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Water Heater Basics

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ September 15, 2009

I can't think of anything worse in the morning than having to take a cold shower. But having a rotten egg smell in your shower water from a decayed anode comes in a close second. If you're looking to replace a water heater or choose one for a new residence, you have a world of options. Let's look over a few.

The most conventionally used type is a storage water heater. These units have up to an 80-gallon capacity (if you can afford to heat it) and are fired by natural gas, propane, electricity, and fuel oil. Other choices include a heat-pump water heater, where the water is heated on-demand, but the heater has a limited rate of flow.

There are also solar powered water heaters, tankless coil heaters that power off your home's heating system, and electric-powered on-demand water heaters, a common choice around the globe.

Evaluating Your Water Heating Needs The U.S. Department of Energy has established some simple guidelines to help you choose the right water heater for your needs. You'll want to evaluate the fuel source options to power the heater, the capacity you'll need for your family, and the operating costs (along with energy efficiency).

In addition to electricity, fuel oil, natural gas, and propane, homeowners with geothermal heating systems can tap into that unique resource with a pump system.

When shopping for your system, evaluate the Energy Guide label on the appliance that stipulates the annual operating costs and energy efficiency. Size alone is not necessarily your best guideline.

If you have a large family with constant hot water use in showers and appliances, you'll want a heater with a rapid recovery rate. Beware of your cost to heat water all day. Remember, you want to consider BTU input and first-hour recovery rates. The higher the BTU rate and smaller the tank, the shorter the time to a tankful of fresh hot water.

If you have only three members in your family, you may be comfortable with a 40 gallon capacity tank.

Water Heater Accessories You should consider water heater accessories that can help with efficiency and home protection from leaks. These include alarms, pressure regulators, heater stands, tank capacity extenders, insulating blankets, overflow pans, and system timers.

Insulating blankets are a great idea if your heater is in a cold basement or garage and you live in a cold climate.

Finally, let's look at that rotten egg smell. It's caused by bacteria that forms in the water after water heater anodes reach the end of their service life. When that happens, you need to change out the anodes with zinc-alloy replacements, treat your water, or replace the entire water heater.

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