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September 25, 2023

The Ultimate Water Heater Buying Guide for Homeowners

A tankless water heater attached to a blue wall

Is it time to buy a water heater? You may wonder why selecting the right water heater is such a crucial decision, but the answer is simple—hot water is a fundamental necessity in our daily lives.

Whether it’s a warm shower, clean dishes, or hydronic heating during those cold Canadian winters, a reliable and efficient water heater is the heart of household comfort.

Buying a water heater is investing in your family’s health and safety. Over the course of this water heater buying guide, you’ll learn about the fundamentals of a water heater, sizing considerations, the intricacies of energy efficiency, long-term cost analysis, and installation and maintenance tips from experts in the industry.

Get peace of mind from making the right choice; here’s what to know when buying a water heater.

Types of Water Heaters

Water heaters are appliances responsible for heating and storing tempered water for future use. These devices use energy sources like electricity and natural gas to raise water temperatures before the water flows out of standard home fixtures.

Water heaters vary based on their composition and functionality:

Tankless Water Heaters

A tankless water heater heats water as its needed, providing a constant supply of hot water on demand without the need for a storage tank. They are energy efficient and space-saving, as they only operate when hot water is required, however, their capacity may be limited for larger households with high demand.

Installation can be more complex, which is why hiring a professional to install a tankless water heater is highly recommended.

💡 Read more: How Does a Tankless Water Heater Work?

Heat Pump Water Heaters

These use electricity to transfer heat from the air or ground to heat water. They are generally more energy efficient compared to traditional electric water heaters. They work well in moderate climates, but may be less efficient in extreme conditions. Initial costs are higher, but they can result in significant long-term evergy savings.

Solar Water Heaters

This type of water heater uses solar energy to heat water. They are eco-friendly and cost-effective over time, reducing energy bills and environmental impact. However, homeowners may require backup systems in areas with inconsistent sunshine.

 A set of solar water heaters installed on a roof

Conventional Storage Water Heaters

Storage tank water heaters store and continuously heat a specific volume of water in an insulated tank. The are commonly powered by natural gas, propane, or electricity to heat water, which is ready for use when needed.

They are cost-effective and widely used, however, they can be less energy efficient as they maintain a constant temperature, leading to standby heat loss. Newer models have improved insulation to reduce heat loss, but you can mitigate this issue by carefully choosing the correct tank size for your household’s hot water needs.

Point-of-Use Water Heaters

These small water heaters are installed near a point where hot water is needed. When you buy a water heater like this, it often supplements a larger, central water heating system or for specific applications (such as under-sink water heaters).

Boiler Systems

Combination boiler systems are often used for radiant heating and can provide hot water for domestic use as well. They are highly efficient and work well in cold climates, however, they are more complex and can be costly to install, making them suitable for specific applications.

Get a Water Heater Installation Quote

Choosing the Right Water Heater for Your Home

Before buying a water heater, a thorough understanding of your household’s hot water requirements needs to be determined. This involves factors such as family size, hot water usage patterns, fuel considerations, and more.

We’ll review each point to help you find the right model as part of this water heater buying guide.

Fuel Considerations

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All water heater models deliver tempered water, but their efficiency heavily relies on fuel availability. It can make or break your operating costs, which makes it crucial to choose the right type when you buy a water heater. 

Fuel Type Water Heater Type Pros and Cons
Electricity ➡️ Conventional storage tank water heater

➡️ Tankless water heaters

➡️ Heat pump water heaters

☑️ Widely available fuel source

☑️ Lower upfront cost

☑️ Little-to-no energy loss

☑️ Safe to operate

❌ Higher long-term operating costs in areas with expensive electricity 

❌ Slower recovery rate, leading to potential issues with meeting high demand

Natural Gas ➡️ Conventional storage tank water heater

➡️ Tankless water heaters

☑️ Widely available fuel source

☑️ Quick recovery, suitable for high demand households

☑️ Low carbon footprint

❌ Safety concerns if not maintained properly

❌ Require proper ventilation and combustion air

Propane ➡️ Conventional storage tank water heater

➡️ Tankless water heaters

☑️ Safer option compared to natural gas water heaters

☑️ Lower operating costs

☑️ Burns hotter and requires less fuel when compared to natural gas

❌ Requires on-site storage tank, which can be costly to install and maintain

❌ Produces carbon emissions

Solar Power ➡️ Solar water heaters ☑️ Long-term energy savings

☑️ Low maintenance

☑️ Renewable energy

❌ Climate dependent 

❌ Space requirements

❌ Requires a backup system for cloudy days

Family Size & Usage Patterns

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How many people live in your household? A larger family will naturally have higher hot water demands, where a smaller family won’t. Evaluate the age and lifestyle of family members. A busy household might have more simultaneous hot water needs—no one likes a shower that turns searing hot or ice cold in an instant!

