are already set up for it. Hot water heaters can be powered by electricity, solar power, propane, and heating oil, too.
As you will know, hot water can get expensive quickly, especially if you have a lot of people using it throughout the day. Think about how often you switch on the hot tap: to run a bath, to wash your hands, to wash your dishes in the kitchen, to hop in the shower … not to mention the appliances you run every day, like washing machines and dishwashers, as well as the hot water that flows through your pipes and warms up your home (anyone in colder climates knows how vital that is). A good water heater will work in the most efficient way possible, helping you to keep those costs down.
They also need to be safe. The safer your hot water heater is, the better. This is especially true if you’re using a gas-powered water heater – it should have the latest safety features in order to protect you and your family.
There are a few different types of water heater – how do you find the one that is most suitable for your home? We’ll give you an overview of each type, with pros and cons, to help you decide.
Conventional Storage Water Heater
A conventional storage heater comes in a variety of sizes, usually between twenty and one hundred gallons. It holds water at a certain temperature until you switch on a tap or start up an appliance, at which point water flows through the pipes. As a result, older models can suffer from standby heat loss – newer models are thickly insulated to help prevent this, however. They last for around 10-15 years, as they don’t tend to have parts that wear out quickly.
These are a popular choice, as they’re lower in cost than some of the other types. They tend to be cheaper to repair, too, and they’re fairly easy to install.
Regular maintenance will help your water heater to last longer. You will need to flush the water regularly, as well as to check on the temperature and pressure valves every few months. Check the manufacturer’s instructions to see how to do this.
Pros of Conventional Storage Water Heaters
- Fairly cheap to buy, install, and repair
- Tend to come with a decent warranty
- Allows you to use more than one hot water source at a time
Cons of Conventional Storage Water Heaters
Not as efficient – they suffer from standby heat loss issues, which is a waste of energy.
Hybrid Water Heater
A hybrid water heater is a clever system that combines a conventional storage water heater with a heat pump. This helps the heater to extract heat from the air to heat the water-saving you a lot of money over time (up to 60% – this is a huge amount of money, and you will see the difference in your bills right away). Reducing energy isn’t just good for your bills – it’s better for the environment, too.
They have four operating modes:
- Auto – the normal setting for your daily use
- Efficiency – uses the heat pump alone, reducing costs
- Electric/heater – uses the electric element alone. Good for when you need to use a lot of hot water
- Sleep – this helps to save costs when you’re on vacation or away from home for a while
The only problem is that they don’t have the same lifespan as a conventional storage heater, meaning you’ll have to replace it more quickly, and they may also be a little more expensive to repair. The initial cost is higher than the other types, too. They’re also only suitable for use in warmer climates, and you may need a little more space to install it.
Pros of Hybrid Water Heaters
- Can save a huge amount of money on your energy bills immediately
- Different settings help to keep the costs down
Cons of Hybrid Water Heaters
- Can only be used in warmer climates
- A little more expensive to repair, and will need to be replaced more often
- The initial cost is high compared to other types of water heater
Tankless Water Heater
Gaining in popularity, tankless water heaters do not require a large space for a tank. It consists of a small heater, which only heats water as it is needed. It provides a continuous water supply – so your showers can be as long as you like.
Because they’re fairly easy to fix, the maintenance costs are lower than other types. They tend to have pretty good lifespans – 15-20 years, saving you money on having to replace them more often.
They’re also efficient – they could lower your bills by up to 30%. It could be a good option for you if you don’t live in a warm enough area for a hybrid water heater, but you’d like to save money on your bills.
