A water heater is one of the modern conveniences that make tasks like taking a hot shower, washing dishes, and doing your laundry easier.
Having an old unit can lead to high utility bills, and you may have to part with more money for repairs over time. Whether your heater has frequent breakdowns or you’ve had a unit for over ten years, you may need to consider replacing or upgrading your current unit.
With the different options available in the market, it can be confusing to decide and settle on one specific type of water heater.
Our comprehensive guide lists some of the common types of water heaters available. We also list the pros and cons that you should consider when shopping and give you tips on choosing the right water heater for your home.
5 Types of Hot Water Systems
Some of the types of hot water systems include:
1. Conventional Water Heaters
Conventional water heaters or tank water heaters are the common types of heaters in the United States.
The water heater can hold between 30 and 80 gallons of water and be powered by natural gas or electricity. It’s also possible to find models powered by oil or liquid propane.
A conventional water heater heats cold water to a pre-set temperature. The water is kept in an insulated tank until hot water is called for. As the hot water is used or drops to a certain temperature when left unused, the water heater restarts and reheats the water.
It’s a continuous process that goes on 24/7. That means you get to pay for the hot water whether it’s in use or not.
While conventional water heaters run continuously, they have their advantages:
- Affordability – Tank water heaters are affordable and perfect for any homeowner on a budget. With the upfront cost and installation cost, you get to save a lot more money than with other water heaters.
- Requires Little to No Maintenance – A conventional water heater has a unique design that means it doesn’t break down frequently and may not need many services.
You’ll only need to clean the water heater tank twice a year to remove the mineral scale and sediment to reduce corrosion. In case of a repair, the costs are affordable.
- Installation Costs – The cost of installing a conventional water heater is reasonable as it usually involves replacing an older unit with a new unit.
Despite their affordability, conventional water heaters have their disadvantages:
- Reduced Life Expectancy – A conventional water heater typically lasts 10-15 years with proper maintenance. Tankless water heaters can last for 20 years.
- Contribute to High Energy Costs – Tank water heaters are the least efficient in terms of energy consumption. You’ll pay more as the unit ends up working even when no one actively uses the hot water.
According to Consumer Reports, a gas-fired tank water heater costs an average of $70-$80 more when compared to a tankless water heater. Additionally, tank water heaters have a shorter life expectancy, which means you’ll have to replace your heater sooner.
- Takes Up a Lot of Space – Conventional water heaters can hold 50 gallons of water or more, which means they require a significant amount of space. That may be disadvantageous for small homes that don’t have enough space.
- Lag Time – Sometimes, the hot water in the tank can run out when you least expect it. Once the hot water reserve has been exhausted, you may have to wait for the heater to heat more water for you to use.
Overall, conventional water heaters are ideal if you need a unit that’s economical to install and has reduced maintenance costs. However, you have to consider the long-term disadvantages like reduced life expectancy.
2. Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters are also referred to as on-demand water heaters.
These heaters are available in different sizes, depending on your hot water needs as a family. Additionally, tankless heaters run on both electricity and gas.
Tankless water heaters do not have a tank, but they are fitted with super-heated coils that are filled with water. Once powered, the unit heats water instantly.
The water heater works perfectly for big families who may need to use hot water at the same time. That makes on-demand hot water a reality.
Unlike conventional water heaters that avail hot water at all times, tankless heaters only heat water that you use. One thing to note with this type of heater is that you can’t do more than two things that require hot water simultaneously unless your heating unit is large.
For example, taking a shower and running the dishwasher would max out even a sizeable tankless heater. It would be best to finish one task first.
However, you can opt to install more than one tankless heater (called single-point units) to service each hot water outlet to solve the problem. Many larger households opt for this configuration as the single-point heaters have a compact design and are relatively inexpensive.
When it comes to maintenance, tankless heater elements need to be cleaned once every year to remove any scale and prevent corrosion.
Furthermore, tankless heaters can last for up to 20 years, which is a long time compared to conventional heaters that last for 10-15 years.
Advantages of Tankless Water Heaters
Some of the benefits of investing in an on-demand water heater include:
- Endless Hot Water Availability – Tankless water heaters provide constant hot water flow if the demand is within the listed flow rate.
- Durability – These water heaters can last for 20 years and sometimes more depending on maintenance. The long lifespan means you don’t have to worry about purchasing a new unit sooner.
- Compact Design – Tankless units don’t require a big tank to function. They have a compact design that works well for families living in condos, apartments, and other tiny houses.
- Save Energy Costs – Tankless water heaters only provide on-demand hot water, which means they don’t need to heat water all day. They use less energy and can save you lots of money in the long run. The US Department of Energy considers tankless units to be 24% more energy-efficient than conventional water heaters.
Disadvantages of Tankless Water Heaters
Although tankless units have lots of advantages, they also have their drawbacks that you should consider when comparing the available options. These disadvantages include:
- Reduced Water Flow Rate – Although tankless water heaters don’t run out of hot water like conventional heaters, they tend to have a limited flow rate. The heater can provide a certain gallonage of hot water but will fail to deliver a constant supply of hot water above that amount.
