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Water Heater Reviews

By: Carl Laron on September 12, 2016

Editor's Note:
Our research found that most of last year’s top-rated water heaters are this year’s as well. That’s not a surprise, as new efficiency rules that went into effect in 2015 led to a new generation of water heaters designed to meet them. Most have now accumulated enough owner feedback to confirm our earlier impressions.

Whirlpool 50T12-40DNG Review
Best Reviewed

Best gas water heater

The 50-gallon Whirlpool 50T12-40DNG gas water heater offers terrific efficiency and ample capacity for families of up to five people. It's backed by a lengthy 12-year warranty, and uses Whirlpool 6th Sense technology to tweak performance to deliver all the hot water you need with maximum efficiency. It's Energy Star Qualified, and environmentally friendly with features such as a low NOx burner for cleaner emissions. See our full review »

AO Smith GDHE-50-NG
Runners Up

Condensing gas hot water heater

AO Smith GDHE-50-NG

Though relatively expensive compared to conventional storage tank gas water heaters, condensing gas hot water heaters like AO Smith GDHE-50-NG can cut fuel costs by around 30 percent. Part of AO Smith's Vertex line, the GDHE-50-NG is Energy Star Qualified with a thermal efficiency of 96 percent. The 50 gallon tank can kick out enough hot water to run more than three showers at a time, or virtually unlimited back-to-back showers, making it ideal for high usage households.

GE GeoSpring GEH50DFEJSR Review
Best Reviewed

Best electric water heater

The GE GeoSpring GEH50DFEJSR offers tremendous energy savings compared to a conventional electric heater. In addition to conventional heating elements, it relies on a heat pump to heat water more efficiency. The GEH50DFEJSR has four operating modes, plus a vacation mode, so you can balance hot water production and electricity use. Digital controls and an easy-to-read display make it simple to use. Add an optional Wi-Fi module and you can control this 50 gallon hot water heater via a smartphone. See our full review »

Rheem XE40M06ST45U1 Review
Runners Up

Cheap electric water heater

Rheem XE40M06ST45U1

If budgets are tight, or you need a simple replacement for a standard electric water heater, the 40-gallon Rheem XE40M06ST45U1 looks like a good choice. Though not Energy Star Qualified, it meets current regulations for energy efficiency. Extras are sparse, and the warranty is just six years, but owner feedback is largely positive for this water heater and others in the Rheem Performance series, which includes models with capacities from 20 to 50 gallons.

Ecosmart ECO 27 Review
Best Reviewed

Best tankless water heater

The tankless Ecosmart ECO 27 is energy efficient and can produce enough hot water on demand to satisfy the needs of most families. Performance can vary depending on climate and water temperatures, but under ideal conditions, the ECO 27 can pump out enough hot water to feed four showers at once, and then some. It is a lot smaller than a conventional storage tank water heater, but you might need to rearrange the plumbing or budget for an electrician to complete the installation. See our full review »

Buy for $446.19

New regulations, new options cut energy costs, raise water heater prices

Improved water heater technologies that have emerged in recent years give homeowners looking to buy a new water heater more choices than ever before. Traditional storage tank gas and electric water heaters are still available -- and popular -- but those have now been joined by tankless water heaters; heat pump water heaters (also called hybrid water heaters); condensing gas water heaters; and more. Oil-fired water heaters are also still available, but experts say their higher up-front costs make them a bad deal for new installations. Fuel costs might also be higher, depending on local utility costs.

Updated National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) energy-efficiency regulations went into effect last year. These rules raised the minimum energy efficiency -- expressed as its Energy Factor (EF) -- for all types of water heaters currently being made. Manufacturers were allowed to continue to sell water heaters already produced until stocks are exhausted. But at this point, virtually all of the heaters you are likely to find at retail -- certainly from major vendors -- will meet those updated standards.

For most homes and families, a water heater of 55 gallons or less will be the right choice. For those, the new NACEA standards only required a small boost in efficiency -- about 4 percent says Marianne DiMascio of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). DiMascio adds that new standards were largely handled via small improvements in insulation and the like.

However, there are still some factors that shoppers should be aware of. One is that new NACEA-compliant water heaters are slightly larger than older models. The ACEEE says that a survey of manufacture websites showed that the new conventional water heaters (55 gallons and below) are typically an inch or two wider or taller than previous models to accommodate their higher level of insulation. That won't be an issue for most, but can be a problem for some looking to replace an existing water heater that's installed in a tight space, such as a closet. Experts also say that compliant water heaters will be a little costlier than earlier models, by around 20 percent.

If you are looking for a new water heater that's larger than 55 gallons, the impact of the NACEA is much more significant. The 2015 standard raised the minimum EF for those so much that traditional storage tank gas and electric models are no longer an option. Instead, you can consider installing two smaller water heaters or opting for a heater that uses a higher efficiency technology.

Types of water heaters

Storage tank heaters are the traditional water heaters that most are familiar with. They include a large storage tank that keeps water hot via a burner or heating element, fueled by gas or electricity, respectively. Regardless of the fuel source, traditional storage tank heaters are the least efficient type of water heater.

Hybrid electric and condensing gas water heaters are storage tank heaters as well, but they use newer technologies that can cut fuel costs considerably -- especially in the case of hybrid electric models. The downside is that these types of water heaters carry a hefty price premium over traditional storage-tank water heaters. However, their long-term payoff is also substantial. The ACEEE reports that a hybrid/heat-pump electric water heater can cut utility costs by more than 50 percent compared to a conventional storage tank water heater, while a condensing gas water heater can cut energy costs by about 25 percent. That can make these types of water heaters a good choice even if you are in the market for a smaller capacity unit. We cover these technologies and available models in more depth in our discussions of the best electric water heaters and best gas water heaters, elsewhere in this report.

Tankless water heaters are another option. These don't rely on a storage tank to supply heated water; instead, hot water is generated on demand. Some are designed to provide enough water for an entire home, while others are portable for outdoor showers and similar uses. Tankless water heaters can run on electricity or natural gas, depending on the model. Tankless water heaters are also covered by the latest efficiency standards but most were already efficient enough to not be significantly affected.

While tankless water heaters are much smaller than other types of water heaters, they are pricey and can be complicated to install. Inconsistent water temperature is another oft-cited complaint. However, in 2015 ConsumerReports.org published an article that was free to the public noting that a new generation of tankless water heaters promises to overcome many of these issues. Also in that article, author  Daniel DiClerico says that the site plans to test these claims in the future, though that review was still not online at the time of this update.

Finding the best water heaters

When it comes to water heaters, credible experts have plenty to say about types of water heaters, but are generally silent when it comes to recommending specific models. Because of that, the recommendations in this report are largely based on user feedback, some of which reflects months or years of use. In naming the best choices among gas, electric and tankless water heaters, we consider performance, energy efficiency and value.

Recently Updated
Water Heaters buying guide

What every best Water Heaters has:

  • Energy efficiency.
  • Ample hot water capacity.
  • Sufficient first hour rating (FHR).

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