Do you suspect your water heater will need to be replaced soon? Looking for ways to affect a significant part of your monthly energy expenses? Make an informed decision for your next water heater purchase with this buyer’s guide.
Types of Water Heaters
You have a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a new water heater for your home, both in types of systems — storage tank, tankless, hybrid, or condensing units — and energy source.
- Propane water heaters: They deliver abundant hot water efficiently and reliably. With a tankless propane water heater, you can get hot water on-demand, so you’re never left with a cold shower.
- Tankless water heaters: These systems can run on electricity or gas, like propane. Tankless water heaters are popular for their ability to heat water on demand, so they don’t need a storage tank. This means you get hot water sooner, and your water heater can be mounted to the wall rather than taking up floor space. Propane tankless water heaters have a long lifespan, too, of about 20 years.
- Storage tank water heaters: These are considered conventional water heaters, and can be powered by electricity or gas, like propane. A storage tank water heater continuously warms the water in its tank, and refills as you use the hot water. They can have a lower upfront purchase price than a tankless unit, but can leave you without adequate hot water, because they need time to refill. They have a shorter lifespan than tankless units, about 10 years.
- Hybrid water heaters: Also known as a heat pump water heater. In the most basic sense, they operate by removing warmth from the air around the unit and using it to warm water in the tank. They generally have an expensive upfront purchase price, but homeowners purchase them with the expectation that they’ll save money over the lifetime of the unit. They have a slow recovery rate (the amount of time it takes to refill from empty), and they aren’t efficient in cold climates. Propane tankless water heaters easily outperform these units in four out of five U.S. climate regions.
- Solar water heaters: These systems include solar collectors (like panels) and storage tanks. Some homeowners choose solar systems for their low environmental impact and free energy source, but they’re only suited for homes in regions that rarely freeze.
- Condensing water heaters: Like a conventional water heater, these units have a tank. They operate by capturing exhaust gases and blowing them through a coil in the unit, which heats the water. This leads to high efficiency operation, but the process of condensation can lead to a shorter lifespan for the inner components.
What Should I Look for in a Water Heater?
Now that you understand what types of water heaters are available, you have a few more factors to consider before finding the right option for your home.
- Storage tank vs tankless: Storage tank water heaters are very common. They hold a lot of hot water and have an affordable upfront purchase price. However, they may leave you without enough hot water for your needs, and take longer to heat water. Tankless water heaters have a higher upfront purchase price, but their increased efficiency can save you money over the lifetime of the system.
- Energy source: propane, gas, electric, or solar: For many households, your choice of new water heater will depend largely on the energy source for your current system (it’s easy to swap a propane water heater with another propane unit). Of your energy options for water heating, propane has the best combination of advantages: low environmental impact, affordability, efficiency, and overall performance.
- Performance vs popularity: You’ll want to consider the advantages of different water heater types for your particular situation, rather than following trends in popularity alone. For example, you shouldn’t choose a storage tank water heater just because that’s what you’re familiar with — just as you shouldn’t purchase a tankless water heater if you’re not planning to live in a home longer than the payback period.
- Tank capacity: Make sure you understand how to find the right size of water heater for your needs, so you don’t overpay for a unit that’s more powerful than you need, and you’re never left without hot water. Learn how to calculate your water usage when shopping for a water heater.
- Product warranty: Before making your purchase, review the manufacturer’s warranty closely, if one is available. Consider what it covers, and what you’re comfortable with financially, should a component need to be replaced.
- Digital displays: Some modern water heaters now include digital displays that light up for easier readability. It may not be a must-have for everyone, but it can make all the difference if you need to inspect the water heater quickly in a dark basement or closet.
Propane water heaters will give you the best bang for your buck as well as minimizing your environmental impact. Learn how else propane water heating is different here.