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The Whirlpool N40S61-403, 40 Gallon gas water heater offers the most bang for your buck

Gas water heaters are gaining popularity for their efficiency and low operating costs, thanks to the lower price of natural gas in many parts of the country. Experts at ConsumerReports.org say gas models cost about half as much to run compared to electric, although they do cost a bit more upfront. If you can install a gas line at a decent cost or already have natural gas service in your home, gas water heaters are easy to install and provide significant savings over time.

Gas units also heat water faster than electric models; you'll have more hot water available during peak usage. This also means users can get by with a smaller (storage) tank. The Whirlpool N40S61-403, 40 Gallon (Est. $420) , for example, doesn't cost more than most standard electric models and has an adequate capacity for meeting the needs of the average family.

Owners say the Whirlpool N40S61-403 is simple to install -- two hours or less, even if you're not a professional -- and it's so quiet you can't even tell it's running. Owners posting feedback to Lowes.com say there's a noticeable difference in their energy bills after using this water heater, and many advise taking advantage of Lowe's periodic free installation offers.

The biggest downside to the Whirlpool is that there are some durability issues. A few owners report malfunctioning parts and difficulty getting repair service. The Whirlpool N40S61-403 has a six-year warranty.

If you don't mind spending a bit more money, the Rheem 42VR40-40F, 40 Gallon (Est. $460) has a solid brand reputation and is known for durability; one owner at DoItYourself.com says he had a Rheem model that lasted 46 years. Additionally, in a survey by BuilderOnline.com of more than 3,400 building contractors, Rheem ranks second as the most-used brand and earns an average quality rating of 4.12 out of 5 -- coming in third after Rinnai Tankless and Nortiz.

The Rheem 42VR40-40F has a 40-gallon capacity and an Energy Factor of 0.62, just 0.05 point lower than the 0.67 needed for Energy Star qualification. Still, owners posting reviews to sites like Amazon.com say they've noticed a considerable drop in energy usage, and some even say their gas bills are lower than with an older gas water heater.

Like the Whirlpool N40S61-403, the Rheem is powered by natural gas or propane, both of which have lower average prices nationwide than electricity. A First Hour rating of 68 gallons means this unit produces 67 gallons of hot water within the first hour -- more than enough to accommodate multiple consecutive showers while other appliances, such as dishwashers, are also running. The Rheem's recovery rate is between 34 and 40 gallons per hour, depending on the type of fuel used.

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Rheem 42VR40-40F High Efficiency Natural Gas Water Heater, 40 Gallon
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