What the best water
- Energy efficiency. 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. Among electric water heaters, those that use heat pump capacity offer
considerable energy savings -- certainly enough to offset their higher cost in
just a few years. Tankless water heaters are another energy efficient choice,
but they have some minuses that might not make them a perfect fit for every
situation. Regardless of the type or fuel source, all new water heaters are
subject to NACEA energy
efficiency regulations that went into effect in April 2015.
- Ample hot water
capacity. The right-sized
water heater will provide your family with all the hot water it needs, while
costing less in terms of upfront price and energy consumption. As an example, a
40 gallon hot water heater will supply enough to meet the needs of a typical
family of four. When sizing a tankless hot water heater, consider both your
family's needs and your climate.
- Sufficient first 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 get during peak usage times in your home. Online calculators can
help you determine what FHR you need.
- Low NOx. Natural gas
fuels produce nitrogen oxide pollutants. Models with a low NOx rating emit less
into the surrounding air. Some areas of California require ultra-low NOx water
heaters, so California residents should check the regulations before selecting
- High 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.
- High flow rate. This figure refers to the number of gallons of hot water per
minute (GPM) the water heater can produce. Clearly, higher flow rates are
useful in many situations.
- A good 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 to
12 or more years.
Know before you
How 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. Water heaters that comply with the 2015 NACEA regulations may have more insulation than older models, and
hence might be taller or wider than a heater they are replacing. Check the
specs before buying if clearances are tight.
Do you have existing natural-gas service to your home? If you're purchasing a gas water heater, you'll need natural gas
service to your home. If you don't already have it, consider the additional
installation costs. Gas heaters that run on liquid propane are also available
Consider your electrical needs. Residential
water heaters typically require electricity to run. In the case of a gas
heater, that's standard 115 volt service for the ignition system -- and some
just plug in to a convenient outlet. Electric heaters, including tankless
electric heaters, require 220 volt service, and a dedicated line that's rated
sufficiently to handle their current draw.
Consider your venting. Gas water
heaters have to be vented to the outside. This can be handled in many ways, as
outlined in this About.com article. Be aware that even when replacing
one gas water heater with another, local building codes might have made changes
since your last installation. The best advice is to consult a licensed plumber
to be sure that venting is done safely and adequately.
What about solar water heaters? Solar water heaters are also available. Most use solar energy as a supplement
to other fuel sources as sunlight can be unpredictable, but Energy.gov notes that they can still save owners enough money to pay for themselves over
time. Newer technologies are making strides in both harvesting more sunlight
and storing that energy for later use, ensuring a more constant fuel supply. This article on solar heaters discusses a few different technologies and
collection systems currently used for solar water heaters.