Water Heater Basics for Plumbers

A water heater consumes about 20% of your household budget, more than heating and cooling your home. In most instances, water heaters are ignored until they break, which can leave everyone without hot water, or result in a flooded basement. 

Thanks to recent federal regulations, water heaters are required to be more energy-efficient. Therefore, if your customer has a water heater that’s nearing the end of its life, there are better and safer options to choose from.

Here, we’ll look at the different types of water heaters available and important features to consider when selecting a new one. 

Types of Water Heaters 

Water heaters vary depending on how much hot water you use and how you’re heating the water — either gas or electric. 

Storage Tank Water Heater 

This is the most common type of water heater. These heaters have an insulted tank that heats and stores water until it’s needed, then emerges from a pipe on top of the water heater. 

Natural-gas water heaters use less energy than electric water heaters; however, they cost more at the time of purchase. 

Tankless (On-Demand) Water Heater 

Instead of storing water, tankless heaters use heating coils to heat the water as you need it. Although they’re more energy-efficient than a storage tank water heater, they provide less water per minute — about 3.5 gallons. 

These are perfect for those who don’t need water for more than one use at a time, such as taking a shower or running the washing machine. They’re also best for homes that use natural gas to heat the water, while electric water heaters might need an upgrade of the home’s electrical capacity. 

Heat Pump (Hybrid) Water Heater 

These water heaters capture heat from the air and transfer it to the water. They’re energy-efficient, using 60% less energy than standard electric models; however, they cost more. In addition, they don’t work well in colder areas and will need to be in areas that are 40 to 90 F. 

Solar Water Heater 

As with solar energy, a roof-mounted panel absorbs the sun’s heat and transfers it to a closed-loop system that goes to the water tank. Due to its nature to get energy from the sun, it delivers excellent savings in the summertime, which is perfect for warmer, sunnier regions. However, it’s not ideal for colder or cloudier areas. Some models have a backup system to provide heat when needed. 

Condensing Water Heater 

These are a good option for those who heat with gas a need a unit with 55+ gallons. They have a conventional water heater, but they use exhaust gases that would typically release from the flue (vent duct or pipe), which can waste energy. 

Important Features to Consider 

Warranty: Water heaters usually have a 3-12 year warranty, and you’ll need to pay more for a more extended warranty. It’s best to choose one with the most extended warranty available. 

Glass-lined tanks: Glass-lined tanks are designed to reduce corrosion, which helps in the long-run.

Digital displays: Digital displays help you monitor levels and customized operation. Some water heaters with displays allow you to set a vacation mode for when you’re away. Solar water heaters with displays can show tank temperatures, along with pressure readings and other useful information. 

Brass vs. plastic drain valves: Always look for brass drain valves since they’re more durable than plastic. 

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