Selecting a new water heater for your home can be frustrating. You find yourself asking questions like:
What water heater options are available to me?
Which are the most reliable and the best value?
Which are the most energy efficient?
What are the benefits of going tankless?
In this article, we are going to remove the mystery from water heater shopping, covering the defining features, benefits, and disadvantages of five common water heater types: tank, indirect-fired, tankless, solar hybrid, and point-of-use water heaters.
By the end of this article, you should have a much clearer picture of which type to choose for your home.
Tank Water Heaters
By far the most common type of water heater you'll find in basements across the country is the 'tried-and-true' storage tank version. Typically holding around 40-50 gallons, these water heaters use electricity, natural gas, or liquid propane to heat the entire water tank to temperature, regardless if it's being used or not. Once thought of as inefficient, tank water heaters are making a comeback. Now you can find high-efficiency and even hybrid versions that utilize 'smart' technology that not only replaces existing water heaters but completely revitalizes your faith in the tried-and-true method for heating water.
If you have a boiler providing hydronic heating for your home, installing an indirect-fired water heater can kill the two birds of domestic hot water and space heating with one stone. It is essentially a storage tank connected to your boiler. Water heated by the boiler circulates to a coil inside the indirect-fired water heater and transfers heat to the
water inside the tank. This means that during the cold months, you have one boiler efficiently heating both your water and home. Of course, it also means the boiler will need to turn on during the warm months to heat the water, but so would any other standalone water heater.
If you don’t use hydronic heating for your home, this solution doesn’t make sense, but if you do have a boiler, it is likely your most efficient option.
Tankless is unique for the reason its name implies - it has no storage tank. Many consumers will look at the petite unit and wonder how it will ever heat their home, but its operation packs a powerful punch.
So, let's break it down to the basics: what is a tankless water heater? The principle behind it is simple: Instead of continuously heating water in a big holding tank to be used later, tankless water heaters use a powerful burner to only heat the water when
someone needs it as it passes through the unit. There are many benefits to this method. The water heater has a much smaller footprint and can often be wall-mounted. The tankless nature of the heater means that your home's supply of hot water is effectively limitless - running out of hot water is a thing of the past. Finally, efficiency levels are much higher than tank-based water heaters because no energy is needed to keep the pre-heated water warm inside of the tank.
However, just like with storage tank water heaters, instant hot water (at the fixture) is not always plausible. That's because the existing water in the pipes is still cold and needs to be cycled out before the hot water can reach the user. Depending on how far the fixture is from the water heater, it will take a second or two for the heater to sense the flow of water and switch-on. You may have to wait a few seconds in the morning for your shower to warm up, but you'll never run out of hot water. Many people consider this to be an acceptable trade-off for the benefits a tankless water heater provides.
Solar hybrid water heaters share many features with indirect-fired water heaters. They are similarly easy to install as they require no power or fuel but are different in that they contain two internal coils instead of one. One coil is typically connected to a hydronic boiler's heat line, with the other coil being connected to a solar collector. Combined
with a high-efficiency boiler, these types of water heaters can raise a home's efficiency
to incredibly high levels.
Despite this benefit, finding a balance between heat provided by your hydronic heating system and the solar collector can be tricky - the installation of a solar water heater should be performed by a contractor qualified in solar energy.
Point-of-use (POU) water heaters are so named because they provide hot water right at the fixture, be it the shower, kitchen sink or washing machine. Their proximity to the fixture allows these units to heat water instantaneously and at nearly 100% efficiency. They are perfect if you have, for example, a shower in your home that is distant from the main water heating source and that would otherwise waste time and energy waiting for the hot water to travel the distance. There is absolutely no waiting with POU units.
Conversely, POU water heaters are great for small mobile homes or cottages where you only need to provide hot water for a couple fixtures. They can be used in conjunction with a centralized water heating system or on their own.
There are other types of water heaters besides the ones covered in this article, but these are among the most common. All are viable, efficient water heaters that will reliably supply your home with hot water for years to come.
For more information about any of these types of water heaters, or for help in deciding which is right for your application, please contact us.