Water Heaters

Understanding Different Types of Water Heaters and How to Choose

Electric water heater with thermostat panels removed and connected breaker box open.

Every homeowner needs reliable, on-demand hot water. But when selecting a water heater for your home, hot water availability isn’t the only important consideration.

Size, efficiency, fuel source, tanked vs. un-tanked, and cost are factors that make a difference when choosing the right fit for your home and needs.

Learn more about the many different water heater types, and how to choose the right one for you!

The Different Types of Water Heaters

These are the most common types of water heaters:

  • Conventional tank. The most common and most affordable, these models have the familiar tank shape and are powered by electricity or gas. These heaters have a storage tank that can hold anywhere from 20 to 100 gallons of water. Because of this, tank water heaters maintain a large amount of pre-heated, instantly available hot water. But as homeowners know, the hot water will eventually run out and need time for recovery.
  • Tankless. Because these units don’t have holding tanks, they are much more energy efficient; they don’t use any energy until the moment a hot water tap is opened. While still fueled by gas or electricity, these models instead use super-heated coils to rapidly heat cold water and provide an endless supply of hot water whenever needed. They’re typically more expensive to buy than traditional tank heaters but cost less to operate.
  • Hybrid/heat pump. These electric-only models still have a traditional tank but use a heat pump that draws heat from the ambient air to heat the water, so they use very little electric power. This advantage makes them significantly more efficient than conventional tank heaters. They cost more, but federal incentives are in place to make these models more widely affordable.
  • Condensing. These units use unused waste gas to preheat the water in the storage tank. The way it works is they have a second heat exchanger that captures most of the exhaust from a water heater before it’s ventilated. Because the gas is reused and the water isn’t stored, but instead heated right away, it’s one of the most efficient options. These units, however, are larger and more costly upfront.
  • Combination boiler. Combined with a boiler, these units heat the home through radiant heating as well as provide hot water. This makes them a more compact and efficient option for smaller spaces, especially if you already have radiant heating or need a new heater. They can run on gas, oil, or electricity.
  • Point-of-use. As the name implies, these models only provide hot water to one point of use. In other words: directly to individual plumbing fixtures. They have small storage tanks and are generally less efficient than whole-home water heaters. Most units are electrically powered, but some run on gas.
  • Solar. As expected, these models rely primarily on solar energy to power the unit. This makes them highly efficient, but more costly and less fitting for every climate. Like conventional tanks, these models have a storage tank with ready-to-use hot water. These require rooftop solar panels to power the unit but also have a gas or electric plug-in backup fuel system.

How to Choose a Water Heater

Although there are several different water heater options available, not all of them are suitable for every home and need. Here are some things to consider and what to look for in a water heater:

  • Cost. The higher upfront cost of some water heaters may not be feasible for every budget. Something to consider, however, is that more costly units are typically more efficient overall by being less expensive to operate. This means that you’ll be saving more money in the long run by reducing energy bills, water waste, and in some cases limited maintenance needs. If a more efficient model is within budget, you may consider a tankless, solar, or hybrid unit, which may come with sizable federal tax incentives.
  • Efficiency. For many eco-conscious homeowners, efficiency matters most. Although there are still efficient Energy Star®-rated models available for each type of water heater, the most efficient types overall are hybrid (heat pump water heaters), solar, and tankless.
  • Demand. If you have a large home, family, or higher demand for available hot water, then a conventional tank water heater is probably the best option. These units will be the most reliable and have more available hot water.
  • Space. While most homes are designed with space for a standard tank water heater, many don’t have additional space for hybrid, condensing, or even solar. On the other hand, some smaller apartments or spaces may not even have room for a tank. In that case, a tankless or point-of-use water heater may be the best option.
  • Fuel type. Electric water heaters are always better for the environment and help free your home of carbon monoxide danger while lowering your home’s carbon footprint. If you prefer gas but live in a rural area away from natural gas service, you’ll want to make sure you have a water heater that will run on propane or fuel oil. Electric tanked water heaters are typically more expensive to operate than natural gas, but hybrid hot water heaters are electric versions that will be half the cost of a natural gas tank – and they currently come with generous federal tax incentives to make them as affordable upfront as conventional tanked water heaters.
  • Climate. Depending on where you live, some water heaters may not be as effective. For example, if you live in a colder climate, solar water heaters can easily become blocked with snow. Similarly, a hybrid water heater serving a northern home should be a model where the heat pump condenser is outdoors, so the cool air it exhausts doesn’t raise your winter heating bill by making your basement colder.

Related Content: Tips for Choosing a New Hot Water Heater

What Is Better: Tankless or Tank Water Heater?

It depends. Typically, tankless water heaters are going to be the all-around more efficient option – making them more cost-effective in the long run. The US Department of Energy states that tankless water heaters can be 24%-34% more energy efficient than conventional tank heaters. The downside, however, is they’re more costly upfront, and high demand may cause stress on the unit and even your plumbing pipes.

Related Content: The Pros & Cons of Tankless vs. Traditional Water Heaters

Let the Pros Help You Find – and Install – the Right Water Heater

Need help selecting the right water heater for your home? Count on the licensed plumbers at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing for water heater services! Based on your needs, preferences, budget, and space, we’ll help you select the right fit – and professionally install it. Call us at 1-877-BEN-1776 or book an appointment online.

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