Owning a home is a big part of the American dream. You’re well on your way toward living that dream if you’re lucky enough to be a homeowner here in Wausau, WI. Owning a home, however, is a big responsibility. And as a homeowner, you’ll need to make decisions now and then that affect your home’s comfort and overall value. One of them is which kind of hot water system to install when the one you have needs replacement. Right now, there are two major hot water options you might opt for. There are traditional storage tank water heaters and tankless on-demand water heaters. Here’s everything you need to know about each and how to choose the right option for your home.

Storage Tank Water Heater Basics

Here in Wausau, WI, traditional storage tank-based water heaters are quite common. That’s in line with the rest of the US, where storage tank water heaters are also the most common type of residential hot water system. This makes sense when you consider that they’re based on technology dating back to the late 1800s. That’s when an engineer named Edwin Ruud invented the first natural gas-powered storage tank hot water system.

The way they work is simplicity itself. Once installed in your home, they use either a natural gas-powered burner or an electric resistance heating element to turn your home’s incoming water supply into hot water. They create and store the water at a preset temperature, up to the capacity of their tank. As you use hot water, storage tank water heaters work to replenish their supply to meet future hot water demand.

Over the years, the technology that makes storage tank water heaters work has gone through a variety of iterations, most notably the addition of electrically-powered variants. They’ve also gotten more efficient over the years, as advancements in their heating elements and tank insulation have helped to minimize energy losses. Plus, traditional storage-tank water heaters now last between 10 to 15 years on average, so they’re quite reliable. With so much going for them, it’s no wonder that traditional water heaters dominate the market.

Tankless Water Heater Basics

Tankless water heaters, as their name implies, don’t store hot water for future use. Instead, they activate when you want hot water and produce it on demand. To do it, tankless water heaters rely on a combination of a high-temperature heating element and a heat exchanger system. Since they don’t need a large storage tank to hold preheated water, they’re more compact than traditional models. They’re also more efficient since they don’t have to worry about energy losses associated with storing preheated water.

Outside the US, tankless water heaters are very common. This is primarily for two reasons. The first is that they’re cheaper to operate than storage tank models. According to the US Department of Energy, homes that use up to 41 gallons of hot water per day can save as much as 34% on energy costs compared to a traditional water heater. Homes that use up to 86 gallons per day save too, but only up to about 14%.

There are two primary tradeoffs associated with tankless water heaters. The first is that they cost two to three times as much as comparable traditional storage tank water heaters. This means some homeowners avoid them to realize savings at the time of installation rather than through operational cost savings. The second tradeoff is that tankless water heaters feature lower flow rates than traditional models. This means that you often can’t use hot water in multiple parts of your home at once without investing in a larger and more expensive water heater. Or you could decide to divide your home into separate zones and use more than one tankless water heater to serve them.

Choosing a Water Heater Based on Planned Usage

If upfront cost is no object, the best way to choose between these two types of water heaters is to figure out your home’s average daily hot water usage. To do this, you can either rely on per-person estimates or try and calculate a more exact figure yourself. On average, each occupant in an American home uses between 10 and 15 gallons of hot water per day. So, you can simply multiply those figures by the number of people in your home to arrive at an answer.

However, if your home has a dishwasher or someone in it likes to take long hot showers, you might need to go beyond those estimates. To do this, you’d need to keep track of when and where hot water gets used and for how long each day. Then, multiply those usages by the flow rate of the outlet in use. That should help you arrive at a reasonable estimate of your home’s daily hot water needs.

If your home’s hot water needs are on the lower end, a tankless water heater makes good sense. It will cost much less to operate than a traditional model and last just as long or longer. However, if your home doesn’t use much hot water but tends to use hot water in several places at once, you may need to buy a larger tankless water heater that supplies an adequate flow rate. That’s where your more precise usage estimates come in handy. Just add up the total flow rate of the outlets you plan to use simultaneously, and that’ll let you know what flow rate you need.

Of course, if your home ends up on the higher side of the usage spectrum, you may wish to choose a traditional storage-tank water heater. Not only will doing so alleviate any flow rate issues you may have had with a tankless model, but it will also ensure that you have enough hot water to go around when you want it. Remember, however, that storage tank models don’t supply endless hot water, though, so be sure to choose one with a large enough tank to meet your home’s needs.

Consult the Water Heater Experts

In truth, you can’t go wrong with either of the two main types of water heaters. As long as you choose a model that meets your home’s hot water supply needs, either make a good choice. Getting that right, however, isn’t always straightforward. And that’s where the experts here at Southport Home Services come in. Our team of expert plumbers knows all there is to know about residential hot water usage. We also offer top-notch residential and commercial HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair services, along with complete plumbing and indoor air quality services to the Wausau, WI, area since 2005. We’re so confident that you’ll be happy with our work that we offer a complete 100% satisfaction guarantee on any system we install. However, our A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau tells you that you’ll never need to rely on it. Contact the experts at Southport Home Services for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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Thomas Suchla
Thomas Suchla


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