Selecting the Right Water Heater

by Gil Freedman

Next to your home heating system, your water heater is probably the largest energy user in your home, accounting for about 13 to 20 percent of residential energy consumption.  For this reason, it is important that your water heater is properly maintained and that you carefully weigh the selection of a new heater when you need one.

If your water heater is more than 10 years old, you may soon want to consider buying a new one.  Don't wait until it leaks.  If you do wait and you're lucky, the leaks will start out small.  If you're unlucky, a major leak will damage your home.

There are several things to remember when selecting a water heater:

  • Electric water heaters cost about the same as comparable gas heaters, and both are less than oil water heaters.  Electric water heaters are also quiet, clean and need very little maintenance to keep at peak efficiency.  Tri-County has a lease program with attractive monthly payments on a new, quality water heater.
  • The energy factor is another important consideration. Measuring the overall efficiency of a water heater based on the model's recovery efficiency, standby losses and energy input.
    • Most fossil fuel water heaters (propane, oil and natural gas) have energy factors of approximately 50 percent.
    • Most electric water heaters have energy factors of a least 85 percent (the higher the energy factor, the more efficient the water heater).
      What little electric water inefficiency there is can be attributed to "skin" loss -- the heat that escapes from the tank.  Skin loss of a typical electric water heater is less than 20 cents a day.  This is why wrapping a well-insulated new water heater in extra insulation will not significantly improve its efficiency.
  • Because losses are small compared to the energy actually going to heat water, time clocks will probably not pay for themselves.  You can save yourself and your co-op more money by allowing a load management switch to be installed on your water heater -- if you haven't already done so.  (Tri-County offers a $5.00 monthly credit for a switch to be installed on your water heater.)
  • Be sure your new water heater is large enough.  Moving from a 52-gallon heater to an 80-gallon heater doesn't cost that much, and the increased skin losses are negligible.  A larger water heater is certainly worth it so you don't run out of hot water.

For more information about the water heaters we offer, call Tri-County REC at 1-800-343-2559.