The average household spends $400 to $600 a year on their water heater, making it the 2nd largest expense, according to Energy.gov. In fact, the average household uses 64 gallons of water every day. And unless they’re drinking it, most people prefer to use hot water to shower, wash dishes, and do laundry.
There are many important factors to consider if you’re thinking about purchasing a new water heater, from the various types of heaters to the pros and cons of each. Following are some questions to keep in mind when shopping for a water heater.
“While gas water heaters use propane or natural gas to heat the water, electric water heaters are plugged into your home’s power supply,” explains Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, which has dozens of locations across the Lone Star State.
James recommends looking into the average cost of these utilities in your area to see which one is the most affordable. “Your existing utilities should guide your choice as well.”
“Hot water heaters range in size and are rated to supply a certain number of gallons per hour (GPH),” James says. “To make your decision a little easier, think about the amount of water your household uses and if you should consider getting a larger or smaller size.”
“Some water heaters, like traditional and hybrid ones, take up more space than others,” James says. “However, tankless water heaters are smaller. So, before you decide, he recommends asking yourself where you plan on installing the new water heater to ensure you have enough space for it.
For energy consumers shopping for a new water heater, there are several different types to consider. It’s also important to note that each variety of water heater comes with pros and cons.
“This type of water heater has a higher upfront cost and must be vented outside,” James explains. “On a positive note, gas water heaters tend to be more affordable to operate long-term, and they also have a higher recovery rate, which means it takes less time to reheat the water.
According to James, electric water heaters are popular because they’re easier to maintain and install than others. “However, homeowners should note that they tend to cost more to run and have a slower recovery rate,” he advises. “We recommend installing electric water heaters in homes that do not use gas for other appliances.”
Storage-based heaters are the most inexpensively priced choice, and typically last for 10-15 years. However, they are susceptible to standby heat loss – meaning the water already in the tank is heated to a certain temperature even when not in use. However, if you get an insulated tank, you can cut the amount of heat used, which in turn reduces the heater’s operating costs.
Tankless water heaters are more expensive than storage-based heaters, but should last at least 20 years. One major advantage is that they are between 8 to 34 percent more energy efficient than other options. However, there’s a limited water flow rate, so if you’re trying to shower, wash dishes, and do laundry at the same time, tankless heaters may not be up to the job.
Heat pumps are also more expensive than storage-based heaters. They have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years. In terms of energy efficiency, heat pumps are two to three times more efficient. Where you install the heat pump will impact its performance. Heat pumps exhaust cold air, which could affect heating appliances during the winter months. When the heat pump is in regular resistance mode, the cold air exhaust will be disabled – but the heat pump may not be as effective.
Solar water heaters are the most expensive option and are projected to last 20 years. Solar water heaters are much more efficient (by a whopping 50 percent) than electric or gas water heaters. However, when it’s cloudy or demand is high, you may need ta backup system.
This option is more expensive than storage-based water heaters, but less expensive than solar water heaters. They have the shortest projected life span(just 10 to 11 years). It costs less to both install and maintain them. On the other hand, unless you live in a cold climate, you may not maximize their efficiency.
“In order to choose the correct size water heater, you should consider the number of people in your home,” James says. “For instance, a family of four should consider looking at a 50-gallon water heater or larger.”
James also recommends looking at the first-hour rating (FHR). “This tells you how much water the unit will heat in a set amount of time.”
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.