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Technician servicing heating boiler

The Different Types of Water Heaters

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Where Do You Get the Heat?

The first distinction for any water heater is where it gets the energy to heat the water. The traditional style is with a fuel, such as natural gas. The gas is burned, releasing energy that heats the water.

You have more of a variety with electrically-powered water heaters. Direct electric heaters have heating elements inside the water. Electricity runs through them, they got hot, and the water is heated. But you can also have heat pumps. These use electricity and work like an air conditioner in reverse, pulling heat from the air outside to heat the water. Heat pump heaters are usually hybrid electric/heat pump so they can be used when it’s really cold.

If you’re worried about being green, remember that electricity can come from several different sources, including solar power, wind power, or more. For the ultimate in green, you can get solar water heaters, which heat the water using the power of the sun. Like a heat pump, these usually require a backup.

Storage Heaters

These tend to look like very large tanks with some mechanics on the bottom, because that’s largely what they are. No matter what the source of the heat is, these heaters work by keeping a steady reserve of hot water, with internal thermostats to keep the water at the right temperature. Storage heaters, or tank heaters, usually have less upfront costs, but do require energy even when hot water’s not being used to keep the water warm.

Tankless Heaters

Like the name suggests, these heaters have no storage tank. Instead, they heat the water when you need it by using either a gas burner or an electric element as the water passes through it. Tankless heater will run you more when you first get them, and you can run out of hot water during heavy use. They counter this with a variety of benefits: They’re wall-mounted, which frees up floor space, and they can reduce energy use by 30%. This makes them perfect for small condos or places that aren’t used for most of the year.

Point of Use Heaters

This is a pretty broad category, but they all have one thing in common: Hot water isn’t piped to where you use it. Instead, the heater is hooked up directly to the usage point. A common version of this is an in-counter water heater. The heater itself is hooked up to your cold water line under the sink, and an extra faucet is added. Only this one dispenses 190° hot water, perfect for tea, oatmeal, soups, and more.

You can also use these as a booster to your whole house system, which is particularly helpful if you use a tankless water heater. For example, a smaller tankless water heater hooked up directly to your shower gives you instant hot water, and a booster heater for your dishwasher will help give you sparkling clean dishes.

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