- High Initial Cost – Tankless water heaters are expensive upfront. The cost of an average tankless heater is about $1000-$3,000 for the main tank and installation. You’ll get different prices depending on the model and prevailing market prices.
- Inconsistent Temperature – Unlike conventional heaters that guarantee a consistent hot water temperature, tankless heaters do not, particularly if you’re opening several taps.
3. Heat Pump Water Heater
Heat pump water heaters are mainly used to heat and cool homes, but they can also work as a water-heating unit.
An electric heat pump system works best in hot climates as it is more energy-efficient than a conventional unit.
Heat pump water heaters capture heat from the ground or air and transfer it to the water they are heating. Electricity kicks in when heat is transferred from the source to the water tank.
Advantages of Electric Heat Pump Water Heater
Some of the advantages of owning an electric heat pump water heater include:
- Energy Efficiency – Heat pump water heaters are three times energy efficient compared to conventional water heaters. These heaters draw their heat from the surrounding air rather than generating it.
- Environmentally Friendly – Heat pump heaters don’t have the risks of heated pressurized water, and they don’t get hot on the outside. Furthermore, they use less energy and are more eco-friendly.
Disadvantages of Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters
Some of the drawbacks of heat pump heaters include:
- Costly – Heat pump water heaters are more expensive initially than conventional storage water heaters.
- Not Ideal For Cold Months – Although heat pump water heaters tend to produce plenty of hot water during warmer months, it can be challenging for them to produce enough water during the cold season.
Overall, heat pump water heaters work well in areas that are between 40and 90°F and need 1000 cubic feet of air space. These heaters require the air filters to be cleaned often. Dirt and sediment can build up over time, which means you may need to flush the heater periodically.
4. Solar Water Heaters
Solar water heaters use solar energy and are ideal for any climate. These heaters have an insulated storage tank and a solar collector.
If you’re a homeowner looking to save money on energy bills, a solar water heater would be an excellent option.
You can decide to install the water heater in the yard or set it on the roof.
Solar water heaters harness energy from the sun, which is then transferred to a closed-loop system that has a heat-conductive material that heats the water in the tank. A passive solar heater relies on gravity to distribute hot water, while active solar heaters use a pump to distribute water.
Passive solar water heating units can either have thermosyphon systems or integral collector storage systems.
Thermosyphon systems have solar collectors that get heat from underneath, which causes the hot water to rise. As it rises, it traves into the home.
Integral collector storage systems have solar collectors in the storage tank that heat the stored water. The water then flows into the house through gravity.
Advantages of Solar Water Heaters
Some of the benefits of owning a solar water heater include:
- Requires Little Maintenance – Solar water heaters have a simple design. They only need routine maintenance every three to five years and can last for up to 20 years. You can perform a random inspection to ensure the unit is working efficiently.
- Eco-Friendly – These water heaters rely on the sun for energy, which means they can heat water without causing emissions.
- Saves Energy – Solar water heaters save energy by using the sun’s energy to produce hot water. Homeowners can save up to $400 in running costs annually.
Disadvantages of Solar Water Heaters
Although solar water heaters save energy and require little maintenance, they do have some drawbacks that include:
- Expensive to Install – The cost of installing a solar water heater can range from $7,000 and $9,000. Recouping the upfront cost may take a lot of time even if you’re saving on utility bills.
- May Need a Backup – A solar water heater won’t be able to keep up with the hot water demand on cold or cloudy days. You may need a gas or electric-powered heater for the cold season.
Overall, solar water heaters can be an eco-friendly and cost-efficient way to generate hot water. However, they do have a high upfront cost for the model and installation. Moreover, you may need to deploy a backup system on cloudy or cold days.
5. Condensing Water Heaters
A condensing water heater has a tank like a conventional water heater. The only difference is that condensing heaters recycle the exhaust gases to heat the water.
The water heater has a 55-gallon water capacity and is perfect for homeowners who use gas to heat water. Additionally, they can last for ten years.
Condensing water heats water by pulling natural gas fuel and air into a combustion chamber. These heaters use a gas burner to heat water that either passes through it in case of a tankless option or is stored in a tank.
Unlike tankless heaters that vent the exhaust gases produced by the combustion process, condensing water heaters send the combustion gases to a condensing tank, which also heats the water.
Advantages of Condensing Water Heaters
Some of the benefits of condensing water heaters include:
- Eco-Friendly – A condensing water heater uses all the heat generated to heat water. The system uses less energy and leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
- Saves Energy – Condensing water heaters use waste heat and have a 98% efficiency rating. Tankless heaters have a 70% efficiency rating. That makes condensing heaters ideal for homeowners looking to save money on energy costs.
Disadvantages of Condensing Water Heaters
While it’s impossible to run out of hot water when using a condensing water heater, you’ll have to deal with other drawbacks like:
- Installation cost – Condensing water heaters require reconfiguring the venting pipes and gas lines. The whole process can be expensive. Additionally, the cost of the heater is expensive to begin with.
The first step toward purchasing a water heater is understanding the different types of heaters available. Knowing the pros and cons of each type of heater will make it easier to make an informed decision.
Ensure that you factor in the upfront cost of the water heater, the cost of installation, any maintenance requirements, and annual operating costs. You’ll also need to consider energy efficiency, size, and the energy source.