Pros of Tankless Water Heaters
- Could lower bills by up to 30%
- No need to have space for a big water tank
- Good lifespan
- Low maintenance costs
Cons of Tankless Water Heaters
- The heater itself requires power to operate
- You will need to upgrade your pipes, as they don’t tend to use the same vent or gas pipe as a conventional water heater – this can really increase the installation cost
- You may not be able to use several sources of hot water at once
- You cannot store hot water – if there is a power cut, for example, you won’t be able to get hot water
- May take longer to install than other models – which isn’t great if you desperately need a new water heater
Solar Water Heater
A solar water heater is a great eco-friendly option to consider. Of course, these are dependent on where you live – cloudy days may be a problem, so if you live in an area that doesn’t see much sun, it might be worth considering having another system in place.
The obvious pro of a solar water system is that it saves you money – you’re harvesting energy from the sun, a totally free resource. It’s great for the environment, as it saves using fossil fuels to heat your home. It’s also pretty low maintenance, with an excellent life span of around 20 years.
They do have downsides, however. You cannot use a solar heater to power electrical appliances – you’d have to install a photovoltaic energy system to do that, which involves more expense to install.
You can choose a passive or active solar water heater. Passive solar water heaters have a longer lifespan and cost less and are a bit more reliable. Active solar water heating systems are more efficient, as they have circulating pumps and controls to heat water in your home.
Pros of Solar Water Heaters
- Can help to reduce your bills
- Environmentally friendly
- Very low maintenance
- Long lifespan
Cons of Solar Water Heaters
- Initial expense
- Passive water heaters are not as reliable
- May not work on cloudy days – will need a backup option
- Quite expensive to set up, especially if you want to use solar power with your appliances
Condensing Water Heaters
Condensing water heaters funnel heated gas from the natural gas system. It then uses that to heat water in the tank. It’s a clever system, utilizing energy that you’re already using (like when you’re using an oven). This leads to lower heating costs, and it’s much better for the environment. They are, however, slightly more expensive during the initial purchase.
Pros of Condensing Water Heaters
- Efficient – uses energy from natural gas that you’re already using
- Could help you to save money
Cons of Condensing Water Heaters
- If you have a large home with a lot of people, it may not be enough for your needs
- Can be quite expensive to buy
Should I Install a Water Heater Myself?
The installation costs of a new water heater can be pretty expensive. If you’re renovating your home, you may be keen to keep costs down as much as possible by trying to install it yourself. Is it a good idea, however?
Firstly, you need to be confident in your abilities. Reading the manual thoroughly and watching YouTube tutorials can really help with this. However, it does help if you have general DIY knowledge. It’s a good idea to make a step-by-step plan before you start – and if you are unsure about any of it, it may be worth paying for some outside help (or calling someone you know who is more experienced).
Secondly, it depends on the water heater that you have chosen. A traditional gas-powered water heater is easier to install than, say, a solar water heating system. If a water heater is particularly complicated to install, it’s probably better to leave it to a professional.
What Are the Signs That I Need a New Water Heater?
There are a few signs to look out for that your water heater is on the way out:
- The age of the unit – like a hot water heater ages, it starts to wear out, causing it to work less efficiently. Check how old it is – if it’s a conventional storage water heater and it’s coming up for 20 years, you know it’s nearly time to replace it.
- Noise – a particularly noisy heater is annoying, inconvenient, and a pretty good sign that it needs to be replaced soon. If you start to hear groaning, creaking noises as your water heater kicks in, it may have hardened sediment on the bottom – this wastes money, as it causes the heater to work less efficiently.
- Leaks – you may notice water leaking from your tank. This means there could be a small crack somewhere in the tank. It’s worth getting it checked out to make sure it can’t be repaired, but if it’s particularly old, it might be worth just replacing it.
- Lack of water – The sediment build-up we mentioned earlier may cause you to have less hot water than usual. If this starts to happen, it may be time to replace it.
- Discolored/rusty water – your water heater may be rusting on the inside if you start to see rusty water whilst running a hot tap. This is obviously a big problem and you will need to replace your heater.
- Lots of repair work – if you’ve had your water heater for a long time and you’re starting to have it repaired regularly, it may be more cost-efficient to replace it with a new one.
