hot water heater buyer's guide

Hot Water Heater Buying Guide

Selecting a new Hot Water Heater isn’t something that most people do frequently. Therefore, it is a good idea to refresh your memory on the important features to focus on while shopping for a new Hot Water Heater. Looking at the various types of Hot Water Heaters, fuel sources, spacing requirements and accessories should provide an informative overview to help you make the right decision for your needs.

Types of Hot Water Heaters

Before purchasing a new Hot Water Heater, you’ll want to consider the number of family members or how many people will be requiring hot water for showers on a daily basis. Be sure to consider that the more people in the household also increases the need for additional hot water for more loads of laundry and running the dishwasher more frequently.

Also, keep in mind that there are a variety of types of Hot Water Heaters that use various fuel sources, but you may be limited by which fuel sources are available where you live.

Storage Tank

The storage tank design has been around for years, and it is normally reasonably priced and available in a variety of stores and home centers. These may be purchased to run on natural gas, liquid propane or electricity.

In this unit, hot water is generated or heated in the storage tank. People purchase these models based on the number of gallons that the tank can hold and heat, which determines the size you’ll want to purchase to provide adequate amounts of hot water when needed.

Always check the recovery rate on each unit you’re considering. The recovery rate is the rate at which the unit can reheat water in one hour. Higher hot water demands require higher recovery rates.

Point-of-Use (POU)

The POU is much smaller than most standard units, and it is primarily designed for providing water to garages, workshops or any area where additional hot water may be needed.

Typical sizes range from 2.5 to 20 gallons. POU units are not designed for supplying water to entire households, but they provide hot water to the sink or showers where they are installed such as a secondary bathroom. The majority of units are electric.


Unlike storage tank devices, the on-demand or tankless water device,  does not store or hold hot water. Instead, water will be heated through coils inside the unit. Although it is typically more energy efficient compared to tank heaters, it does have a slow or limited hot water flow rate of about 3.5 gallons per minute. See the pros and cons of instant hot water heaters.

The on-demand heater models can be purchased to run on natural gas, liquid propane and electric.


Water is heated using a burner, but units do require sufficient circulating air around them, which means more space for installation. Typically, these run higher than electric Hot Water Heaters to purchase, but they are normally more energy efficient. Size ranges available for purchase include 30 to as much as 100 gallons.

Solar Heaters

The initial outlay for the cost of a solar Hot Water Heater might be expensive, and you may take some years to recoup costs after your investment. There are at least five or more designs available from which to choose. It’s recommended to consult with professionals when considering solar for your particular home design.

Generally, water is circulated through solar collectors on the roof of a home and it’s heated from the sun. A pump may be used to direct the water into a storage tank where it flows into a conventional Hot Water Heater to supply hot water to the home.

Hybrid Hot Water Heaters

The newer hybrid heaters use heat pumps to extract heat directly from the air surrounding the heater and work in conjunction with traditional electric storage heaters. Hybrids are larger than regular electric heaters and more expensive initially than other units. Size ranges include 50 gallons up to 80.

These save nearly 60 percent on energy costs, but they require more space for installation and are frequently noisier than standard storage tank heaters.

Fuel Sources


Electric units heat water via heating elements that are replaceable. These devices are comparatively less expensive than many other fuel sources to run. They’re very efficient and come in 20 to 100 gallons.

Propane or Gas

Storage tanks and tankless devices can be purchased that are designed to run on liquid propane or natural gas from your supplier.

Space Requirements

Standard sized Hot Water Heaters fit in most home fine, but there are times where there are space concerns and a lowboy or tall heater fits the available installation space better.

Short or Lowboys

These are much wider and shorter than standard heaters. However, they usually heat the same quantity of water. The lower height makes them perfect for cabinets or crawl spaces.


Taller heaters may hold 100 gallons, but they are much taller than other designs at 76 inches. These are ideal for garages or basements where height is not such a concern.


Most Hot Water Heaters are designed to stand-alone and don’t require additional accessories to function. However, in some instances, you might find them handy. Common accessories on the market include Hot Water Heater stands, pans, blankets, alarms, timers and expansion tanks.

Energy Guide Labels

Federal law requires that new appliances carry an energy guide label for consumers that display energy consumption information. When comparing and shopping for Hot Water Heaters, you should check the information displayed on the large yellow and black energy guide label.

The labels typically provide information about the operating costs and annual energy requirements. The information is provided by averages, so your household may vary slightly depending upon usage.

When shopping for a new Hot Water Heater, take the time to compare brands, fuel source options, storage gallons and water recovery rates. You may also have to factor in installation charges if you require the services of a professional. Consider the cost of each model and what the average monthly or yearly costs are to run the unit. Also, think about how long you plan to stay in the house or apartment to recover your investment.

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