Water Heaters Review
Why Buy a Water Heater?
If you are finding that the hot water has run out by the time you get into the shower, or that it is taking a long time for your faucet to heat up to the appropriate temperature, you may need to look at a new water heater. In addition, many water heaters rust or corrode over time, which can lead to leaks that may be costly to fix, not to mention all the surrounding water damage.
When you are choosing a hot water heater, you want to get one that is large enough to handle multiple sources of water consumption simultaneously. Considering that people shower while also using a washing machine, dishwasher and sinks, it can be easy to deplete your hot water supply quickly, and no one, especially the person in the shower, wants a sudden blast of icy water.
Many major water heater companies offer different sizes so you can select one that suits the needs of your household. Most major water heater companies – including Whirlpool, Rheem, Kenmore and Bradford White – offer several sizes. Read our articles on water heaters to learn more about the different options.
Water Heater Types
The typical American home still uses a tank-style water heater that heats a substantial amount of water and keeps it ready in a large tank that is typically kept in the basement or garage. However, you can also store it in a good-sized closet, under a counter or in another area, depending on the water heater's size and the plumbing, power outlets and drain arrangements in your home. If you buy a natural gas water heater, you also need to provide air circulation around the appliance.
Although most homeowners opt for tank water heaters, other types of water heaters are gaining ground in the market, including tankless water heaters that provide hot water through a heating process that gives you on-demand access. In addition, there are solar water heaters for sale, as well as hybrid models, which are tank-style but use newer technology to heat water more efficiently and reduce overall energy costs. However, the hybrid water heaters come with higher initial price tags.
Water Heaters: How They Work Inside
Electric tank water heaters employ one or two heating devices, either one on the bottom of the tank or two at different levels that stick out from the inner sides of the tank, extending into the water. The best water heaters offer what is called dry fire protection, which means that the upper heating element can detect if it is surrounded by water and, if it is not, shuts off the heat to prevent the unit burning out.
A gas water heater is equipped with a burner and pilot light at the bottom and a chimney that extends up through the water in the tank. Some gas water heaters have a spiral-style heat exchanger that keeps combustion gases inside the tank longer, which provides greater heating efficiency.
Water heaters also include one anode rod, sometimes two. These metal rods undergo a chemical process and begin to rust and deteriorate in order to cut down on the corrosion in your tank.
The tank has a long dip tube inside that reaches from the top almost to the bottom and circulates the cold water coming into the tank toward the heating device. If everything works as it should, only hot water will emerge from the water heater when you turn on the hot water tap or an appliance that uses hot water. However, if the dip tube breaks, the cold water coming into the water heater tank quickly begins moving out of the tank without having been warmed. That will end up in the water stream you want for things like a nice, comfy shower – with unhappy results.
Some hot water heaters' dip tubes have a curve at the end. This diffuser dip tube mixes around lime and sediment that can collect at the bottom of the tank, cutting down on sediment buildup and increasing the heater's operational efficiency.
Another factor that comes into play is your power source. Most American homes use either electric or natural gas for home utilities. A far smaller percentage use oil or propane gas.
Most major manufacturers of water heaters present a generous selection of different types of these appliances that use different power sources. Companies such as Reliance, State, Lochinvar, U.S. Craftmaster and American offer both electric and gas water heaters so that you can easily find what you need from their selections. All these brands, incidentally, are owned by AO Smith, which also sells a variety of water heaters under its name.
New energy-saving electric water heaters can heat water efficiently, but they can also have higher energy costs, since electrical power generally costs more than natural gas. Some of the modern, eco-friendly electric models are more expensive to purchase, but cut down on energy consumption and reduce your monthly utility bills through such features as adjustable controls.
The American ES10N-50R electric water heater is a fairly short tank water heater, measuring just 49.75 inches high with diameter, width and depth measurements of only 24 inches each. With this sleek silhouette, you have the flexibility to choose where your water softener should be located for your household if you prefer a spot other than the basement or garage. Of course, the decision will depend largely on where pipes, power outlets and drains are located.
This 50-gallon tank has temperature controls you can adjust as needed and overheating protection. It conserves heat with a 3-inch layer of foam insulation that is environmentally friendly. With an energy factor of 0.95, this is a high-efficiency water heater, which means lower utility bills for your household in the long run than you could expect with a standard electric model.
Inside, you get a corrosion-reducing anode rod that extends into the water from the top. This durable rod has a stainless steel interior and is intended to lengthen the life of your water heater. The heater also employs a polymer diffuser dip tube that circulates cold water as it comes into the tank and mixes around any sediment, which reduces buildup at the bottom.
