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Weater Heater Selection Basics

Water heaters should be both energy efficient and designed to meet your individual needs

You may be thinking about replacing your water heater or simply want to be prepared if faced with an emergency. Today's models are energy efficient and come in a range of models to fit your needs and your budget.

Older water heaters are generally not as efficient as the new models, so don't think you're going to find one exactly like the last one - regardless of how good it was. You'll be faced with two choices: conventional - those with a tank - and tankless. Conventional tank units designed for the home hold between 30 and 50 gallons. Tankless heaters can be fitted under sinks or other water sources and supply hot water on demand without the need for a tank that is constantly required to stay warm.

Both conventional and tankless heaters are available for gas or electric setup. Other options include propane, oil, coil heating, heat pump, indirect heating, and solar power. Some of these may not be as efficient as conventional units while others may be better suited to milder climates and will have a range of space requirements.


The two most common water heater systems, for the purpose of this article, are conventional and tankless, either gas or electric.

Size and energy efficiency are the most important considerations in the search for a new water heater. The higher the energy efficiency (EF) rating the more you'll save long-term. Purchase the best water heater you can afford to ensure a higher EF rating. Capacity is not necessarily based on size. You should calculate the FHR (first-hour rating) to determine how much water you need at peak periods, such as in the morning when more than one person is showering or if you run the dishwasher and washing machine at the same time. For instance, a home with 1.5 baths and 3 bedrooms would require an estimated FHR of 60 while a 3 bath home with 5 bedrooms would need an estimated FHR of 90.

A 40-gallon tank with a higher FHR rating may be better than a 50-gallon tank that rates lower. You are only wasting energy if you purchase a larger water heater than is actually needed. EF and FHR ratings are listed on each size and type of water heater.

For busy families, this is an especially important issue and may rule out the option of a tankless heater. In spite of their reputation, tankless heaters simply do not have high water production levels when multiple appliances are in use. Nor are they necessarily more energy efficient. It takes more electricity or gas to provide instant hot water access than it may when running the faucet or showerhead for a few seconds to reach the proper temperature.

You should always discuss these options with the experts at your home improvement center or with a licensed plumber.



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