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Best water heaters 2020: Gas and electric water heaters from Rheem, A.O Smith, and more

Best water heaters 2020: Gas and electric water heaters from Rheem, A.O Smith, and more
(Image credit: Getty)

The best water heaters will ensure you’ll have plenty of hot water exactly when you need it. Whether you need an electric water heater, or you’re after a gas water heater, we’ll cover both in this guide, along with some useful advice on what to consider before you buy. 

Unlike the best tankless water heaters, the models in this guide all have a tank and we’ve got all the details on how much water heaters cost as well as anything else you might need to know. 

First of all, the best water heaters are either electric or gas and the capacity of their tanks varies too. If you need enough hot water for a family, we’d recommend choosing a 50-gallon water heater, while if you want something even bigger, the Westinghouse Lifetime Electric Water Heater has an 80-gallon tank. 

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Electric water heaters will be cheaper to purchase compared to a gas water heater, however, electric models will be more expensive to run. Water heaters can cost over $1,000, but it’s best to choose an energy-efficient water heater to avoid sky-high energy bills. Look out for the Energy Star rating on water heaters, and, if you can, choose a water heater without any anode rods. These rods corrode over time, so if you choose a water heater without any, it will last longer. 

Having plenty of hot water is essential at home, so unless you’re an expert, it’s best to get a professional to fit your water heater for you. With that in mind, you’ll need to factor in installation costs as well. 

While choosing one of the best water heater brands such as Rheem, A.O Smith, and Bosch is important, also take note of the warranty that each water heater comes with. Some models even offer lifetime warranties! 

Finally, the features that each water heater offers vary. The best water heaters can be controlled by your phone and many also have a vacation mode that means it’s not wasting energy when you’re not at home. 

To read our other home essentials guides, check out the best gas furnaces, and the best water softeners. Or, find the best water heater for you below. 

1. Rheem Gladiator Water Heater: Best overall water heater  

Rheem Gladiator Water Heater

(Image credit: Home Depot)

Rheem Gladiator Water Heater

The Rheem water heater is a durable and reliable water heater that has a fantastic 12-year warranty.

Energy Star rated: Yes | Warranty: 12 years

 Eco-friendly burner produces low emissions
 It is EcoNet enabled 
 It has a 12-year warranty  
 Not suited to homes with more than 4 people 

Rheem is a good, mid-level water heater brand that's not too expensive. Its reputation for manufacturing durable, reliable water heaters makes it a good choice for most homes. The company sells water heater models in gas, electric, tankless, solar and hybrid styles. 

We looked at the Rheem Gladiator Water Heater as a reference point for our guide. This gas water heater is Energy Star rated and has a 12-year warranty. You can control or monitor it using the included EcoNet Wi-Fi Kit and smartphone app. 

This EcoNet system can even send you alerts if there is a leak or other complications. To protect you, the device automatically turns off if potentially flammable vapor builds up. You won’t have to worry about cleaning a filter either, as this unit is made to operate without one. 

2. Westinghouse Lifetime Electric Water Heater: Best water heater warranty  

Westinghouse Lifetime Electric Water Heater

(Image credit: Home Depot)

Westinghouse Lifetime Electric Water Heater

Set to last a lifetime, the Westinghouse Electric Water Heater will save you money in the long run.

Energy Star rated: No | Warranty: Lifetime

Set to last a lifetime 
Large 80-gallon tank

The Westinghouse Electric Light Duty Water Heater boasts a huge 80-gallon tank, making it ideal for families and those that need a lot of hot water fast. 

Other noteworthy features with this water heater are the tank’s stainless steel design making it much more lightweight. The stainless steel also minimizes the build up of scale inside, meaning it should last a lot longer. 

Whilst this water heater does come with a hefty price tag at over $1,000, it does also have a lifetime warranty. The adjustable thermostat allows you to easily control the temperature of the water in the tank, making sure it’s just right for you and your needs. 

3. Rheem Performance Platinum Smart Electric Water Heater: Best electric water heater

Rheem Performance Platinum Smart Electric Water Heater

(Image credit: Home Depot)

Rheem Performance Platinum Smart Electric Water Heater

A smart water heater with a 10-year warranty, the Rheem Performance Water Heater is Energy Star rated.

