Which water heater is best for your home?

Many homeowners make the mistake of assuming that a water heater is just a water heater—when they need a new one, they’ll just replace it with more-or-less the same thing they had. However, there’s actually a number of key differences between water heaters that you should know about before you buy.

In this article, we’ll review the different types of water heaters out there, discuss their pros and cons, and ultimately try to answer the question we get all the time: which water heater is best for your home?

What you need to know about gas and electric water heaters

First things first: if your home doesn’t have a natural gas connection, you probably want to rule out a gas water heater. The cost of installing a natural gas line to your home—if such a connection is even available where you live—probably rules out a gas water heater as an affordable option. Obviously, there are always exceptions: if you were already planning on adding a gas line to your home, then installing a gas water heater might make sense.

In most parts of the country, gas water heaters are less expensive to run. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more energy-efficient. What this really means is that natural gas is often cheaper than electricity, so even mid-efficiency gas systems end up costing less than electric models.

Here’s the bottom-line: if your home already has gas connections, it probably makes a good deal of sense to stick with a gas water heater. As you can see, the “gas versus electric water heaters” debate isn’t really about which type of water heater is better. It’s about your individual home and what kind of system it’s already set up to use. Unless you’re planning a larger remodel, it often just doesn’t make sense to change your type of water heater when upgrading to a new model.

Related: How much does a new water heater cost?

What you need to know about tankless water heaters

Tankless water heaters—also known as “demand-type” systems—are very different from the standard water heater you’re probably familiar with already. True to their name, these systems do not have a storage tank to hold hot water. Instead, they heat water as it’s needed by running cold tap water past a series of heating elements.

When it comes to tankless water heater pros and cons, there’s a lot to like about these systems. By heating water as it’s needed instead of storing it, they’re able to operate far more efficiently than standard systems. Because they’re not storing hot water for later use, they also can’t “run out” of hot water like a normal system can. Most tankless water heaters are wall-mounted, which saves on space, and there’s no risk of a tank leak or burst like there is with a storage tank water heater. Overall, they can last anywhere from 2-3 times as long as a tank water heater.

However, tankless water heaters do have a few notable drawbacks. First, they’re generally more expensive than standard water heaters, with most models costing anywhere from 2-3 times as much. This higher upfront cost is often balanced out by their energy-efficiency and longer lifespan, but it’s definitely a factor for many homeowners who are debating tankless versus storage tank water heaters.

The other notable downside? Tankless water heaters have a maximum flow rate of water they can heat at any one time. If you have a larger home, you might need to take this into consideration. A single tankless water heater might not be able to keep up with two people showering while the dishwasher or washing machine is running. Some homeowners get around this limitation by installing two demand-type systems in the home, but—given the higher upfront cost that it represents—that’s certainly not the right fit for every homeowner.

Is all this to say that you should stick with a standard water heater? No—in fact, we’d argue the opposite. Unless you have a very large property with lots of people living in it, your home is probably a great fit for a tankless water heater. Of course, every home is different. If you’re questioning whether or not your home is the right fit for a demand-type system, give Wagner a call. We’ll have one of our plumbers talk you through all your options.

Related: Your guide to maintaining your water heater

Watch: Understanding your water heater options

In this video, a water heater expert talks through the different factors homeowners need to consider when purchasing a new system.

Water heater capacity

There’s one final factor to consider when shopping for a new water heater: how much water it can hold (or, in the case of a tankless water heater, how much water it can heat at one time).

Most standard storage water heaters come in three sizes: 40 gallons, 50 gallons or 55 gallons. If you only have 2-3 people living under your roof, you can probably get by with a 40 gallon tank. If you have a large family or multiple generations in your home, you’ll probably want something larger. The higher the water heater’s capacity, the more hot water it can deliver in a single hour. This matters if everyone in your home wants to take a hot shower in the morning. Or, you need to run both the dishes and the laundry after dinner. In these situations, a high-capacity water heater might make a lot of sense.

Before you buy, make sure you talk to our plumbers about your current water heater. Depending on where your water heater is located in your home, we’ll need to ensure that your new one has the space it needs. Larger-capacity water heaters are, well, larger. They need a bigger footprint in your garage, basement, or utility closet.

As we hinted at earlier, tankless water heaters don’t really deal with capacity as much as they do delivery. You’ll want to talk to our plumbers about that model’s gallons-per-minute (GPM) rating. This will tell you how much hot water the demand-type system can produce at a time. The higher the GPM rating, the more hot water it’ll be able to distribute out through your home.

Wagner: Your guide to buying a new water heater

At Wagner, our friendly plumbers are ready to help you find the perfect new water heater for your home here in Albuquerque. We’d be happy to talk with you and guide you through your options. We’ll then make an informed recommendation about which type of water heater—gas, electric, tankless, or storage tank—is right for you. Contact us today to get started!