This water heater functions with two screw-in incoloy heating elements encased in stainless steel. These devices, operating at 5,000 watts and 240 volts, are manufactured to last longer than copper heating elements. The upper heating element stops burning if it senses no water at its level, which is referred to in the water heater industry as dry fire protection.
The Kenmore 58250 is a 50-gallon electric water heater with anti-corrosion features as well as safety features to protect your family and any visitors from getting burned by dangerously hot water. The heater turns itself off automatically if the water temperature goes beyond 180 F, with a switch to manually turn off the electrical power as well. You can turn it back on by pressing the reset button on the thermostat.
The tank's water is heated by two 5,500-watt, 240-volt heating elements. Kenmore recommends setting the water temperature at 120 F, which reduces your electric bills and, more importantly, avoids the danger of anyone getting burned by excessively hot water.
To cut down on corrosion of the tank itself, the water heater is equipped with two anode rods extending from the tank's side into the water. Most water heaters of this variety have only one anode rod. These two rods undergo a chemical process that causes them to rust instead, reducing the possible corrosion of your tank.
This is a tall water heater at 60.5 inches high, and it has a diameter of 22 inches. The tank conserves heat with the help of a glass lining and a 3-inch layer of environmentally friendly foam insulation.
If you choose, you can purchase extra equipment, the Kenmore Assurelink Wi-Fi Module and Assurelink Gateway, to make use of this water heating system's remote capabilities. With this feature, you can monitor and adjust your water heater via a smartphone, computer or tablet from any location.
The Reliance 12 50 EART electric water heater works with two 5,500-watt, 240-volt incoloy heating elements in the water, rather than just one like some other models. The Reliance heating elements are designed to last longer than standard heating elements. You also get dry fire protection with this hot water heater, which means that the upper heating element turns off automatically if it detects the tank is not full. This safety measure keeps the unit from burning out.
This heater has touchscreen controls for the electronic thermostat and three operational modes: standard, energy saver and vacation. The vacation mode lets you reduce the temperature levels substantially while you are away, but the temperature still protects your water heater from freezing.
You also get a safety lock mode on the control panel that you can use to keep the controls set to where you want them. In addition, the diagnostic codes tell you what is happening with the heater on the LCD screen. For example, you can see whether the upper or lower heating elements are working as they should. Flashing icons alert you to any problems.
This high-efficiency water heater has an excellent energy factor of 0.95, which indicates that the vast majority of the energy it expends is used to heat your water, not wasted. It also conserves heat with its foam insulation. This is a tall water heater with a height of 60.5 inches, so you need to keep it someplace with a lot of overhead space. However, it measures only 22 inches around, so it does not take up much floor space.
The U.S. Craftmaster NEE3J50HD is an electric water heater that lets you change settings via its electronic touchscreen controls. At times when you do not want to keep the water temperature and operating mode on the standard settings, you can just press a screen icon and easily change the operation to the energy-saver or vacation mode. The touchscreen also provides a safety lock option so you can keep the setting you want in place.
This water heater has a factory-set temperature of 120 F for standard operation. You can adjust the temperature and get hotter water for your dishwasher and washing machine if you choose. However, like many water heater manufacturers, U.S. Craftmaster recommends that you install thermostatic mixing valves, which mix cold water with hot at any water taps that someone might use. That way, there is a substantially reduced risk of anyone getting scalded by overly hot water.
If you are going to be away from home for a time, you can reduce the water temperature quite a bit to a vacation mode to trim electrical use and your utility bills, but still retain enough warm water in your tank and system to avoid them freezing in cold weather. The helpful energy-saver mode tracks your household's hot water use and makes adjustments as needed. With the energy-saver operation, you can cut down your consumption of electricity by as much as 30 percent.
This hot water heater is equipped with two heating elements, one placed higher in the tank and the other lower to give you efficient water heating. You also get dry fire prevention, which means the upper heating element can sense whether the storage tank is full or not, and this will shut off heat automatically to protect the element from burning out.
The Whirlpool Energy Smart ES50R9-55 offers you almost effortless ways to manage your hot water heater. You get a touchscreen control panel with it, and you can choose from three operating modes: Energy Smart, standard or vacation. The Energy Smart function automatically notes how much hot water you use and cuts down on heat loss. In the vacation mode, your water heater remains at lower temperatures that use less electricity while you are away, but it still stays warm enough that it does not freeze.
The standard operating mode keeps the temperature at the factory-set 120 F, but you can raise the temperature to ensure that your washing machine and dishwasher get really hot water to sanitize clothes and dishware. The manufacturer recommends that, if this is your choice, you consider installing thermostatic mixing valves to blend hot and cold water in each place where people turn on water so they do not get scalded.
This water heater uses two 5,500-watt, 240-volt incoloy heating elements inside the tank, one high up and one a bit lower, to warm the water. It preserves heat with a layer of polyurethane foam insulation as well as the tank's ceramic lining.