Different water heaters are better suited to handle high-demand periods. Tankless water heaters, for example, are excellent for providing a continuous supply of hot water during peak times.

Sizing Your Water Heater

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Different water heaters have varying capabilities in terms of flow rate and temperature rise. 

  • Tankless Water Heaters: Proper sizing relies on the maximum temperature rise possible at a given flow rate.
  • Solar Water Heaters: Involves the total collector area and storage volume computations to meet 90-100% of the hot water that is needed.
  • Conventional Storage and Heat Pump Water Heater: Look for the first-hour rating to see how many gallons of hot water the heater can supply per hour.

Flow rate: This is the volume of hot water a water heater can provide per minute. It’s essential to choose a unit with a flow rate that can meet your household’s demands, particularly during peak times.

Temperature rise: This is the difference between the incoming cold water temperature and the desired hot water temperature. It’s crucial to determine the temperature rise you need to ensure your water heater can heat water to the desired level.

First-hour rating (FHR): The first-hour rating is a crucial specification for storage tank water heaters. It tells you how much hot water a tank-style water heater can deliver in the first hour when it’s at its maximum capacity. This is important for meeting high hot water demands, especially if you have a family that needs a lot of hot water in a short period of time.

When buying a water heater, consider the flow rate and temperature rise for each type of water heater, as well as the tank size or storage capacity for storage tank and solar water heaters. Selecting the right size is essential for efficient and reliable hot water supply.

A homeowner tests the temperature of the water in a shower

Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impact

One of the key factors to know when buying a water heater is its efficiency rating. Choosing an energy-efficient model not only reduces your environmental impact, but also results in lower operating costs.

Water heater efficiency is typically measured and labelled using various rating systems. Here are the most common:

ENERGY STAR Certification

Check for ENERGY STAR certification when you buy a water heater. The blue star logo signifies that the unit meets strict energy-efficient guidelines set by Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency. ENERGY STAR-rated models are designed to reduce energy consumption and, consequently, your energy bills.

Energy Factor (EF)

The Energy Factor is another key measurement of a water heater’s efficiency. This ratio is calculated based on standby losses (heat loss from the tank) and recovery efficiency. The higher the rating, the better!

Uniform Energy Factor (UEF)

The UEF is a more recent rating system and offers a more accurate representation of a water heater’s efficiency. It considers standby losses, cycling losses, and the efficiency of heating the water. Like the EF, a higher UEF signifies a more efficient water heater.

While energy-efficient models tend to have higher upfront costs, the long-term savings and reduced environmental impact make them a wise investment!

💡 Read more: Why Is Energy Conservation Important?

Professional Installation and Maintenance

The question of what to know when buying a water heater also extends to installation and maintenance.

Many homeowners opt for professional installation over DIY, especially if they lack experience with plumbing and electrical work. Hiring a qualified technician ensures that your water heater is installed correctly, complies with local building codes, and is covered by warranty. Professionals can also provide advice on the best location for the water heater based on safety and efficiency considerations.

Here’s what you can expect from professional water heater installation at LG Home Comfort:

Water Heater Installation Process

  • FREE In-home assessment: A contractor inspects your home and assesses the best location for your new water heater. It should be as close to a water connection as possible. 
  • Sizing verification: Depending on your hot water needs, the contractor ensures the water heater is appropriately sized. 
  • Placement: Professional installation includes correct water line alignment, soldering adapters, and fortifying gas line connections (if applicable). 
  • Safety checks: The technician will inspect for signs of gas leaks, faulty electrical wiring, and responsive thermostats. 
  • Water inspection: The last step involves water checking to see if an adequate water supply is entering the tank and identify potential leak sites. 

Post-Installation Checks

  • System testing: Once installation and final checks are complete, the technician activates the thermostat to ignite the water heater and ensure it’s working correctly.
  • User training: The technician will debrief the homeowner, including a guided walkthrough on operating and maintaining the water heater.

Schedule Your Free In-Home Water Heater Assessment

Water Heater Maintenance Tips for Prolonged Lifespan

When you buy a water heater you want it to last—which is why being proactive is key.

