Water – we use it all the time in our homes, whether we’re taking a shower or a bath, running a dishwasher, or doing our laundry. And unless getting a drink from the tap or flushing a toilet, we generally want that water to be hot and ready-to-go whenever we need it.
That’s where hot water heaters come in. Usually they run so efficiently that we hardly give them a second thought. When we turn on the faucet or the shower, we expect the hot water to be there – and usually it is. Hurray for hot water heaters!
But no appliance lasts forever and hot water heaters, experiencing daily wear-and-tear, are no exception. As anyone who has ever stood in a cold shower will tell you, it’s better to be prepared before your hot water heater gives out on you.
So how can you tell if your hot water heater will need replacing anytime soon?
First of all, check its age. If you inherited the unit when you bought your home, check the manufacturer’s label on the side of the unit, which should include the installation date. If the installation date is missing, you can use the unit’s serial number to determine its age; (there are guides available online.) If your hot water heater is at least 8 – 10 years old, it might be time to at least start researching a replacement. The average tank water heater lasts about 8 – 15 years, depending on model, usage, and maintenance.
Obviously, a second sign is if it is failing to heat water consistently. Additional signs are leaking, making odd noises, and visible signs of rust or corrosion.
Next, it’s time to take a good hard look at what your water usage history and homeowner goals are. This will help you determine what kind of hot water heater best fits your needs. How big is your family? How long do you plan to own your home? What appliances and features do you have – dishwasher, large washing machine, jacuzzi? Teenagers who take long showers? These are all factors!
There are two basic kinds of hot water heaters: tank and tankless and as you might expect, there are pros and cons to each.
Tank hot water heaters have been the standard for decades. Ranging from 30 – 80 gallons in size, they work by heating and storing hot water for later use. In order to have hot water ready at all times, they are constantly heating and reheating the water in the tank, which adds to energy costs. Additionally, if the tank runs out of hot water, it can take a long time to refill and heat the new water. In other words, in a large household, you may not want to be the last in line for a shower!
Tankless hot water heaters, on the other hand, work by heating hot water on demand – often ready in just seconds. Water flows past powerful heat exchangers, instantly heating it to a preset temperature. There is no stored water to be heated and reheated, saving on energy costs. Whereas tank water heaters need several square feet of floor space, as well as vertical space (they are typically about 5 feet tall), tankless hot water heaters are much smaller and can be mounted on a wall, under a cabinet – even outside! They tend to last longer (an average of 20 years) and can be less expensive to run. If you plan to own your home for a long time, a tankless hot water heater may prove a worthwhile investment.
The primary disadvantage of tankless units is that their upfront cost is generally higher. This is partly due to the fact that most homes have standard tank hot water heaters and it’s easier (and less expensive) to just replace with an updated model of what’s already there. Tankless units can be powered by electricity, natural gas, or propane but installing them may involve adding an extra electrical circuit or gas lines and ventilation. This adds to the initial cost.
A second disadvantage is that tankless units can struggle to provide enough hot water if multiple taps are being used at the same time.
As you can see, making the right decision for your home can involve weighing many factors. If still uncertain which is the best choice for you, feel free to contact us for additional guidance.