If you have low ceilings in the part of the house where you want to keep this water heater, you are in luck, since it is fairly short. It stands only 50 inches high and has diameter, width and depth measurements of 24 inches each.
The Lochinvar Energy Saver line of electric water heaters gives you choices in water capacity, with a range of 30 to 55 gallons, and size, with short, medium and tall models. The KMA05KD is a 50-gallon midsize water heater with two copper-sheathed, zinc-coated heating elements in the water that are designed to resist corrosion. The glass lining of the steel tank also protects it from rust.
You get built-in heat traps in the water connections for the flow entering and leaving the tank. These keep heat from escaping the pipes, and you also get eco-friendly foam insulation in the tank that adds another protection against heat loss. A temperature and pressure (T&P) relief valve releases water from the tank if the system senses any unusual temperatures or pressure.
You can trim your electricity bills by lowering the temperature from its standard setting to a vacation mode if you plan to be away for a while. This means your water heater uses less electricity but still keeps functioning and remains at a temperature that protects the tank from freezing.
This 4,500-watt, 240-volt hot water heater is factory-set at 120 F, which is considered a relatively safe temperature that probably won't scald anyone. You can set the temperature higher to get hotter water in your dishwasher and washing machine to sanitize clothes and dishware, but the manufacturer recommends in this case that you buy and install thermostatic mixing valves, which mix cold water with hot at faucet locations in your home.
Water heaters fueled by natural gas are great to have in the event of a power outage, since you can still bathe, shower, wash dishes, and get hot water for beverages and dehydrated foods. In general, they also cost less than electric models to operate on a monthly basis.
The AO Smith Vertex GPHE-50 is a 50-gallon water heater that takes up little floor space but is a bit taller than standard models at 68 inches high. Since it is only 17 inches in diameter, it fits nicely into a corner space and leaves room for other storage.
The AO Smith has a pilot light on the gas-fueled burner at the bottom of the tank. The heat rises through a spiral heat exchanger in the water, and this configuration for the heater lets it retain heated combustion gases in the tank for longer periods. This exchanger operates at 96 percent thermal efficiency, which is significantly more efficient than the standard models that function at 80 percent. The Intelli-Vent Gas Control lets you easily adjust the system diagnostics and track your water temperature.
This Energy Star-certified gas water heater can generate a constant flow of water at 3 gallons per minute and operates with a Green Choice 76,000-Btu gas burner. This patented burner is environmentally friendly and trims the heater's nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions by up to 33 percent.
You get durable components with this gas water heater, including a brass drain valve designed to be more tamper-resistant and resilient than plastic valves. You also get a T&P relief valve that releases water or steam from the tank if the temperatures or pressure get to risky levels or if something else goes wrong within the tank. You can use the reset button to restart the pilot light if it goes out.
The Bradford White URG250T6N is an eco-friendly gas water heater with intelligent diagnostics and a microprocessor that monitors your burner and controls what it is doing to keep the water temperature at the correct level. Its trademarked hydrojet system uses a cold water inlet pipe that swirls water around at the bottom of the tank to reduce sediment buildup.
You can keep track of what is happening with your water heater through an LED screen that gives you 10 indicators of how this appliance is functioning. To make sure the pilot light is operating as it should, you also get a flashing light. To make doubly sure things are OK, you get a window to the combustion area so you can see the pilot light and burner in operation.
This hot water heater has ultra-low nitrous oxide emissions. To add to its environmental friendliness, it also has heat traps to reduce the wasted heat in the pipes and insulation to preserve heat in the tank. These methods of heat preservation save energy in addition to saving you money on your utility bills.
This heater offers a strong, tamper-resistant drain valve and a factory-installed T&P valve that works as a safety measure to release water from the tank if temperatures or pressures reach dangerous levels. It is also equipped with a digital thermal sensor and a thermal switch you can reset. These features link with the self-diagnostic controls to shut down the water heater if something is awry.
The Rheem Prestige G50-40N RH67 PD is an Energy Star-rated gas water heater. Since it has no filter to clean and includes a number of safety features, it is easy to use.
This hot water heater includes a fuel shut-off capability, and its sensors also turn the heater off if any potentially flammable vapor starts accumulating. The area where you store the water heater will be safe from carbon monoxide accumulation, thanks to this model's vent system and hood. You can sleep easier knowing your family has this level of protection from asphyxiation, fire or explosion.
If you live at a high altitude, this water heater could be ideal for your household, since it is designed and certified for homes as much as 10,100 feet above sea level. In addition, it operates efficiently and produces low emissions with its eco-friendly burner and low-NOx design, which means it produces less nitrous oxide while heating water in the tank.
