From washing your hands and showering to running the dishwasher or washing machine, we rely on hot water for our day-to-day activities more than we probably realize. In order to keep our hot water running, it’s important to have a reliable and durable water heater. However, not all water heaters are made equally, and there are a few different types that work in different ways.

We’re delving deeper into each water heater type so you can understand the similarities and differences and make the best decision for your family and your home.

Natural Draft Water Heaters

Natural draft water heaters vent into a chimney with their own burning mechanism, fueled by natural gas, propane, or oil. These are known as traditional water heaters with draft hoods and are sometimes referred to as “gravity vented” water heaters as they rely on gravity to remove the exhaust gas from your home.

Because these water heaters don’t use electricity, they will continue to provide you with hot water even if your power goes out. They are also inexpensive and very reliable. With proper maintenance and inspection, you can expect your natural draft water heater to last between 8-12 years.

However, the downsides to these water heaters are the chance of back-drafting and lack of energy efficiency. Poor ventilation or a blockage in the vent can cause the exhaust to flow back down the pipes and into your home, leading to serious consequences, like carbon monoxide poisoning. The best way to avoid back-drafting? Have a professional, trained plumber install your natural draft water heater. Priority One plumbers are trained to properly install your water heaters to minimize the risk of back-drafting.

Power Vented Water Heaters

Like a natural draft water heater, power vented water heaters can be fueled by natural gas, propane, or oil. But, rather than vent into a chimney, they vent directly to the exterior of the home with a fan-assisted exhaust system that pushed the gas through a pipe. Because of the way these water heaters are vented, the likelihood of back-drafting or carbon monoxide poisoning is significantly reduced.

These water heaters are also more energy efficient than a natural draft water heater because they require less gas to operate, meaning it will also cost less to operate. Also, because they do not require to be near a chimney, they can be placed anywhere in your home. However, if installed incorrectly, there’s a potential for a fire hazard or carbon monoxide leak. As always, it’s crucial to have your power vent water heater installed by a trained professional to ensure the safety of you and your family. These systems are also more efficient with a quicker rate of recovery (time to reheat water in the tank).

Indirect Water Heaters

Indirect water heaters are plumbed off of a boiler and do not require fuel to burn or venting. They are typically made of stainless steel and, depending on the brand, come with lifetime limited warranties. These are a very common solution as they’re long-lasting and as efficient as the boiler they are connected to. Rather than producing heat on its own, it relies on your boiler and, in essence, simply transfers the heat.

In fact, if used with a high-efficiency boiler, the Department of Energy suggests that these water heaters can be the least expensive means of providing hot water. This is not only because they rely on your boiler but also because there are no additional venting pipes to run, and they typically require less maintenance. When getting your boiler maintained, ask your maintenance person to also check your indirect water heater as well to ensure both are working properly.

Electric Water Heaters

Electric water heaters are fueled solely by electricity and therefore require no venting. An electric water heater tank heats water with high-voltage electric heating rods that run vertically through the tank. Water is heated at the center of the tank and radiates outward to heat your home’s water.

Electric water heaters typically cost less upfront. Also, because most homes are tied to an electrical grid, your water heater will always be readily available to use. Plus, since they do not require any fuel, your risks of a gas leak, carbon monoxide leak, or other safety hazards are virtually nonexistent.

However, there are a few downsides to an electric heater. Because they are run on electricity, if your power goes out, so does your hot water heater. This also means once they are down, they require a longer time to recover and get your hot water back. It’s also important to note that the lack of fuel makes it more time-consuming to heat up. Unlike a gas, propane, or oil water heater, you’ll need to give it some time to heat up. A great comparison is to an electric or gas stove. Electric stove tops take a bit longer to heat up, while gas stovetops are ready to go as soon as you turn them on.

Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater

Hybrid heat pump water heaters are also fueled by electricity but require the aid of a refrigerant system to provide more efficient hot water. Instead of burning fuels, these water heaters absorb heat from the air and move it into a storage tank.

Hybrid heat pump water heaters are extremely efficient and can even offer an added benefit by acting as a dehumidifier. These water heaters extract heat from the surrounding air, so if there is high humidity in your basement, the water heater can work to remove some of it.

For optimal use of a hybrid heat pump water heater, the installation space should be at least 1,000 cubic feet. This makes them ideal for larger spaces like basements and garages and may not be suitable for smaller homes. Like all water heaters, these require maintenance, but with upkeep, you can expect them to last for up to 15 years.

Tankless or On-Demand Water Heater

Unlike other water heaters, tankless or sometimes known as “on-demand” water heaters, don’t store hot water. Instead, the unit pulls water from the main and heats up on-demand, much like a combi boiler. Because it only heats up when you need it, there are large costs and fuel savings associated with these water heaters, especially for times when you’re not home.

These water heaters work by running water through a heat exchanger to heat water when it’s turned on. This provides a constant supply of hot water but can limit its outputs. For example, taking a long, hot shower while the dishwasher or washing machine is running can push a tankless water heater to its limit.

While the upfront costs of a tankless water heater are greater than other types, they have low operating costs and will likely last longer with proper maintenance. Their life expectancy is around 15 years, approximately 5 years longer than other types of water heaters.

In addition, it’s important to note that all water heaters, except for tankless, are typically 40, 50, or 80-gallon tanks. The amount of storage will depend on the number of bathrooms in a home and expected water usage based on the number of people and appliances in the home.

How Priority One Can Help

Not sure which water heater is right for your home? At Priority One, our plumbing experts are highly experienced with water heaters and are ready to answer any questions. Once you decide which water heater is best for you, our team will work with you to provide an estimate and get your new water heater up and running as seamlessly as possible.