Features to Look Out for When Buying a Water Heater
Here are a few things you will want to consider when looking for a new water heater:
This is an obvious one but by far the most important. Check what safety features the model you’re considering has – does it have good ventilation? Does it have a sensor alert for leakages?
How efficient is the model you’re considering? It should be well-insulated, which will help to prevent heat loss. It should have anti-sediment protection – a layer of sediment can collect in the bottom of the tank, which will impact the lifespan of the water heater.
Glass-lined tanks also help to reduce corrosion. Water heaters have an efficiency rating, known as EF (energy factor). This should be clearly marked, so you can see how efficient your heater is compared to other models. The higher the number, the more efficient it is – a gas water heater usually ranges from 0.57 to 0.62.
Water heaters with a good energy efficiency rating can qualify for the Energy Star rebate – you can get a tax rebate of up to $500 if you choose an energy star qualified water heater. This depends on the area you live in, however – it’s best to check this beforehand.
If you’re on a tight budget, it can be tempting to buy a cheaper model. However, if you can afford it, a water heater with a longer lifespan will help you to save money in the long run. As we mentioned earlier, anti-sediment protection can lengthen the lifespan of your water heater. Also, consider looking for a model with brass drain valves instead of plastic – this will help it to last longer.
The size of the tank will depend on how many people live in your home and how many appliances you run. If you’re single, for example, and you travel a lot and are away from home, you will need a smaller tank than a couple with three teenagers! The usual size is 40-55 gallons, which is enough to run appliances, take showers, and run hot taps for an average family. For guidance, a shower uses roughly 10 gallons of water, while hand washing will use 4 gallons.
Every water heater has an emissions rating – the lower this is, the better it is for the environment. This is key if you’re wanting to make a greener choice.
A water heater, with installation, can cost anything between $600-$2,000 – obviously, the costs will vary depending on the type you buy, as well as your location and who you employ to install it for you. Check how efficient the model you’re considering is – over time, you can save a lot of money if you look for a particularly efficient model.
The recovery rate is expressed in GPH (gallons per hour). The higher the recovery rate, the more appliances you can run at once. This is important if you have multiple people using showers or taps in the mornings!
Residents of California and Utah – Ultra NOx
If you live in Utah, or some areas of California, you will need to buy a water heater that comes under the category of Ultra NOx. NOx stands for Nitrogen Oxide, which contributes to air pollution. Check to see if the model you’re considering comes under that category – it’s a legal requirement, so you need to make sure your model is compliant.
Rheem PROG50-40N-RH62 – Best Conventional Storage Water Heater
A conventional storage heater is a great choice if you’re on a budget, due to low installation and maintenance costs, as well as their long life-span. The Rheem PROG50-40N-RH62 is a great choice, as it has a long life span. It holds 50 gallons of water, which is about right for the average household. It is tall and slim, designed to save space in your home.
A great feature is that it’s very low-maintenance – you don’t have to change any filters, meaning that it’s very low-effort to take care of. In terms of safety, it has a sensor that monitors air/fuel and shuts off the heater if the ratio is wrong. In case something does go wrong, it has a 6-year warranty – that’s not as long as other models, unfortunately.
It uses natural gas and works with a two-pipe system: one pulls in outside air for combustion, and the other exhales combustion gases. It’s pretty efficient, at 0.58-0.62. It also runs very quietly, which is great. It has a glass lining, which will help it to last longer.
The only problem is that it isn’t great for families with more than four people – you’ll need to look for a different model if that isn’t what you’re looking for.
Specifications for the Rheem PROG50-40N-RH62
- Weight: 162 pounds
- Size: 20 x 20 x 50 inches
- Capacity: 50 gallons
- Warranty: 6 years
- Efficiency: 0.58-0.62
Pros of the Rheem PROG50-40N-RH62
- Tall, slim size means you need less space for it
- Runs quietly
- Low emissions
- Low maintenance
Cons of the Rheem PROG50-40N-RH62
- Only suitable for a family of 4
- Only has a 6-year warranty
Rheem Prestige Series – Best Hybrid Water Heater
If you’re looking for a hybrid water heater, Rheem is, again, a very good choice. In terms of efficiency and emissions, it’s really a great option. The Rheem Prestige series is very highly regarded – according to Rheem, it can help you to save up to $4,000 in energy costs over a ten-year period.
