The Facts About Water Heaters

Your water heater works hard for you—taking care of your family’s needs by providing hot water on demand, on a daily basis.   You may not think much about it, but your water heater has probably given you years of low-maintenance service.   If the time has come to think about replacing your water heater, due to age or the need for expensive repairs, there are some important factors to consider.

When choosing a water heater, keep in mind that some kinds may be more appropriate for your application than others.   Here are the 6 basic types:

  • Storage (conventional)
  • Demand (tankless or instantaneous)
  • Heat pump
  • Tankless coil
  • Indirect
  • Solar

Conventional storage water heaters remain the most popular type of water heating system for the home.   A single-family storage water heater carries a 20-80 gallon reservoir of hot water.  It operates by releasing hot water from the top of the tank when you turn on the hot water tap.  To replace that hot water, cold water enters the bottom of the tank to ensure that the tank is always full.   This cold water is then heated upon request to continue the operating cycle.

Demand water heaters (also known as tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with storage water heaters because they don’t store hot water.   This can save you money on your energy bills.

Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly.  Therefore, they can be 2 to 3 times more energy efficient than conventional electric resistance water heaters.  To move the heat, a heat pump water heater pulls heat from the surrounding air and dumps it—at a higher temperature—into a tank to heat water.

A  tankless coil water heater uses a heating coil or heat exchanger installed in a main furnace or boiler. Whenever a hot water faucet is turned on, the water flows through the heat exchanger.  These water heaters provide hot water on demand without a tank, like a demand water heater.   However, because they rely on the furnace or boiler to heat the water directly, tankless coil water heaters work most efficiently during cold months when the heating system is used regularly.

Indirect water heaters offer an efficient choice for most homes, even though they require a storage tank.  An indirect water heater uses the main furnace or boiler to heat a fluid that’s circulated through a heat exchanger in the storage tank.  The energy stored by the water tank allows the furnace to turn off and on less often, which saves energy.  Therefore, an indirect water heater is used with a high-efficiency boiler and well-insulated tank can be the least expensive means of providing hot water.

Solar water heaters—also called solar domestic hot water systems—can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use—sunshine—is free.   Solar water heating systems almost always require a backup system for cloudy days and times of increased demand.  Conventional storage water heaters usually provide backup and may already be part of the solar system package.

Which type of water heater is right for you?    Ask us! We can help you choose an energy-efficient option that will give you years of service while helping to cut your energy costs.

T.F. O’Brien services the Long Island, New York area.

Our goal is to help educate our customers about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about preventive maintenance and other HVAC topics, please download our free  Home Comfort Resource guide.

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