Energy Star rated: Yes | Warranty: 10 years

Long warranty
Energy efficient
Smart controls

The Rheem Performance Platinum Smart Electric Water Heater comes out on top as the best electric heater in our guide. 

Complete with a 10-year warranty, this water heater is quiet and efficient. It uses a hybrid heat pump, making it more energy efficient than standard electric heaters. Being a smart water heater, the Rheem Performance heater sends notifications to your phone if anything isn’t quite right or any water leakages are detected. 

Ideal for home of up to five occupants, this water heater can handle four back to back showers and water usage from three bathrooms. 

Other handy smart features include this water heater’s ability to put it into High Demand mode for plenty of hot water, and also it has a Vacation Mode for when you go away. 

After downloading the compatible app, this water heater can send you service notifications so that you can make your tank last as long as possible. 

4. A.O Smith Signature Gas Water Heater: Best gas water heater  

A.O Smith Signature Gas Water Heater

(Image credit: Lowe's)

A.O Smith Signature Gas Water Heater

The A.O Smith Gas Water Heater is a great budget option and is great for family homes.

Energy Star rated: No | Warranty : 6 years

Good value  
Great for families
Shorter warranty

The A.O Smith Signature Gas Water Heater is the cheapest in our guide for large water heaters, but that doesn’t mean you’ll miss out.

Sure, it doesn’t come with smart features like some of the other models do, but for what it costs this water heater is great for heating enough water for a family. What features it does have have been thought out well. 

A push button ignition makes the startup process nice and easy and the LED status indicator helps you keep tabs if anything should go wrong. 

A well-trusted brand, A.O Smith offers a good and reliable water heater without the enormous price tag. 

5. Bosch Tronic 3000 T ES4 Water Heater: Best point-of-use water heater 

Bosch Tronic 3000 T ES4 Water Heater

(Image credit: Home Depot)

Bosch Tronic 3000 T ES4 Water Heater

A fantastic and compact water heater that is designed for point-of-use plug in with ease.

Energy Star rated: No | Warranty: 6 years

Easy installation  
Fits under sinks
Heats water fast   
Only has a small tank  

The Bosch Tronic 3000 T ES4 Water Heater can be mounted on a wall or the floor and is great for under sinks. It plugs into a 120V outlet and has a six-year warranty. 

This water heater certainly won’t provide enough hot water for a whole family showering after each other and it might only have a four-gallon tank, but it is designed to easily heat water in one area. Its short recovery time means you won’t have to wait long for hot water. 

Its tank is glass-lined, which makes it great for insulation and has a 98% thermal efficiency. For a water heater that can be used with one point-of-use, the Bosch model is a great choice. It’s fine to use when one person has a shower for around 10 minutes, or it can be used with a small washing machine. 

Buying a water heater: efficiency ratings

Efficiency standards for gas and electric water heaters are different, but both use the Uniform Energy Factor (UEF) ratings system, where higher scoring units produce more hot water while using less energy. To earn an Energy Star certification, for example, electric water heaters with tanks up to 55 gallons must have a UEF greater than 2. In contrast, gas water heaters with tanks up to 55 gallons only need a UEF above 0.64 or 0.68, depending on how they use water during the day. Qualifications for tanks over 55 gallons are even higher. Choosing a water heater near or above the Energy Star standards will save money on your utilities, though the most efficient units usually command the highest prices.

Water heater warranties

The typical water heater is estimated to last eight to 12 years. Many factors can affect this, including the build quality, maintenance issues and the hardness of the water in your area. Since your water heater can be a substantial investment for your home, choose one with a long warranty. The best water heater warranties cover the unit for nine to 12 years. Labor warranties usually last one year, though your plumber might offer an extended warranty.

How much do water heaters cost?

On average, you can expect to spend between $700 and $2,000 to get a new water heater installed in your home. Without installation, electric water heaters usually cost between $300 and $700. Similarly, gas water heaters cost between $400 and $1,000. However, a heater’s cost depends largely on the water heater brand, tank size and its efficiency rating.

