February 6, 2018
If you’re like most people, you don’t think much about your water heater until the day comes when you turn the shower on in the morning and after a few minutes, when it’s usually piping hot, you jump in, only to suffer the shock of a dousing of ice cold water. Your hot water heater has failed you!
While most homeowners wait until their current hot water heater stops working to replace it, that can cause problems: you’ll probably want a new one installed as quickly as possible and you may not want to spend time shopping around for the right unit with all the features you want. You may have to take whatever is in stock and within in your budget range without much other consideration.
That’s why we encourage you to think about a water heater replacement before getting that shock of ice cold shower water one morning. Most water heaters have a life span of about 10-15 years so if yours is past the 10 year mark, now is the time to start researching and thinking about your options. And Stadtler HVAC is here to help.
What Type of Water Heater is Right for Your House?
There are five main types of water heaters: storage tank, tankless (on-demand), heat pump (hybrid), solar, and condensing. Here’s a quick run-down of how each one operates:
• Storage Tank Water Heater
Storage tanks are the most common kind of water heaters. These units heat the water and store it until it is needed. Natural gas models are generally more expensive than electric models, but natural gas units cost about half to run. So, your initial expense may fairly quickly be recouped with a gas storage tank.
• Tankless (On-Demand) Water Heater
While storage tank water heaters always have hot water in them, conversely, tankless units only produce hot water when you need it. That means that if you plan on using a lot of hot water at a time – say, multiple showers at the same time – a tankless water heater probably won’t do the job. However, if you have limited hot water use and can use natural gas to heat the water, a tankless water heater can be more energy efficient than its storage tank sibling.
• Heat Pump (Hybrid) Water Heater
Heat pump water heaters are kind of like magic (ok, more like science, but it seems like magic): they capture the heat from the air to heat the water. Even when the air is cold, they can still heat water to make it far warmer than the air is. Because of this, they are far more energy efficient than electric water heaters. But, they are big and have to be kept between about 40 and 90 degrees to work well.
• Solar Water Heater
Solar water heaters are just about the most energy efficient way to heat your water – if you live in a continuously sunny climate. Unfortunately, the Chicago area isn’t known for sunny days in the winter and early spring so you would definitely need a back-up system to heat your water on rainy and cloudy days. And, of course, even on sunny days, during the winter, the days are much shorter than they are during the summer, which will also impact your ability to access enough solar energy to heat your water whenever you need it. Furthermore, the solar cells placed on your roof to provide solar energy are quite expensive. Depending on how much solar energy you’re able to use, it may be decades before a solar water heater paid for itself. That being said, if you are dedicated to limiting your environmental impact, a solar water heater is the best way to go.
• Condensing Water Heater
Condensing water heaters are similar to storage tank water heaters: they have large tanks that store hot water. In fact, if you use gas and need a large capacity water tank – over 55 gallons – a condensing water heater might be the best way to go. A condensing water heater traps exhaust and re-uses it to heat the water, thereby saving otherwise lost heat energy.
Selecting the Right Size Water Heater
Let’s clear up one misconception right away: bigger is not always better when it comes to water heaters. Think of it this way: if you have a 70 gallon storage tank water heater but you only use 35 gallons at peak usage times, you are still paying to heat 70 gallons of water. While you don’t want a water heater that is too small (no one likes running out of hot water halfway through a shower!), one that is too big can waste a lot of money. So how do you know what size to get?
Water heaters with storage, like storage tank water heaters and heat pump water heaters with a tank, will almost always have a rating that tells you their capacity, which is also referred to as their “first hour rating.” If you can’t find a label with this information, check the manufacturer’s brochure.
The “first hour rating” refers to the hour of peak usage in a day – not the first hour the water heater is used, as some people mistakenly think. So, figure out what time of day the most hot water is used in a single hour. Maybe it’s the morning, when you, your spouse, and your two teenagers all take showers between 6am and 7am. Maybe it’s the evening when you run the dishwasher, regularly do a load of laundry, and a few people take showers. Pinpoint your household’s typical use times. Anything that uses hot water counts, including:
• Washing dishes by hand
• Running the dishwasher
• Clothes washing machine
Next, you’ll need to estimate the average gallons of water used for each activity. We’ve given you a guide below to help estimate these amounts. Remember that if your household uses water conservation measures, like water-saving showerheads, your usage may be less.
Once you have this information, you can figure out when your peak usage time is and about how much hot water you need in that hour (and we’ve added a blank first hour rating worksheet to this page to help you).
Let’s take a look at how this works…
Family 1 consists of two adults and two teenagers and all four of them take showers between 6am and 7am on weekday mornings. Dad gets up first, takes his shower, and then shaves. Shaving adds about 2 gallons to their overall water usage. Mom prepares cereal for everyone for breakfast so there’s no extra water usage there, but then she tosses the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and turns it on before she leaves for work at 6:45am. This will add about 6 gallons to their usage. Dad collects the dirty laundry and throws in a load just before 7am when he leaves for work, adding 6 more gallons of hot water used. In total, this family uses about 55 gallons of hot water during their peak usage hour. They will want a 55+ gallon storage tank for their hot water heater.
Family 2 consists of a young married couple without kids. Each spouse takes a shower between 7am and 8am and the husband also shaves during that hour. They grab coffee at Starbucks on the way to work and don’t do any other clean up until the evening or on the weekends. So, their total need is only 22 gallons during their peak usage time. They clearly don’t need that large of a hot water tank. Unless…
Here’s a caveat to consider: let’s say you are Family 2. Generally your hot water usage isn’t much at all so you want to be economical and not get a huge hot water heater that will constantly be heating water that you don’t need. But a few times a year your sister, her husband, and their three kids come to visit. You have a large house with three showers, so it’s entirely possible that four or even five people could shower within the same hour, in addition to meal prep, laundry, the dishwashing running…that could really add up. You have two options: keep in mind the size of your hot water heater and essentially ration its use: wait to take your shower until the evening. Turn on the dishwasher on right before everyone goes to bed. Do laundry sparingly.
Or, you could get that larger storage tank. It’s up to you and your lifestyle. Another thing to consider is resale price of your home. If you have a larger house with three or four showers, even if you don’t use that much water, someone interested in purchasing your house might fill up all those bathrooms and they might want everyone to have hot water. So, consider your future plans for both family and home. Remember: a hot water heater lasts 10-15 years, so even your own family could grow substantially in that time.
Call Stadtler Heating When You Need to Replace Your Water Heater
If your water heater is getting up there in age, we’d love to talk to you about your needs and options. We can even assess the health of your current water heater and give you an honest assessment of whether or not it’s time to replace so you can avoid that shocking ice cold shower! Call Stadtler HVAC at 630-451-8695 today to make an appointment.