Best Water Heaters

Why Buy a Water Heater?

We've evaluated water heaters since 2015, spending over 80 hours researching the best manufacturers in the industry. While researching for this guide, we looked at 50-gallon models from 10 of the best brands. We chose these water heater brands because they have reputations for making reliable, durable and efficient units. This guide summarizes our research to help you make an educated decision when buying your next water heater.

Best for Most Homes

Best for Most Homes: Rheem

Rheem is a good mid-level water heater brand that's not too expensive, but its reputation for manufacturing durable, reliable water heaters makes it an excellent choice for most homes. The company sells water heater models in gas, electric, tankless, solar and hybrid styles. We looked at the Rheem Prestige G50-40N RH67 PD as a reference point for our guide. This gas water heater is Energy Star-rated and has an excellent 12-year warranty, and you can control or monitor it as part of your smart home using the included EcoNet Wi-Fi Kit and smartphone app.

Best Budget Brand

Best Budget Brand: Kenmore

Kenmore water heaters, which you can buy at Sears department stores, are among the least expensive on the market. They are dependable and sturdy, which makes them a good choice if your budget is limited. The company makes models in natural gas, electric and hybrid variants but doesn't make tankless models. We looked at the Kenmore 58250, an electric water heater, as a reference point for our guide. We like that it has a 12-year warranty and digital controls. If you want smartphone controls, you can buy an optional kit. However, this water heater doesn't have an Energy Star certification.

Best Premium Brand

Best Premium Brand: AO Smith

AO Smith is one of the largest manufacturers of water heaters, which it sells under a variety of brands. Those sold under the AO Smith brand are some of the more expensive models we looked at, but the company has an excellent reputation for quality products. AO Smith makes gas, electric, tankless, solar and hybrid water heaters in a variety of sizes. We looked at the AO Smith Vertex GPHE-50, a premium gas water heater, as a reference point for this guide. We like this model's durable brass drain valve and remarkable energy efficiency, and it is Energy Star certified.

What to Look For

A Professional Should Install Your Water Heater

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. If they don't clearly outline their pricing, set an estimated completion time and provide a written quote, don't use them, even if they are the lowest bid.

Gas Vs. Electric

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. If you want to learn more about different types of water heaters, the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Saver website has a fairly comprehensive guide on the subject. In fact, it was one of the best resources we found during our research about water heaters.

Tank Size

Choose a hot water heater large enough to handle multiple water users simultaneously. The number of people in your home affects the water heater size. For example, most 50-gallon water heaters can supply hot water for up to four people. Most water heater companies – including Whirlpool, Rheem, Kenmore and Bradford White – offer small and large sizes so you can select one that suits the needs of your household.

Warranty

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 substantial investment for your home, choose one with a long warranty. The best water heaters warranties cover the unit for nine to 12 years. Labor warranties usually last one year, though your plumber might offer an extended warranty.

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.

Tankless Water Heaters

Although most homeowners choose traditional gas or electric storage-tank water heaters, tankless water heaters are an alternative that provides on-demand hot water more efficiently, contributing to lower energy costs. Whole-home tankless water heaters are very expensive compared to traditional water heaters.

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.

Additional safety tips Nationwide gives include:

  • Using earthquake straps on your water heater is a good idea, even if you live outside an earthquake zone. This is particularly important for maintaining gas water heater safety. If your water heater were to fall over, it could sever the gas line and cause an explosion.
  • Remove paper, dust or other combustibles from the heater enclosure.
  • Extinguish the pilot light before using flammable liquids or setting off aerosol bug bombs.
  • When leaving for vacation, set the hot water heater temperature to its lowest setting. This saves money and reduces the risk of problems while you are away. 
  • Consider installing an automatic gas-shutoff valve to stop the flow of gas if the ground moves or if gas flow increases dramatically. The valve prevents fires when a gas line breaks due to flood, earthquake or other disaster.
  • Temperature or pressure relief valves help prevent tanks from exploding if temperature or pressure exceeds safe limits. Test this valve yearly by pulling up on the handle to make sure water flows freely out and stops when you let go of the handle. If it does nothing or runs or drips, then the valve should be replaced.

Contributing Reviewer: John Carlsen