Although it's tempting to open the installation manual and install your new water heater on your own, most homeowners don't have the necessary skills and experience. By choosing a professional installer, you get someone who knows exactly what to do and how to do it correctly and safely. Furthermore, some brands only sell their water heaters through installers. Installers also often have water heater suggestions for your home.

Most plumbers are trained and licensed and have valuable experience, so it's worth the extra cost to have them install your water heater. To find the best plumber in your area, take some time to look at their online customer reviews on Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Angie's List and similar websites. 

Installation costs typically include labor, supplies and water heater removal. You can expect to pay between $300 and $500 to have an installer swap out your old water heater for a newer model, though this may increase or decrease based on where you live. However, if you’re changing the type of water heater in your home, you can expect to pay up to $1,500, sometimes more, to upgrade your home’s electrical or natural gas connections appropriately. Make sure to get quotes from three or four local plumbers in order to find the best price.

Permits & inspections

Most cities and counties require you apply for a permit before you install a water heater in your home. Depending on where you live, the licensed plumber you hire can obtain the necessary permits as part of the installation. However, it’s a good idea to double-check with them or your local building department to learn exact permit requirements for your location. This will also help you find out if you need to get the permit yourself or if the contractor does it. When the installation is complete, someone from the organization that issued the permit will inspect the water heater to verify it complies with the building code.

Gas vs electric water heaters

Water heaters fueled by natural gas usually cost less to operate on a monthly basis than electric models. As a bonus, they still work when the power goes out. Electric water heaters heat water more efficiently than gas models but often have higher energy costs, since electricity generally costs more than natural gas. If your home already has a gas water heater, there's no need to switch to electric. 

Lifetime energy costs

You can estimate your new electric or gas water heater's annual and lifetime energy costs with this calculator from the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). It also compares your estimates with those of base models, FEMP recommendations and the most efficient models in the industry. This calculator can help you decide if a more efficient model is worth the extra cost over its lifetime.

How many years does a hot water heater last?

When you're spending so much at once for a hot water heater, the question of longevity is a concern. Fortunately, tank style water heaters generally last eight to 12 years on average – depending on if you have hard water in your area and perform regular maintenance to keep the heater running at peak efficiency. We found through our research and discussions with plumbing professionals that you can expect a new water heater to last for about 10 years. Setting aside a little money every year to help offset the cost for when you do have to replace it can help reduce the stress of forking over a chunk of change you weren't expecting to spend.

We also found that many plumbing experts advise installing a hot water filter to help reduce the amount of sediment and minerals that get into your water heater. This extra system could help double the lifespan of your water heater, but we recommend consulting with your local plumber first to find out if it would be worth it in your area. 

When should you replace your water heater?

You don’t need to be a plumber to figure out that your water heater isn’t working properly, but it helps to know the symptoms associated with a broken water heater before you lose hot water entirely. 

  • Look out for any changes in hot water quality, such as brown water or metallic tastes, which may indicate your storage tank is rusting on the inside.
  • If you experience a sudden decrease in the amount of hot water your heater delivers, or the water never gets completely hot, this could be the result of a bad or old heating element.
  • A decrease in the volume of water coming through the faucets could indicate a pipe is blocked with sediment, hard water deposits or another object.
  • If your water heater starts to sound different when heating water, especially if you hear popping and cracking, that could be a problem.
  • Any time you see water leaking directly from the water heater, something needs to be tightened.
  • As mentioned earlier in our guide, the average lifespan of a water heater is about 10 years, so anything older than 10 to 15 years is a good candidate for replacement, even if it’s still working fine.

Water heater safety

Your water heater may be out of sight, out of mind, but this integral part of your household does need regular maintenance and care. Nationwide insurance recommends homeowners inspect certain components of their water heaters at least yearly, such as ventilation, pilot light and the temperature or release valve.

You should follow the instructions contained in the manufacturer’s user manual to see exactly how to check each of these components. As always, if you are unsure of the condition of your water heater or need assistance, call your local plumber to get a professional inspection and guidance.