When it comes to deciding how to heat your hot water, you first need to determine how much hot water your home will utilize on a daily basis - showers, dishwashers, washing machines. Then you'll need to decide how to fire up your hot water - solar, gas or electric. With basically three popular choices available, choosing your hot water heating system should be no sweat.
Tankless Water Heaters
Have you ever had a blast of cold water in the shower because the hot water ran out — it can be a chilling experience. With a tankless water heater, you'll enjoy an endless supply of hot water - and lower energy bills. Tankless water heaters (also called "instantaneous" or "on demand" water heaters) consist of an electric or gas heating element enclosed in a small module. Instead of warming a large amount of water stored in a tank, a tankless unit heats only the water that flows through it.
Almost immediately when you call for hot water - via the faucet, dishwasher, and washing machine - the module senses the change in flow and pressure and the heating element immediately switches on. Stop calling for water and the heaters stops immediately.
The benefits of using a tankless water heater is that it's much smaller than a tank water heater and smaller "point-of-use" water heaters can be installed under a faucet or inside a bathroom or kitchen cabinet. As for longevity, a tankless heater will live twice as long as a tank heater - simply because there's no tank to be rusted.
The biggest drawbacks to using a tankless water heater is the price which averages around $1,500 for just the unit and the maximum flow rate - basically how much hot water can be used simultaneously. Big families who need to run two showers at the same time, plus a load of laundry won't be able to. What's new - there's an on-demand water heater that has digital temperature controls with sensor, which literally checks the water temperature thousands of times a day.
Tank Water Heaters
The first decision in choosing a new tank-style water heater is usually the fuel source. A natural gas unit will cost less to operate than an electric model. Size and efficiency really matters when it comes to choosing your water tank. If you tend to use a lot of hot water at certain times of the day - say in the morning when everyone takes a shower - you'll want a model that has a higher first-hour rating (how much hot water the unit can produce in one hour). If you don't want to worry about when or how much water you're using than you'll want a water heater with a fast recovery rate to make sure you never run out of hot water. Most tanks range in size from 20 to 80 gallons.
Solar Hot Water Heating
Using solar energy to heat domestic hot water is cost-effective no matter where you live and you can expect it to provide 50-75% of domestic hot water needs. This active system uses collectors (thermal panels) to gather the sun's energy, which is then used to preheat water entering a domestic hot water heater. The gas burner or electric elements in the water heater provide a back-up heat source - primarily during the cooler months and on cloudy days. The hot water is piped to faucets throughout your home in the same fashion as a traditional water heater. Most local building codes require homes using a solar water heater to have a conventional heater as a back-up, because climates can change quickly and dramatically. The cost of a solar water heating systems ranges from $1,500 to $3,000.