Many homeowners wait until their water heater breaks before shopping for a replacement. Just as with buying any new appliance, there are many choices to make; and the right selection can have residual, long-term energy savings for your home budget. Here are some things to consider when selecting a new water heater for your home.
Types of water heaters
Storage tank water heaters – have a 20 to 80-gallon tank that holds water, powered by electricity, propane, or natural gas. The water is kept at a constant temperature inside this tank, to dispense when needed. Obviously, these take up a lot of space in your utility room or closet, and use a bit of energy to keep that many gallons of water hot all the time.
Heat pump water heaters – can be more efficient than the regular storage water heater. An air-source heat pump pulls heat from the surrounding air, raises the temperature and adds that hot air to the tank to help heat the water, instead of using electricity to heat the water.
Geothermal heat pumps are sometimes used to heat or cool the air inside a home. A qualified contractor can also install a super-heater to the geothermal pump system, which acts as a heat exchanger for the water heater. So heat from the ground is used to raise the temperature inside the water heater, saving energy costs.
Many homeowners recognize 30-50 percent energy savings using a tankless system instead of a traditional water heater. These are sometimes called on-demand water heaters, because when hot water is needed at a faucet, the water is heated right in the pipe as it passes through the water heater on the way to the faucet. No additional space is needed to store gallons of hot water in anticipation of the need.
Solar collectors can be used to heat water, although installation will depend on local building code requirements, the type of roof for the solar panel, and the level of sunshine during changing seasons. These types of systems are often best suited in hotter, sunnier climates than the Midwest states experience.
Read the Water Heater Labels
Read the label on the water heater. The energy factor of the water heater indicates how efficient it operates, with higher numbers indicating more efficient use of energy to convert the power into hot water. In 2015, the NAECA, National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, increased the energy efficiency standards of residential water heaters produced in the United States. Depending on the type of heater and whether it is powered via electricity or gas, the energy rating could have a significant improvement over older models.
The label will show a bar graph of estimated yearly operating cost for that particular unit, in comparison to a range of operating costs for similar types of units. It will also give an estimate of kilowatts used in a year, so that you can multiply that by the electricity rate from your electric bill, to determine an actual dollar cost for operation.
Read the label for the output capacity. This will determine if it can match the supply of hot water for your usage demand. Calculate the capacity, or first hour rating, based on the estimate of how much hot water your family uses during a busy hour.
According to the energy.gov website, “The first hour rating is the number of gallons of hot water the heater can supply per hour (starting with a tank full of hot water). It depends on the tank capacity, source of heat (burner or element), and the size of the burner or element.” They have an online worksheet to help determine this. CLICK HERE to see it.
Analyze the Full Cost of a New Water Heater
Replacing an old, outdated water heater with a newer model will obviously have the usual purchase cost associated with a new appliance. However, the full cost analysis of a water heater should not stop with just the purchase price.
This is where you should also consider the fuel requirements, amount of water needed, space requirements, ongoing maintenance and upkeep, and the operational energy expenses.
Fuel costs in Michigan can fluctuate from an average of $0.13 per kilowatt for electricity to $2.48 per gallon for propane, and up to an average of $9.96 per thousand cubic feet for natural gas. Depending on the type of heater you select, upgrading to a new system with a different fuel source may drastically affect the overall operating cost.
The size of the water heater will also affect the overall cost. A tank unit that is too large for a family’s needs will be using energy to keep gallons of water hot when there is no demand, while a unit that is too small may not be able to keep up with the demand.
Finally, maintenance expenses should also be considered. Routine maintenance can extend the life of a water heater, and some units may require calibration adjustments by a professional plumber. Flushing the system to eliminate sediment is a monthly homeowner task, as well as checking the condition of hoses, couplings, and testing the pressure relief valve.
Consumers are more research-savvy when it comes to buying large ticket items, including water heaters. A service call can help determine the possible longevity of your current water heater, or whether a new model would be a wiser choice.
The qualified plumbers at Naugle Plumbing and Heating can help determine the best make and model available for your price range and requirements.