Water heaters are one of the most important parts of any home if you want working hot water on demand, Whether your water heater capacity isn’t up to par for your family, or your current unit is at the end of its usable life, choosing out a water heater can be tough.
There are several options available, with two of the most popular being traditional storage-tank water heaters and heat pump hybrid units. By considering how units work, how they are powered, how they are best used, and a comparison of pros and cons, you can discover the right choice for your particular usage scenario.
Traditional Water Heaters
If you hear the words “water heater,” you probably think of the massive cylindrical tank in a closet or garage. Traditional water heaters use a tank to store the water that is then warmed and stored warmed until you are ready to use it. There’s a reason your mind jumps straight to these: Storage tank water heaters are much more common than hybrid or tankless counterparts.
How Do They Work?
Traditional water heaters work pretty simply. A tank fills up with water and is heated and held in an insulated tank. As needed, hot water is pushed through a pipe to the rest of your home when you turn on faucets. These can be great to use, but because the tank is limited in size, there is only so much hot water that can be stored at any given point in time.
Most single-family traditional water heaters store between 20 and 80 gallons. The hot water comes out the top, and cold water for heating enters from the bottom. The tank is always kept full in this manner, and the water is heated, then pushed into the tank.
How Are They Powered?
Traditional water heaters can be powered either by gas or electricity, depending on the model chosen. Electric water heaters are usually cheaper at first, but electricity costs, depending on location, can quickly cost more overall. Natural gas water heaters are more expensive upfront, but most of them are also more energy-efficient and over time, cost around half the price to keep running. If your household uses a lot of hot water, a gas heater will most likely be cheaper over time.
Traditional Water Heaters Pros and Cons
Traditional water heaters have stood the test of time for a reason. In particular, they are less expensive to purchase and install than tankless and hybrid units. If you are placing a unit in a rental, you may not want to put in the extra money to invest in a tankless or hybrid unit.
Traditional water heaters can also be somewhat customized to the size of the household. High-capacity units typically provide enough water to meet higher demands, which should cover what most large families will require while smaller families can opt for smaller models that won’t use as much power while still meeting their needs.
When maintenance time rolls around, most standard water heaters are cheaper and easier to manage as well. Both the parts and labor tend to be cheaper on traditional water heaters than on tankless or hybrid models.
Some people dislike traditional water heaters because of some of their cons. For example, storage tank water heaters do not have as long a lifespan as heat pump water heaters or tankless heaters.
Traditional water heaters also are not as energy-efficient as tankless units. Because they work by always keeping water heated and by heating up water as it is used, a lot of energy goes into keeping water hot, especially overnight when it is not being used as much. This can lead to more expensive power bills, especially in the winter when there is more of a temperature difference to be made up in order to heat the water in the tank.
Another potential problem is that newer water heaters may not nicely fit where the old one was. As federal regulations pass to increase efficiency, they have also caused changes to the dimensions of tanks. Newer models often are built either taller or wider compared to older tanks of the same capacity.
Hybrid Water Heaters
If you would prefer something a bit more energy-efficient than a standard water heater, using a hybrid water heater is a valid option. These work to combine the best of both worlds, taking features from both a traditional water heater and tankless options.
How Do They Work?
Sometimes referred to as heat pump water heaters, hybrid water heaters consist of a tank on the bottom with a heat pump on the top. They do not generate their own heat, instead using electricity to take the heat from the air to the water.
How Are They Powered?
These water heaters require electricity to function. They can heat water with electricity when more hot water is being used to allow for a nearly constant supply of freshly heated water. They can also store water in a tank to be ready to go. This works well for those who sometimes need to use a lot of water.
Hybrid Water Heaters Pros and Cons
Perhaps the most compelling reason to use a hybrid water heater is that they use over 50% less energy than standard heaters, making them significantly cheaper to operate. This makes them suitable for both large and small families as well. Some are even up to three times as efficient as traditional water heaters.
Another major pro is that hybrid water heaters will be right for just about every family as the water can be heated electrically when the stored water is used, but more is needed.
Additionally, most heat pump water heaters have a control panel so you can set the output to whatever you need without wasting energy by heating more water than you need. Conversely, you can shift from normal mode to a hybrid or high-demand mode to allow the water heater to provide more hot water.
Typically, hybrid water heaters last longer than traditional units, lasting up to 15 years as opposed to 8 to 12. If you want an option that will withstand more time,
Despite the benefits, there are a few drawbacks to hybrid water heaters. In particular, they may not fit all spaces, especially if the place you would like to put them has a lower ceiling due to the heat pump on top.
Hybrid water heaters also usually don’t work well if they are stored somewhere that frequently drops below 40 degrees F. This means that they may not be a valid option in climates where winter temperatures are frequently freezing. However, in warmer environments, they can be even more efficient since they utilize ambient heat.
Perhaps the biggest limiting factor is that they must be installed somewhere with over 1,000 cubic feet of open air. This means that they need to be placed in an open 12-foot by 12-foot room for maximum efficiency. For people with limited space, this may not be a viable option.
Which Water Heater is Right for You?
Before you pick your new water heater, you have to first consider what your household needs. Do you have multiple people at home that will need to use hot water? What about appliances like dishwashers or washing machines? How often do you do the dishes? Wash hands? There’s no way around it.
The larger your family is, the more hot water will be used. If you have a family of eight, you probably don’t want to be stuck with a 20-gallon water heater that has to refill and reheat after every single shower or every time you do the dishes. A studio or one-bedroom apartment may be able to get by with a much smaller capacity simply due to having fewer people adding to the demand.
As you shop, consider that a bath or shower will use roughly 20 gallons per person. Washing hands can use 2 gallons. Running the dishwasher can use up to 14 gallons. You will want to plan accordingly to help determine how much water you will need available. Consider these guidelines for traditional water heaters:
- 1-2 people: 23 to 36 gallons
- 2-4 people: 36 to 46 gallons
- 3-5 people: 46 to 46 gallons
- More than 5 people: Add 10 gallons per person to 56 gallons.
Ultimately, the right water heater for you is dependent upon your own usage scenarios. If you find that you can’t get a tank large enough for your usage, choosing a hybrid model may be the best decision for your family and usage. Do you have a need for a lot of hot water on demand?
A hybrid heater may be the best bet for you. Are you a small family with limited space? A larger traditional water heater is likely to better suit your needs. Before you take your pick, consider the pros and cons carefully. In the right setup, both hybrid and traditional water heaters can be fantastic choices and provide your family with the right amount of hot water for the right price.