You might enjoy shopping for clothes or new tools, but you probably don’t want to shop for a water heater more often than you absolutely have to. As a homeowner, you want your water heater to work uninterrupted for as long as possible.
Here’s what you need to know to buy a water heater that will work for your home and last for many years to come.
What Kind of Water Heater Do I Need?
There are several different types of water heaters, and the best option for you will depend on several factors. To figure out which type you need, the main things you need to consider are fuel source and space constraints.
Most residential water heaters use either electricity, natural gas, or propane for fuel. You can also find water heaters that run on solar or geothermal energy in some parts of the U.S, but these units are less common in areas like the Pacific Northwest where these sources of energy are less abundant.
Before you buy a new water heater, you should find out which fuel source is set up to work in your home. It may be possible to install a water heater that uses a different fuel source, but if you go that route, you will incur extra costs to make the necessary changes to your home, such as adding a breaker or running a new gas line.
You can generally expect to pay more for a water heater that runs on natural gas or propane. However, you will likely make up for the higher upfront cost over the long run with lower monthly energy expenses. Electric water heater models typically cost less upfront but have higher operating costs.
Buyers who are purchasing a water heater for a new home without a preexisting fuel source will want to compare local fuel costs. We suggest you contact your utility company for current fuel rates and then compare projected energy costs for different units based on their energy efficiency.
Not every home has the same amount of space for a water heater, and some units may not fit in smaller spaces. You will want to measure the space around your current water heater to make sure the new unit you buy will fit.
If your space has limited headroom but plenty of width, you can look into a lowboy, or short water heater unit. These types of water heaters are popular under cabinets and in crawl spaces. They are typically between 30 and 50 inches tall and hold up to 50 gallons of water, which is enough for most small to medium-sized households.
Another good option for constrained areas is tankless water heaters, which take up substantially less space than traditional water heaters.
Other Factors to Consider When Buying a Water Heater
Storage type and capacity
Most, though not all, water heaters have tanks for storage. These water heaters will continually heat and store hot water so they can release plenty of hot water when someone turns on a hot water outlet.
Since the hot water in a water heater’s storage tank must be continuously heated, units with storage tanks will use (and waste) at least a little energy even when the water isn’t running. If you want to reduce your energy usage without sacrificing the ability to use a lot of hot water at once, you may want to consider a model with more energy-efficient hot water storage.
If you choose a water heater that comes with a storage tank, you will also want to consider how many gallons of water the tank will hold. The ideal tank size will depend on the number of people using your water heater.
Here are our recommended minimum water heater tank capacities for different family sizes:
- 1-2 people: 30 gallons for gas and electric water heaters
- 3-4 people: 40 gallons for gas water heaters, 50 gallons for electric
- 5+ people: 50 gallons for gas water heaters, 80 gallons for electric
An average household uses about 64 gallons of water each day. However, not all of this water is used up at the same time, so most households can get by with smaller tanks. Traditional water heaters with storage tanks can replenish some or all of the water in the tanks between uses.
If you want to reduce your water heater’s energy consumption further by 20 to 30 percent, you can look into on-demand or tankless water heaters. These water heaters heat cold water as needed. However, these units have a limited flow rate, which may cause some contention in households where multiple people sometimes need hot water at the same time. You can reduce this problem by using two or more units in parallel to allow for a larger flow rate.
Water heaters are typically the second or third largest energy consumers in your home, after your heating and/or air conditioning systems. Since you will be paying for this energy regardless of which fuel source you use, it makes sense to look for (and often pay a bit more for) an energy-efficient model.
Newer water heaters in general are more energy-efficient than their predecessors, partially because they must meet federal energy standards. However, some units are still better than others.
To find out how efficient a water heater unit is, look for its Energy Factor (EF) rating. The rating is a measure of how much heat is lost during storage and how efficiently the unit converts energy into heat. The higher the EF rating is, the more efficient the water heater will be.
How to Buy a Water Heater
You can buy a water heater from your local HVAC company or plumber. If you live in the Puget Sound area, you can reach out to the Paragon team to learn more about your water heater options.