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

Cabin Living - - Appliance Guide - BY STACY DURR AL­BERT

Con­ven­tional stor­age

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).

Other op­tions

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.

Tan­k­less

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.

Fuel type

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.

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