How to Buy a Water Heater
Updated August 2013
best water heater has
fuel. Natural gas
is more affordable in most areas of the country than electricity, and because
it's more efficient, gas water heaters cost less to run. Hybrid models use
heat-pump technology for even greater efficiency.
tank capacity. The best storage-tank water heaters have at least
a 40-gallon capacity, while some boast up to 80 gallons. Tankless water heaters
don't require storage tanks at all, however. Tankless water heaters eliminate
the issues of heat loss and running out of hot water, according to GreenBuildingAdvisor.com.
Factor rating. The Energy
Factor (EF) rating is a calculation used to qualify appliances for Energy Star
certification. The minimum required EF is 0.67; some models have EFs up to 2.5.
Energy Star-rated appliances are more efficient; they'll use less energy to
operate and often have a lower operating cost, as well.
Hour rating (FHR). The First Hour
rating is based on the hot water stored in the tank plus the amount of incoming
cold water that can be heated in an hour. The higher the rating, the more hot
water you can achieve during peak usage times in your home. Online calculators
can help you determine what FHR you need.
NOx. Natural gas
fuels produce nitrous oxide pollutants. Models with a low NOx rating emit less
into the surrounding air.
recovery rate. The recovery
rate refers to how quickly the water heater can produce more hot water after
the initial supply has diminished. A low recovery rate means you may be waiting
awhile, or taking a cold shower once you use the initial supply.
rate. This figure
refers to the number of gallons of hot water per minute the water heater can
produce. Clearly, higher flow rates are useful in many situations. Thermal efficiency. Displayed as a percentage, thermal
efficiency is a calculation of the amount of hot water generated based on the
energy input. The higher the thermal efficiency, the better.
vent. A power vent
removes the exhaust gases from the heat production to a specified area.
Direct-vent water heaters, those without power vents, simply release these
gases into the ambient air.
heaters with temperature-control options allow you to specify how hot you want
- Warranty. Choose a water heater with at least
a six-year warranty. Some warranties cover only the tank and parts, and most
brands that cover labor limit it to just one year. The best water heaters come
with warranties of 10 or more years.
before you go
much space do you have? Water heaters vary in height and diameter. If you're
moving up in tank size, you'll need to make sure you have enough space for the
larger capacity. Also, some water heaters require a certain amount of
surrounding air (usually heat-pump or hybrid types), so you'll need to plan for
appropriate cubic square footage requirements.
you have existing natural-gas service to your home? If you're purchasing a gas water
heater, you'll need natural gas or liquid propane service to your home. If you
don't already have it, consider the additional installation costs.
you have at least a 200-amp electrical service? Electric tankless water heaters
typically require at least 200-amp electrical service. Upgrading your existing
service can be an expensive undertaking, so consider these additional costs in
you have an existing power vent setup? Water heaters require a specific vent
size. If you already have a power vent setup, make sure it's adequate
ventilation for what your new water heater requires.
expectations: The dollars and cents of it
There's more to consider when it comes to buying a water heater than
upfront cost. Some models have specific requirements for natural-gas service or
electrical service; home modifications before installation may be required. The
ongoing cost of ownership in relation to fuel prices and energy savings should
be carefully weighed and compared to setup cost.
Solar water heaters are entering the market. However, most use solar
energy as a supplement to other fuel sources as sunlight can be unpredictable. Newer
technologies are making strides in both harvesting more sunlight and storing
that energy for later use, ensuring a more constant fuel supply. Energy.gov discusses
a few different technologies and collection systems currently used for solar
There are two primary types of solar water heaters: passive and active.
The latter uses a system of circulating pumps and controls. They cost more
upfront and because they're more complex, take one to two days to install.
However, Your News Now reports some solar water heaters can save home owners between 50 and 80 percent
on hot water heating bills.
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