Types of Water Heaters

A water heater is a water heater, is a water heater, or is it? Water heater technologies continue to evolve giving us more choices, so we’re visiting with Sam McMullan from Boulden Brothers to find out which types of water heaters are best for you.


Hey Charlie.

So we understand the typical water heater, that’s the big tank that heats water in our house.

Yep, that’s correct. That’s the most popular, that’s what most people are used to and the way that, that works is it’s a tank that holds a certain amount of water and then there is a temperature monitor there that maintains a certain temperature for the water, so that when you turn your facet on the hot side it’ll supply water for a determined amount of gallons and a determined amount of time.

So I’m going to get hot water as long as there’s hot water in that tank?

That is correct.

So is that why I’m running a shower for too long then the water gets cold it’s because the water heater can’t keep up with what I’m using?

That’s exactly right, Charlie. There’s only a certain amount that it can produce and it’s called recovery time, and the smaller the water heater, the quicker the recovery time, so for a larger family you’ll have a big water heater but it also won’t allow you to recover in time to take multiple showers in a row, sometimes you can’t even get through the first one.

Well, somebody has to move along faster I think.

That’s what it sounds like to me.

All right. From an energy efficiency point of view, this water is being held in stasis hot whether I’m using it or not.

Yep, that’s correct. That’s the big knock on a tanked water heater is you could not use a shower or hot water for maybe days if you were on vacation possibly, but that tank still continues to produce heat and maintain a temperature on that water.

It’s insulated and all, I mean it’s not like it’s just a can of water.

That’s true, but it still is using energy even when you’re not using that water.

So that brings us to tankless water heaters, I guess or they call them on demand water heaters.

Yeah, tankless water heaters are a great new option for home owners. It allows multiple installations, gas, electric, neither natural or propane on the gas side but the best thing about a tankless water heater is it gives you endless hot water for multiple showers, multiple loads of laundry, dishwasher, whatever you’re in need of hot water for that tankless will supply that.

So a tank water heater, I’m going back to the old technology, that heated up a big old bucket of water that we were drawing off of as we used it, right?

That’s correct.

So how on earth does something that doesn’t have that tank give me an endless supply of hot water?

The great thing about it is it uses a variable speed gas valve, so with that gas valve it determines the amount of BTU’s based on water flow you need to heat the water to a certain temperature. That’s how it gives you your endless hot water because as the water continues to flow it’ll continue to heat it up and continue to supply you with the hot water you want.

So it is literally heating the water as it goes through.

That’s correct.

That way when I’m on vacation, I’m not using it that thing is just sitting back taking a break.

That is true.

Now we also know there are solar water heaters.

The great thing about solar water heaters is it has a look of the old storage tank water heaters, but it uses solar panels on your roof to heat that water, so a small very low draw motor pushes water through those solar panels and as it goes through solar panels it collects the heat from the sun and puts them back in the storage tanks, so you’re using the energy from the sun to do your hot water.

How does that compare energy wise to that low draw motor to the gas water heater?

It’s not even close Charlie, it’s such a small electric amp draw it really keeps your power bill very low and it’s great for the environment.

The thing I’m skeptical about is what happens when you have a series of really cloudy days? How can that thing heat water?

There’s actually heating element there, so if there are too many days where you don’t get a good amount of sun to heat that water, there is a backup in reserve that would be used in the event that, that would happen.

And in the winter time when it’s cold outside is the sun still going to heat that water?

Yep, doesn’t make a difference. As long as the sun’s shining it’s heating the water, temperature has no effect on it.

So our choices are a tank water heater, the traditional kind of water heater, right? Which is a tank heating the water continually, whether you’re using it or not and will only supply hot water for as long as it has hot water in that tank. The second choice is a tankless one, which will heat the water on demand as you use it and based on your usage it should be able to keep up and give you an endless supply of hot water.

That’s true.

And then the solar water heater uses the sun and a small motor to pump water through an array on your roof that heats the water so you can get hot water without paying for the gas or electric it takes to run a traditional tank water heater, is that pretty much sum it up?

You sound like the expert Charlie.

I’ve been listening to you. So of those three choices Sam, which is the best?

Certainly if you have the exposure to do it, the solar water heater is the way to go. Second would absolutely would be tankless, I happen to have one in my house and I love it.

I wanted to say one thing about those tankless water heaters, when they say on demand it doesn’t mean that the hot water’s going to come out of the tap immediately hot though, right?

That’s interesting, that’s one of the comments we get most often is they expected it’s instant hot water but it’s endless hot water. Still has travel time.

Is there a way to circulate the water so that when I hit the tap I immediately get hot water?

That’s becoming more and more popular it’s called a recirculating loop and what it’ll do is at a particular point that you want, you can hook a loop to the tankless water heater so that you would have on demand hot water at that point also through your tankless.

So when you’re ready to get in shower, you hit the button, bam, you’ve got hot water right then and there.

Right there.

And it only works with the tankless or can I use that with tank or solar ones as well?

You can use it with any of three that we talked about.

All right, so there are your options. It sounds like the choice is up to you, whether it’s a tank, tankless, solar and if you want instant hot water, you want a recirculating pump and whichever one it is, you know they can take care of you with it at Boulden Brothers. Sam, thanks so much for helping us out today.

No problem Charlie, thank you.

You can learn all about water heaters right here at bouldenbrothers.com.