This is also a smart water heater. You can sync it with any home automation, energy conservation and security systems you have in your house. When you buy this heater, Rheem provides a free EcoNet mobile app and includes the EcoNet Wi-Fi Kit with the purchase. You can use these to manage your water heater's temperature, adjust the controls to different settings, and monitor its functioning while you are away or even while you are at home.
You also get a water sensor that notes leaks and sends you an alert through this system. You can manage your water heater through your smartphone, tablet or computer web browser.
The State Premier Power Direct Vent GP6-50-YTPDT is an Energy Star-rated, 50-gallon gas water heater that gives you electronic controls to manage the heating cycles, water temperature inside the tank, the energy-saving device, combustion blower, igniter and gas valve. You get an LCD screen and button pad connected to a small circuit board underneath to manage your water heater's operations.
This hot water heater boasts a 96 percent energy efficiency rating. This is largely thanks to its 100,000-Btu gas burner and coiled spiral heat exchanger that keeps hot combustion gases inside the tank longer than standard water heaters do, which helps it heat water more efficiently. Standard gas water heaters typically have only 80 percent efficiency. With this gas hot water heater, you can save money on energy costs and protect the environment at the same time, since it has ultra-low nitrous oxide emissions.
In addition, this water heater features two anode rods, rather than the standard single one, that rust themselves in the tank's water, leaving the metal tank less prone to corrosion than it otherwise would be. The heater is also equipped with a solid brass drain valve that is tougher than the plastic valves some manufacturers use.
The State water heater is 66.75 inches tall and 22 inches in diameter, width and depth. You need to be mindful of headroom when you decide where to install it, but its slim physique is a space-saver. It comes with a reset button in the event the pilot light for your burner goes out.
What to Consider When Choosing a Hot Water Heater
Your hot water supply needs are based on the number of people living in your home, as well as your household's overall water usage. We examined hot water heaters that can supply households of three or four people, which generally means a 50-gallon tank storage heater.
But if you have a large family or a household that needs to use a great deal of hot water regularly, you might need to consider one larger than 50 gallons. Models as big as 100 gallons are available from most major manufacturers. For households of one or two people, there are also considerably smaller hot water heaters on the market, including some with compact tanks that hold 10 gallons.
Some retailers offer these recommendations: a 30-gallon capacity for households of one or two people, 40 gallons for two or three people, 50 gallons for three or four people, and 85 gallons or more for bigger households. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy offers this quick estimated average calculation for U.S. home water use: showers take 10 gallons, shaving 2 gallons, hand-washing dishes 4 gallons, machine-washing clothes 6 gallons, and one laundry load 7 gallons. Multiply these figures by the number of times they occur in an hour to get a peak hour demand for each task and add up the figures.
However, each household is unique, and these calculations are based on estimates for average water use, which might not resemble how much water is consumed in your house at all. For example, if you are an athletic couple with two active children, then it probably is wise to anticipate lots of showers and laundry loads of towels both now and for years to come – and it is likely you will need a bigger water heater than average for your family size.
The typical water heater is estimated to last eight to 12 years, although some retailers claim 10 years is the maximum. Other retailers insist that natural gas water heaters have a shorter lifespan of six to eight years. There is no consensus, since many factors come into play, including the quality of the water heater you buy, maintenance issues and the hardness of the water your area.
One factor that will indirectly influence your purchase is a new Department of Energy law that went into effect in 2015, establishing new energy-efficiency standards for water heaters that operate through electrical, natural gas or oil power. This has long-ranging implications for water heater designers and manufacturers, but ultimately, consumers benefit from lower energy costs.
Many hot water heaters come with limited warranties of three years or more on parts, but the best water heaters provide lengthy warranties of up to nine or even 12 years. Labor warranties are typically only a year. Since your water heater is a substantial investment for your home and the people in it, it is important to find one with a long-term warranty and responsive customer service in the event that you run into any problems.
Water Heaters: DIY or Professional Installation?
All the owner's manuals that come with these water heaters give detailed instructions for installation. If you are exceptionally skilled at DIY work, you could put in a water heater yourself. However, since you will be working with natural gas or electrical connections, there is always the possibility of error and danger.
Professional installers know exactly what to do and how to do it correctly, since they are trained and licensed to do this job and know what it takes to get the appliance working safely. It might be well worth the extra cost of having your hot water heater installed professionally.
Water connection valves are typically either 0.5 or 0.75 inches. You need to make sure all your connections match your tank specifications so that you do not need to buy additional components after purchasing a new water heater for your home.
Choosing the right water heater can be difficult, since all water heaters perform essentially the same job. Considering your family's water consumption, your utility bills and budget, the length of the warranty, and other factors can help you narrow down the candidates and make the job of picking the best water heater for your home much easier for you.