While all types of water heaters perform the same function, they do not do so in the same way. Since different designs of water heaters operate in unique ways, they have their own set of characteristic pros and cons.
Whether you are building a new home or looking to replace an existing water heater, you should know the differences between the most common types of water heaters so that you can find the one that best fits the needs of your home’s plumbing system.
4 Main Types of Water Heaters
When choosing a new water heater for your home, there are four main options that you should consider.
Storage Tank Water Heaters
Storage tank water heaters are still the most common type of water heater. They make use of a large storage tank to hold water, which is then reheated throughout the day so that it is always ready to go when you need it.
Storage tank water heaters are ideal for homes that need to use several different faucets or water fixtures at once. As long as there is hot water in the tank, you will have proper water pressure and temperature.
However, once storage tank water heaters run out of hot water, you will have to wait for the tank to refill. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour, depending on the size of your tank and efficiency of your heating element.
Storage tank water heaters tend to use the most electricity of all the types of water heaters. This is because they have to constantly cycle on and off throughout the day to keep the water in the tank heated and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters, as their name suggests, do not have a storage tank. Instead, they use heating elements to heat water as it passes through them.
If you compare tankless and storage tank water heaters, tankless water heaters are usually the best bet. They provide a steady stream of water throughout your home effectively on demand.
They also use much less energy when compared to storage tank water heaters, since they do not have to constantly reheat water throughout the day. This can translate into substantial savings on your utility bills each month.
While tankless water heaters do come in at a higher price point than storage tank water heaters, the savings each month on your electricity bills will help pay down that initial cost with time.
Where tankless water heaters can struggle is in delivering hot water to several faucets or showerheads in your home at once. Since they have a limited capacity, only a few different water fixtures can be used at one time. Otherwise, you may find that your water pressure and temperature are inadequate.
You can manage this by not trying to take a shower while the dishwasher and laundry machine are both running, for example. Higher capacity units do exist but will come at a higher price point, naturally.
Heat Pump Water Heaters
Heat pump water heaters, which are also sometimes called hybrid systems, use a different method to heat your water. Instead, they move heat through heat exchangers to heat the water in their storage tank. These heat exchangers will pull heat from the air around your unit, or from the ground underneath your home, and warm up the water in the storage tank.
Heat exchanges use much less energy to heat water than an actual heating element, which means that your utility costs are much lower. This can help offset the cost of installing a heat pump water heater.
The main drawback of these systems is that they are slow, especially when heating up a large amount of water. They are also not well suited for colder climates and can struggle during periods of intense cold to heat up your water.
To offset this, some heat pump water heaters make use of a small heating element. This can help speed up the heating process, and ensures that you are not without hot water during a sudden cold snap. This small heating element is not always used since the heat exchangers are the primary method of warming up the water in the tank, but their presence is why heat pump water heaters are also called hybrid units.
The installation of heat pump water heaters can also be quite expensive. This is because the unit itself is costly, and because installing heat exchangers to draw heat from the ground is an involved process.
Solar Powered Water Heaters
Water heaters that are solar powered are another type of water heater that seeks to reduce your monthly energy costs. Roof or yard mounted solar panels provide the heat to warm up water in a storage tank.
Needless to say, if you live in a very warm and sunny climate, solar-powered water heaters can reduce your water heating bill to zero. Of course, living in a more temperate climate where the sun is inconsistent means that you likely need a backup option, like a regular storage water heater.
However, solar-powered water heaters are more expensive to install than regular water heaters. The solar panels alone can be expensive, though there are government tax credits and incentives that can help reduce the cost.
You should compare how much you save to the cost of installation. If it takes several years for the system to pay for itself, it may not be the best bet for your home.
Choose the Best Unit for Your Needs
Depending on your budget and your home’s size, different types of water heaters are better suited. Tankless water heaters are best for those with larger budgets, or for smaller homes. Storage tank water heaters are still the most affordable option and can fit into larger homes that have a smaller budget to provide consistent heating.
For more information about choosing and maintaining the right water heater for your home, check out the DIY section of our blog.