Whether your hot water heater is prone to bouts of frigid water, or simply causing you to dread opening your utility bill, you may be looking for an energy-efficient replacement. There are several options that can both increase your access to hot water while decreasing your energy bills -- however, with specific advantages and disadvantages to each kind, how do you know which to choose? Read on to learn more about the different capabilities of today's efficient hot water heaters to help determine which type best suits your lifestyle.
What are the types of energy-efficient water heaters available?
When discussing energy-efficient water heaters, there are four primary types: tankless heaters, solar heaters (both active and passive), heat pumps, and indirect heaters.
- Tankless heaters are often called "on demand" heaters, because they produce hot water as it is needed -- rather than keeping a constant supply of hot water in the tank like traditional water heaters. These heaters are small and bolt directly to the wall, rather than standing independently.
- Solar heaters can be either active or passive -- the only difference between the two varieties is the presence of a pump to force hot water out of the unit. In both active and passive solar hot water heaters, solar cells or panels are used to capture solar energy and use it to heat the water.
- Heat pumps are larger than traditional hot water heaters, but operate similarly to an air conditioner. Instead of taking hot outside air and cooling it to blow inside, a heat pump takes hot air from the surrounding room and uses it to heat water. The heat pump is generally the most efficient type of water heater.
- Indirect hot water heaters connect to your home's existing central heating system and use this heat to warm the water.
Which water heater is right for my needs?
One important factor in the selection of a hot water heater is to understand your family's specific water needs. Although each of the heaters listed above are more energy-efficient than a traditional water heater, by overtaxing or overusing the unit, you can actually reduce efficiency (and the lifespan of the heater). For example, if you purchase a tankless heater with an industry-standard capacity of 2 to 5 gallons per minute, but routinely have one family member taking a shower (2 to 4 gallons per minute), another running the dishwasher (20 gallons per load), and a third doing the laundry (25 gallons per load), you may find that your heater is so strained it can't operate at its full capacity.
In general, here is the ideal hot water heater for each of the specific criteria listed below:
- If you live in a southern or sunny climate:
- A solar hot water heater is probably your best bet. However, you'll still need a backup heater for overcast days.
- If you have a large family or high water demand:
- In this situation, either an indirect heater or heat pump is likely best. Both these are capable of producing large quantities of hot water on a moment's notice, without the energy costs of a traditional hot water heater.
- If you have limited space for a water heater:
- Tankless is definitely your best bet -- these water heaters are so inobtrusive you may not even see them.
- If you have a limited budget:
- Of the water heaters listed above, tankless are generally the least expensive, followed by solar and indirect, and ending with heat pump as the priciest. However, there are efficiency tradeoffs -- the most expensive on the list will generally result in the lowest energy bills.
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