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Water Heater Comparison Tips

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Choosing a water heater is an important decision. There are a lot of options, and it's one household appliance your family depends on every single day. Here are some tips to help you find the water heater that's right for you.

Look at capacity.
Make sure it will provide enough hot water at your household's busiest time of day.

The amount of water the tank holds is actually not as important as the amount of hot water it can deliver. The first hour rating (FHR) is the volume of hot water the heater can supply in the first hour of use, and is based on how much the tank holds and how fast cold water is heated.

Think about what time of day your household has its heaviest demand for hot water. For many families this is early morning, as everyone gets ready for work and school. Add up the number of showers that your family takes in your busiest hour, and how long each one lasts. Calculate 2.2 gallons/minute (using modern shower heads). Add 14 gallons for running a dishwasher, 5 gallons for preparing breakfast and washing hands, and find your total “first hour” requirement. In your water heater comparison, look at the EnergyGuide label for a FHR number that meets or exceeds your total.

Look at the type of fuel.
Gas water heaters cost less to operate than electric models. If you already have a gas line installed, choose gas. Electric water heaters generally have a lower purchase price, though, and if you don't have existing gas service an electric model will also be much less expensive to install.

Look at physical size.
Make sure the water heater will fit where you need it to go.

Energy efficiency requirements have lead manufacturers to increase insulation on the storage tank. Thick insulation can actually increase the diameter of the tank by up to four inches!

Look at the warranty.
It's a good indication of the quality.

Studies on water heater comparison show that models with longer warranties tend to be better insulated, have bigger heating elements and are more resistant to corrosion. There isn't a great difference in price between high- and low-end models—less than $100—but there's a big difference in quality. Buy the best you can afford.

Look at the heating elements.
Bigger heating elements transfer heat better and can heat cold water faster.

Look at the anti-corrosion anodes.
Magnesium or aluminum anode rods inside the tank attract corrosive elements and spare the tank walls and fittings. Water heater comparison shows that thicker or even dual rods can extend the life of your water heater.

If your water is hard, look for anti-scale devices.
They may not be worth the extra money in all locations, but in areas with very hard water, anti-scale devices that help keep lime from building up on the heating elements can be worth the cost.

Look at the drain valves near the base of the water heater.
Regular maintenance includes draining the water heater tank to reduce sediment build up and prolong the unit's life. Brass valves are more durable than plastic ones.

These are the basics, and a few extras, to look for when you start your water heater comparison. Keep these tips in mind and you'll find the right water heater to keep your family comfortable for many years to come.

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