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Guide to Choosing the Right Hot Water Heater for Your Home

Hot water is an essential element of comfortable living. The primary mechanism that provides hot water in every home is a hot water tank. It has become a valuable commodity where if at any point it malfunctions, a homeowner immediately necessitates either for its repair or replacement.

The process of choosing a replacement water heater is no easy task. If you want your home fitted with a better heating system than you previously had, you need to make an informed decision according to several crucial factors.

There are two common types of water heater systems available. There are traditional hot water tanks and tankless water heaters, where the latter is a more modern variation. Regardless of which type of hot water heater you prefer, the primary goal is to produce a consistent supply of hot water.

Understanding the difference between traditional and tankless water heaters

If you are thinking about replacing the water heater in your home, it is essential to begin the selection process by breaking down the differences between a traditional water heater and a tankless water heater. You are likely going to end up choosing which system is best for your home.

  • Traditional water heaters. Conventional water heaters are the more traditional option used by homeowners which generally consists of an integrated tank for storage. Traditional water heaters come in various sizes to fit varying requirements. For most residences, a 40-gallon hot water tank is the most commonly used.
  • Tankless hot water heater. Instead of a storage tank for hot water, a tankless water heater only heats water on demand, thus, eliminating the need for a bulky tank. This technology makes tankless water heaters preferable for homes with limited space.

Now that you know the main difference between the two types of water heaters, how does each water heater system work?

The working principle of a traditional hot water heater

Four main elements comprise a conventional water heater – the heating element, the tank, safety devices, and anode rod. The moment you turn your tap to “hot” setting, hot water stored inside the tank gets sent to the pipes for use. One of the challenges faced by people using a traditional water heater is the tendency to run out of hot water when all hot water stored inside the tank is exhausted.

How do tankless water heaters work?

In comparison with a traditional hot water heater, a tankless water heater has a heat exchanger for heating water flowing through the radiator. When you need hot water, the water heater activates the heating element and then the water is heated while travelling through the heat exchanger. In contrast with a traditional water heater, you are not likely to run out of hot water because there is no storage tank which limits the capacity of hot water produced.

It is easy enough to distinguish how the differences between each type of water heater factors into the individual needs of every home. While the working principle by itself is a primary consideration, other elements determine how to choose the right water heater for your home. As such, you also need to look into the type of heating source used and the efficiency of the heating system.

Electric hot water heater vs. gas water heater

Homes around Seattle and the greater Washington State rely on two familiar fuel sources – electricity, and gas. When it comes to efficiency, electric water heater systems have around 30-50% higher efficiency rating than natural gas fuelled water heaters. As far as performance is concerned, natural gas-powered water heaters heat water faster. In general, both fuel types have the same life-span of around 12 to 15 years.

Why high efficiency hot water heater needs consideration

Homeowners should carefully study what it means when a hot water heater has “high-efficiency” labels. While some may only use it as a marketing strategy, there is still a legitimate need in our current society for consumer equipment that helps homeowners reduce their utility payments while also saving the environment.

It is essential to understand that only residential grade water heaters are tested and assigned with Energy Factor rating by the US Department of Energy. That’s why you won’t see an energy star rating in commercial water heating equipment. Thermal efficiency percentage is the means of measuring the energy efficiency or energy rating of a consumer water heater. Further defined, thermal efficiency pertains to the amount of energy the water heater can extract from the fuel it uses. The law assigns 80% thermal efficiency requirement for all water heaters, but if above 90% or higher, the hot water heater passes the high-efficiency definition.

Similar to a traditional water heater, a high efficiency hot water heater works under the same principle. However, there is a secondary heat exchanger which is responsible for extracting more energy out of the fuel consumed during the entire heating process.  Other advantages of high-efficiency water heaters include:

  • Increased safety. High-efficiency water heater systems reduce carbon monoxide production. There is also less possibility of back-drafting because the process itself is completely sealed off.
  • Reduced utility cost. Perhaps the main reason why homeowners consider high-efficiency water heaters is the prospect of saving money. With increasing fuel rates, highly efficient consumer products are all the rage these days.
  • Faster heating time. Another advantage of having a highly-efficient water heater is the increased water heating rate. With a second heat exchanger in place, you are likely going to have hot water in less time that you would with a traditional hot water heater.

In addition to high-efficiency, there are emerging trends in hot water heating technology which incorporate the use of alternative energy sources. Alternative energy sources are worth considering as well, especially if you are keen on higher savings and decreasing your carbon footprint.

Are solar hot water heater systems worth the investment?

Some would argue that increasing the efficiency of a water heater will yield the desired results concerning savings and reducing environmental impact, but there is still a possibility of improving on this premise by using solar energy instead of traditional fuel sources. A solar water heater, just as the name suggests, replaces electricity or natural gas as the heating element. A solar water heater is either passive or active.

  • Active solar water heater

    . An active solar water heater either has a direct circulation system or an indirect circulation system. In more temperate climates, a direct circulation system works well. It pumps water directly into the collectors that get circulated inside the home. On the other hand, an indirect circulation system works better for colder climates because it consists of a heat exchanger where non-freezing heat transfer fluid flows through the collectors.

  • Passive solar water heater

    . This type of solar water heater costs less than an active solar water heater. There are also two distinct working mechanisms which determine the suitability of the device in warm or cold climates.

If you want a solar water heater, then you must appropriate space for a well-insulated storage tank. Storage tanks for solar water heaters consist of added connections in and out of the collector. Solar water heaters often require a back-up for cloudy skies and higher demand.

There are several other considerations when installing a solar water heater. First, you must have a precise estimate of how much it costs and how energy-efficient the system is in the long run. Second, you should also check how well your area receives sunlight at different times of the day and throughout the year. Third, you should be able to know the right size that fits your home’s consumption. Lastly, check if there are applicable local regulations, rules, and codes you need to abide by.

A solar hot water system makes more sense if your home already has solar-power equipment. Otherwise, the initial investment might be slightly higher than expected. Installing a solar hot water system also requires the services of an accredited installer. One final aspect to consider if choosing a solar water heater is maintenance. The installation technician should be able to discuss maintenance requirements to you in detail depending on whether you have an active or passive solar water heating system.

Choosing a water heater system wisely

A homeowner can be overwhelmed with the variety of water heater systems available in the market today. The rule of thumb is to determine your needs first and make a list of specific factors you consider the most important. For example, if cost is not an issue and you want increased efficiency, a hot water heater with a higher efficiency rating may be a suitable choice for you. Another consideration for homeowners is convenience and space. If you want consistent hot water on demand, a tankless hot water heater may be a better choice.

If you need further guidelines on how to choose a hot water heating system that suits your needs, you can get help from our heating experts at Fischer. Call 206-202-9499 or 425-406-3050 for an appointment or just a phone consultation about choosing the right hot water heating system for your home.

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