It can be controlled via a mobile app. This is actually a great feature, especially if you travel a lot or you’re going on a long vacation. You can clearly see your energy savings using the app. It also uses new technology to tell you, via the app, if you have a leak – it detects water outside the unit and sends you a message about it. It sends you maintenance reminders, too. It also works with a Nest thermostat, a smart device that helps you to save money by monitoring your energy usage.
The really impressive thing about this model, however, is that it has a 3.5 Energy Factor – which easily qualifies for the Energy Star, possibly enabling you to claim a $500 tax rebate. The 80-gallon version is great for a busy household using lots of appliances. It has a 10-year warranty, which is reassuring. It also runs quietly, even when you’re using multiple hot water sources at once.
Specifications for the Rheem Prestige Series 80-Gallon
- Weight: 262lb
- Size: 24.25 x 74 x 24.25
- Capacity: 80 gallons
- Warranty: 10 years
- Efficiency: 3.70
Pros of the Rheem Prestige Series 80-Gallon
- Impressive efficiency will save you a lot of money
- Clever app allows you to control your heater while you’re away from home, and also detects leaks and sends you maintenance alerts
- Runs quietly
- Low emissions
Cons of the Rheem Prestige Series 80-Gallon
- On the pricier side, especially the installation
- Doesn’t have a timer
Rinnai RUC98In Ultra Series – Best Tankless Water Heater
This is another good energy-efficient choice – it is Energy Star certified, with an EF of 0.95 – as far as tankless water heaters go, it’s one of the most efficient out there. It also counts as NOx efficient.
It’s on the expensive side, especially if you want to have it professionally installed – users report that it can be difficult to install at home. However, it runs very quietly. You can run multiple appliances at once with no issues, and it only operates when hot water is needed, saving you money. It also has a temperature lock, which stops unexpected changes to the temperature settings.
It does offer a generous warranty – a 12-year or 12,000 hours on heat exchanger, 5-year on parts, 1-year on labor. Check this carefully before attempting to install it yourself – incorrect installation may void the warranty.
Specifications for the Rinnai RUC98In Ultra Series
- Weight: 64lb
- Size: 11.5 x 26.4 x 18.5
- Capacity: N/A
- Warranty: Limited 15 year/12,000 hours on heat exchange/5 years parts/1 year labor
- Efficiency: 0.93
Pros of the Rinnai RUC98In Ultra Series
- Fairly efficient
- NOx efficient
- Qualifies for the Energy Star rebate
- Generous warranty
- Works really well even when running several appliances at once
Cons of the Rinnai RUC98In Ultra Series
- Installation can be tricky, and pricy if you pay for it to be done professionally
- Some users say it can take a little while to get the hot water flowing
SunBank 40 Gallon Solar Water Heater – Best Solar Powered Water Heater
If you’re looking for a solar water heater, they’re a little trickier to find. SunBank is a company that specializes in solar power, and they have great customer service – users reported that SunBank is really supportive in trying to figure out your solar power needs. Others found they were able to install the system themselves.
The 40-gallon model is designed for households with 1-3 people – they also do an 80-gallon model, if necessary. The price is pretty high, however – you may decide it’s worth it if you live in a particularly sunny area and you want to save on your energy bills, but this is definitely something to be mindful of.
It works by collecting solar energy into heat, using evacuated tube solar collectors. This then heats up your water in a highly insulated tank, until you are ready to use it. A good feature is that it has no moving parts that can wear down after time: this means less maintenance for you.
