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Water Heater Buying Guide

No one wants to take a cold shower or have high energy costs. Learn how to pick a water heater that will provide your family with reliable hot water.

Woman standing outside of a shower (left) with a water heater (right)

Considerations When Purchasing a Water Heater

  1. Storage Type
  2. Fuel Source
  3. Space

Types of Water Heaters

comparison chart of family size to gallon capacity

Consider the size of your family and the utilities in your area to choose the best water heater. It's important to keep the following things in mind:

Storage Tank
This is the most common type of water heater. These units have an insulated tank where water is heated and stored until it's needed. They're available in electric, liquid propane (LP) and natural gas models. Natural gas and LP water heaters normally use less energy and are less expensive to operate than electric models of the same size.

  • Storage tank water heaters are classified by the amount of water they hold in gallons. Tank size is a major consideration. If you intend to use a storage tank water heater, use our chart as a guide to finding the size you need.
  • Another consideration for storage tank water heaters is recovery rate — the number of gallons of water they can heat in an hour. The greater your demand for hot water, the higher recovery rate you need.
  • When you buy a water heater, look at its cited energy efficiency and yearly operating costs. This information can be found on the EnergyGuide label.

Shop for Storage Tank Water Heaters

Tankless or On-demand
They don't store hot water; they heat water as it passes through a series of coils in the unit. Since the unit only heats water as you use it, a tankless heater is usually more energy-efficient than a traditional storage tank water heater. They're available in electric, LP and natural gas models. A tankless unit can provide only a limited flow rate of hot water. Most tankless units can provide up to 3.5 gallons of heated water per minute. These units are a good choice for anyone whose demand doesn't typically call for hot water at more than two points at a time.

Shop for Tankless Water Heaters

Point-of-Use or Utility
Small storage tank water heaters, known as point-of-use or utility water heaters, are good choices for adding hot water to outbuildings, shops or garages. Utility water heaters usually range in size from 2.5 to 19 gallons. The largest of these miniature units can also be used to provide hot water to secondary bathrooms that may be situated far from your home's main water heater.

Shop for Point-of-Use Water Heaters

Mobile Home
Mobile homes require water heaters specifically made for this type of dwelling. All heaters must be H.U.D approved. Mobile home water heaters can be either gas or electric. Electric heaters are typically cheaper than gas. If you select gas, make sure to buy the correct type for your connection (propane or natural gas). You'll also need to look at the location. If a gas heater will be enclosed with no outside access, it's necessary to buy a sealed combustion gas water heater. If there's outside access, a standard gas water heater is sufficient. When installing, check your measurements carefully because mobile home door openings can be smaller than an average home.

Fuel Source

Electric water heaters

What type of fuel source do you have in your home? Here are the differences among electric, gas/propane and hybrid fuel types.


  • Uses one or two replaceable heating elements to heat water
  • Less expensive than other types
  • Variety of high-efficiency options available
  • Size range: 28 to 100+ gallons

Shop for Electric Water Heaters

Gas or Propane

  • Uses a burner to heat water
  • Needs circulating air around it
  • Can't store combustible materials close by
  • More expensive than electric water heaters
  • More energy efficient than electric water heaters
  • Size range: 30 to 100 gallons

Shop for Propane Water Heaters

Shop for Natural Gas Water Heaters

Heat Pump or Hybrid

  • Uses energy from the air to heat the water
  • Can use outside air, or air from the room where it’s stored
  • Available as built-in water tanks or add-ons to existing tanks
  • Larger than standard electric water heaters
  • More expensive on the front end
  • More energy efficient, resulting in much lower bills
  • Expected to grow in popularity once the NAECA requirements go into effect (see Good to Know tip below)
  • Size range: 50 to 80 gallons

Shop Water Heaters

Good to Know

In order to increase minimum energy-efficiency standards, the Department of Energy is implementing new water heater regulations. The NAECA (National Appliance Energy Conservation Act) guidelines are effective on April 16, 2015. Dimensions will typically be 2 inches wider in diameter and 2 inches taller than previous heaters. For water heaters in large spaces such as attics or basements, it shouldn't be an issue. But for heaters enclosed in small closets in apartments or condos, you'll need to be mindful when installing. For further details about these changes, read these guidelines.


If your space won't accommodate a standard-size water heater, there are alternatives. They provide the same level of performance and will work with electric or gas (natural or propane) systems.

Lowboys or Short

These units are shorter and wider than a normal water heater, allowing them to hold the same amount of water as their larger counterparts while still fitting in areas with limited headroom, such as crawl spaces and under cabinets. Lowboys vary between 30 to 49 inches and hold up to 50 gallons of water.


Tall water heaters range from 50 to 76 inches and can hold up to 100 gallons of water. They're ideal for basements or garages where height isn't an issue.

Advanced Technology

Dry-Fire Protection
Available for electric water heaters, this keeps the upper element from burning out if the unit senses no water around it.

ENERGY STAR® and High Efficiency

ENERGY STAR is the trusted, government-backed symbol for energy efficiency, helping consumers save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.

There are two reasons to consider high-efficiency water heaters: saving money and helping the environment. Water-heating efficiency is measured by an energy factor (EF) rating. The higher the EF, the more efficient the model. While some of the most efficient models might be slightly more expensive, they're designed to save you money in the long run — and they'll do so in an environmentally friendly way. Compare the performance and operating costs of different water heater models by taking a look at the EnergyGuide label. This information gives you an idea how the water heater model you’re considering is expected to perform, and it even lists the model’s estimated annual operating cost.

Intuitive Technology
A new line of water heaters now allows the temperature and other operating features to adjust according to your specific needs and use patterns. Benefits include better energy efficiency, increased durability and smarter performance.

Premium Electronic Gas Valve
Certain gas water heaters now feature an advanced electronic gas valve. With fewer moving parts than a conventional mechanical gas valve, this yields more reliable and accurate performance for better temperature control and faster hot water recovery. An LED (light-emitting diode) indicator confirms the pilot is lit, and provides diagnostic feedback on operating performance. This innovative valve is self-powered by a thermopile, which is a device that converts thermal energy into electrical energy. Since an external power source isn't required, installation is easy.

WiFi Capabilities
A WiFi module is now available with some electric water heaters that will control your water temperature remotely. Customize your schedule so that hot water is available only when needed -- saving you money on your energy bill. It will also send an alert if you're low on hot water.


There are many accessories available to improve safety and efficiency in your water heater.

Expansion Tanks
These tanks are plumbed to the water heater. They're designed to hold the extra volume of water that can be produced when cold water is heated in the tank.

They’re wired into the unit's electrical supply and can be set so the water heater only draws electricity at specified times. You can cut down on energy use and save money by running the water heater only when needed.

Water Alarms
They sit either on the floor or in the pan beside the water heater. If the heater leaks or overflows, the alarm will sense the liquid and give an audio alarm to alert the homeowner that there's a problem.

Water Heater Blankets
They’re made especially to fit over the unit and reinforce the insulating ability of the water heater. Insulating blankets are best for heaters that reside in garages or other unheated spaces.

Water Heater Pans
They sit under the heater and collect water from leaks or overflows caused by excess pressure in the tank. The pan has an opening in the side for a drain hose to carry away any overflow water.

Water Heater Stands
They raise gas units off the ground and reduce the risk of fire in the event of a flammable liquid spill nearby. If you're replacing an old water heater and adding a stand with your new one, this will affect your measurements, plumbing and venting. Unless you have advanced plumbing skills, a professional will probably be required.

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