Regular Maintenance:

This may include flushing the tank to remove sediment, checking and replacing anode rods (for tank storage water heaters), and inspecting for leaks and signs of corrosion.

Safety Checks:

Regularly check for gas leaks for gas water heaters and electrical connections for electric models. Ensure that safety devices like temperature and pressure relief valves are functioning correctly.

Annual Professional Inspection:

An annual professional inspection is necessary. A technician can identify potential issues early and perform maintenance tasks that are difficult to do as a homeowner.

💡 Read more: Common Causes of Water Heater Leaks

An HVAC technician carefully installs a tankless water heater on the wall

The Cost of Buying a Water Heater

The costs associated with buying a water heater can be divided into upfront costs and operating costs as well as long-term savings.

Upfront & Operating Costs

The initial cost of a water heater varies depending on the type and model you choose.  For example, a conventional storage tank water heater can cost between $600 to $2,000. This model’s affordability makes it a go-to choice for most homeowners. On the other hand, buying a tankless hot water heater can cost up to $4,000 due to increased labour costs and advanced technology used in its production. 

Some areas may require permits for water heater installation, which can add to the upfront cost. Always check with your local building department for permit requirements and associated fees.

The ongoing costs of operating a water heater are a significant consideration. Different fuel types have varying costs per unit, and electricity rates can vary by region. Consider the fuel or energy source’s cost and the unit’s efficiency to estimate your operating expenses.

Initial Investment vs. Long-Term Savings

The rule of thumb for buying a water heater is weighing the upfront costs against what you’ll save over time.

As an example, let’s say you bought a $4,000 tankless water heater. While the upfront cost may be higher than its competitors, this type of water heater will save  save you more money in the long run because of its higher energy efficiency.

Tankless water heaters don’t produce standby energy losses and have lower operating costs. Its average lifespan sits at 20 years, whereas tank water heaters average around 15 years. When it comes to regular maintenance, tankless water heaters are equipped with easily replaceable and affordable parts, so costly repairs are less likely to happen.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. What matters is that you understand that costs exist not only when you buy a water heater, but as time goes on, too. Buying a water heater that’s high-quality and energy efficient can provide longer service life and reduce the frequency of repairs or replacements.

Schedule Your Free In-Home Water Heater Assessment

Keep Hot Water Flowing with Professional Water Heater Services

Upgrade your home’s comfort and efficiency by buying a water heater that aligns with your family’s needs and budget! Whether you’re looking to save on energy costs, reduce your carbon footprint, or ensure a reliable hot water supply, the experts at LG Home Comfort are here to help. 

We’re a Canadian, family-owned business that specializes in full-service tankless and tank water heater solutions. Starting with a free in-home assessment, we’ll determine the best water heater for your family’s unique needs. For your convenience, we also carry an extensive collection of ENERGY STAR-certified water heaters for you to choose from, saving you time and money by eliminating unnecessary research.

From there, our team of licensed HVAC technicians will expertly install, repair, and maintain your unit for years to come. Your comfort is our top priority, which is why we offer 24/7/365 water heater solutions to all of our clients. 

Give us a call to learn more about our same-day water heater services.

FAQs

What Size Water Heater is Best for a Family of 4?

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A water heater with a capacity of 50 gallons is ideal for households with three to four members. However, that the best water heater for your home is one that meets your daily hot water needs, performs efficiently, and lowers energy bills. An expert HVAC technician can help by assessing your location and household needs.

Can a Water Heater Be Too Big?

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Your water heater’s size is incredibly important. In this case, bigger is not necessarily better. An oversized tank wastes money on heating water that won’t be used. A small tank, however, will run out of hot water too soon.

What Water Heater Works Best in Cold Climates?

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Gas tankless water heaters are the best options for cold climates due to their durability and higher flow rates. These models quickly heat water without delays, keeping you warm all winter.

What Are the Common Causes of Water Heater Failure?

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Corrosion, incorrect water pressure, broken thermostats, and mineral build-up cause water heater failures. Regular water heater maintenance conducted by a professional is key to preventing these issues!

Terms and Conditions

  • Once an initial service has been completed, the customer will be on a one-year commitment
  • After the initial 12 months, the contract will be renewed on a month-to-month cadence
  • If a service is completed for the next year, it automatically renews the commitment for an additional year
  • Customers can cancel at any time after the 12-month initial commitment as long as the following year’s service has not been completed.
  • Customers need to provide 30 days written notice in order to cancel their plan