In hot water
It may not be the first thing to come to mind when you think of appliances, but a water heater is a critical component of the home. Sure, a flashy new stove or refrigerator is probably more enticing, but the often-taken-for-granted water heater plays an e
The most common type of water heater has a reservoir of water that is heated and stored in an insulated tank. When you need hot water, it is released from the top of the tank; cold water then enters the bottom, ensuring that the tank is always full.
Because water is continuously heated in the tank, standby heat loss can be significant. Nevertheless, the friendly price tag and whole-house capability of these units can’t be debated. Selecting energy-efficient appliances and low-flow faucets and showerheads can help reduce energy loss. When purchasing a conventional storage heater, be sure to consider its overall capacity, energy efficiency, yearly operating costs and recovery rate (the amount of water that can be heated in a certain period of time).
Solar water heaters and heat pump models are newer alternatives. Incredibly cost-effective in the long run, solar heat systems are fueled by natural sunlight, which is then processed in a system that is either active (has circulation pumps and controls) or passive. The downside of solar heaters is that they can be pricey upfront, and they often require a backup system, especially in areas with limited sunlight. Nevertheless, their energy savings are hard to beat. Hybrid heat pump water heaters are another option. These heaters take heat from the air and transfer it to water in an enclosed tank. They may also have traditional electric heating elements. Some drawbacks are that they are costly, noisy and create quite a chill in a room.
Though it seems to be the new buzzword these days, tankless isn’t necessarily right for every home. A great selling point for these heaters, however, is that they are “on-demand,” meaning that they only supply water as it’s needed. That translates to great energy savings, plus instant hot water because you don’t have to wait for a storage tank to fill up. Tankless units typically have a longer lifespan than conventional tank styles, plus some are eligible for tax rebates.
The downside? In a large household, you may not be able to get enough hot water simultaneously. For example, taking a hot shower while running a dishwasher could be too much for a single tankless unit to handle. One solution to this is to go for several tankless units, or install separate tankless heaters for certain appliances. The cost of tankless units is higher than conventional tank styles, but the long-term energy savings quickly outweighs this drawback.
How you run your water heater is also important because water heaters are huge energy users. Electric water heaters are generally the most expensive to run, but they cost less up front and don’t require venting. Natural gas heaters are incredibly efficient to operate, though they do cost more up front, and they do require a chimney vent.
In addition, natural gas is not available in all areas. If your neighborhood lacks natural gas access, you may also want to consider propane for equal efficiency. Hybrid systems and solar-powered systems are also great alternatives; they cost more up front, but provide incredible energy savings in the long run.