Water Heaters

Water heaters are the second largest energy expense in your home, after space heating and cooling. It pays to pick a good one.

On average, a water heater lasts from 10 to 15 years. But because an energy efficient model can save you so much money, you may want to install one now.

In picking the right one, consider:

  • Storage/electric resistance water heaters: The most commonly used model, the storage/electric resistance water heater works by heating water and storing it in an insulated tank. It’s inexpensive and easy to install, and converts power at a 100% efficiency.
  • Heat pump water heaters: These use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. They operate like a refrigerator in reverse. While a refrigerator removes heat from a box and expels it into a surrounding room, the heat pump takes the heat from the surrounding room and expels it into the water tank. Non-air conditioned basements are a great place for these, as they dehumidify air as they work.
  • Tankless water heaters: These are point-of-use heaters that heat water instantaneously and have no tank. They can be gas or electric, and are more expensive to install. However, they may save money over the long-haul as they don’t have to maintain a tank full of hot water when not in use.
  • Solar water heaters: Uses solar panels on the roof or in a cleared area of the yard to power a conventional water heater. In summer months, the solar panels may provide all the power that’s required.
  • Desuperheaters: Attached to a geothermal heat pump, desuperheaters catch waste heat and use it to warm your water. In hot climates, these can meet most of your home’s needs in summer months.

Buying Tips

  • The ENERGY STAR label is important, but look especially close at First Hour Rating (FHR) indicated on the label. This is more important than the size of the tank because it tells you how well the system will perform under pressure during morning or evening use.
  • If you live in a moderate climate, consider an efficient heat pump water heater. It may have a higher initial cost, but can save up to 50% on your energy bill.
  • Look for units with sealed combustion when buying gas- or oil-fired units to avoid back drafting into your home.
  • All things being equal, choose the water heater with the highest energy factor (EF). EF is based on recovery efficiency, standby losses and cycling losses. Electric resistance heaters have an EF ranging from .86 to .95; gas water heaters from .50 to .60, with a few high-efficiency models around .80; oil heaters from .70 to .85; and heat pump water heaters have an EF ranging from 1.50 to 2.00.
  • Compare warranties to make sure you’re getting the most for your money.


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