Hot water options
If your water heater is more than 10 years old and has not been maintained, it may be approaching the end of its useful life. If it’s leaking or showing signs of rust, it definitely needs to be replaced. So consider your options before it goes kaput and you have to make a rushed decision to get hot water back. Now might be the time to install a tankless water heater.
Homeowners can increase the life of their water heaters by lowering the temperature to a more reasonable setting, by periodically flushing sediment from the bottom of the tank, and by replacing the anode rod. Some of these measures also save energy.
Estimated hot water savings
For homes that use up to 41 gallons of hot water daily (probably a two-person household), the Department of Energy estimates savings of 24 to 34 percent on the cost of providing hot water via a tankless heater compared to a conventional storage-tank heater. In homes that use substantially more hot water, around 86 gallons per day (probably four or more people), the DOE estimates reduced savings, only about 8 to 14 percent. This is because there is less idle time and less standby loss with a conventional water heater if a lot of hot water is used throughout the day. (Hot water use varies significantly depending on your habits. Estimate how much hot water you use by using the Consumer Reports calculators.)
For large families, it may make more sense to stick with an energy-efficient conventional water heater and implement other hot-water saving strategies — such as installing water-efficient shower heads, dishwashers, and clothes washers — to cut down the quantity of hot water used, rather than changing the way water is heated.
Even greater energy savings can be achieved by installing a tankless water heater at major points of use — for example, near the master bathroom, a washing machine, or kitchen. (This reduces the length of the pipe run, which reduces the amount of hot water left in the line when the faucet is turned off.) This strategy could yield savings ranging from 27 to 50 percent, although savings could be offset by the cost of purchasing and installing additional tankless water heaters.
If you’re replacing a conventional water heater, you may want to consider buying a more efficient storage water heater. Some manufacturers have made dramatic efficiency improvements. Check out the yellow energy tag, which indicates energy use of the model you are considering versus the average for models in its size range. A side-by-side comparison of an efficient storage water heater and a tankless water heater is worth the time.
Compare water heaters
Here are profiles of four of the leading manufacturers of water heaters. Use them to compare water heaters by brand. Visit ConsumerReports.org for more comparison data provided by this trusted resource.
General Electric makes gas and electric water heaters. GE tank water heaters are available in multiple sizes, with energy-efficiency claims that vary by size and multiple levels of warranty coverage. The company’s tank water heaters are available exclusively at Home Depot. General Electric recently introduced a line of made in the U.S. GeoSpring heat pump electric water heaters.
Kenmore makes gas and electric water heaters. Kenmore water heaters are available in multiple sizes, Power Miser, and Hydrosense electronic-temperature-control configurations. Kenmore water heaters are available at Sears.
Rheem manufactures and markets gas and electric water heaters. Rheem makes residential water heaters in tank, tankless, and point-of-use configurations and units that work with solar water-heater systems. Rheem water heaters are available in multiple sizes and with multiple warranties, with energy-efficiency claims that vary by size. Rheem tankless water heaters are available at Home Depot. Its tank water heaters are available online and through a network of dealers.
Whirlpool manufactures and markets gas and electric water heaters. Whirlpool tank water heaters are available in multiple sizes, and standard and power vent configurations. Whirlpool water heaters are available at Lowe’s.