Depending on where you live, this will either be a viable option or a definite no-no – if you don’t see a lot of sun then there’s really not much point, as the initial outlay is so high. However, if you live in a sunny area, you should eventually recoup your costs, and the lifespan is so good that you won’t have to worry about replacing it for a long time. For some, the satisfaction of getting free hot water is well worth the one-off purchase.
Specifications for the SunBank 40 Gallon Solar Water Heater
- Weight: 180lb
- Size: 68 x 48 x 60
- Capacity: 40 gallons
- Warranty: 10-year warranty on the collector, 1-year warranty on all other components
- Efficiency: Not on a scale – it is SRCC certified, however, and eligible for 30% federal tax credit
Pros of the SunBank 40 Gallon Solar Water Heater
- Free hot water once you’re up and running
- SRCC Certified
- Generous warranty
- Good customer service
Cons of the SunBank 40 Gallon Solar Water Heater
- The initial outlay is expensive
- Not a completely reliable system if you live in variable weather conditions
Noritz NRCP112 – Best Condensing Water Heater
If you want a condensing water heater, this is a good choice. It can produce up to 11 gallons of water per minute, but it’s still very efficient – it has an EF rating of 0.94, which is great. It has two modes – external mode keeps the water warm in the pipes, reducing the wait time, while internal mode keeps the water in the unit warm.
It’s a tankless water heater, recommended for a 4-bath building in southern climates, or a 3-bath building in northern climates.
With great reviews and a fairly low installation cost, this could be a really great choice for you.
Specifications for the Noritz NRCP112
- Weight: 85lb
- Size: 27.6 x 17.3 x 14.8
- Capacity: N/A
- Warranty: 12 years limited heat exchanger warranty (for residential use only), 5-year limited parts warranty, 1-year reasonable labor
- Efficiency: 0.93
Pros of the Noritz NRCP112
- Not too expensive to set up
- Very efficient
- Generous warranty
Cons of the Noritz NRCP112
May not work if you have a large home with lots of people in colder climates
FAQ’s About Water Heaters
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about water heaters:
How do I maintain my water heater?
Water heaters do require a little bit of maintenance, depending on what type you buy. Water heaters with tanks can suffer from sediment build up in the bottom – this is alleviated by flushing through the water occasionally. You may also need to check the pressure valves periodically to make sure everything is in correct working order.
Do water heaters leak?
Generally, they shouldn’t. A leak may indicate an issue with pressure, or perhaps a crack in the tank. Check the manufacturer’s instructions if this occurs.
What does it cost to replace a water heater?
Depending on the type you go for, it can cost anything between $800-$3,000 (with installation).
Can a water heater be in a closet?
They can, but you need to be mindful of ventilation – they must be properly ventilated at all times. Again, it’s worth checking the manufacturer’s instructions before installing it.
Can I store things near a water heater?
It’s best not to for ventilation reasons – they need a certain amount of space around them.
Can a water heater be repaired?
Yes. Water heaters can be repaired if necessary. However, if you’re constantly calling for the repairman, it may be more economically viable to replace it, especially if it’s an older model.
Should I replace my water heater before it fails?
That’s really a personal decision. If a water heater reaches 10 years old, it may be worth considering it at least. It’s always good to have a plan in place should it fail, at any rate.
It’s difficult to choose a ‘winner’ out of these choices – different households will need different things from a water heater. However, the Rheem Prestige series of water heaters are very highly rated – and they incorporate a lot of great technology to help you to be more efficient with your energy usage. It’s definitely worth checking them out, in our opinion.
Hopefully, at least one of these options will be a good choice for you, and now you feel prepared when you start the daunting task of looking for (and installing!) a new water heater. Taking the time to choose, and properly install, a good water heating system is vital for everybody’s enjoyment of your home.
Whether you choose to go for a traditional storage water heater to save yourself on installation costs, or you live in a sunny place and want to install solar heating to get totally free hot water for you and your family, you should be able to find an efficient, cost-effective water heater that suits your needs.
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