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Water Heaters: Advancing Toward a Cleaner Future

FVI-12-NG Image2The world is constantly changing, technological growth and on-going advancements are leading toward better efficiency. We see this in our cell phones, computers, automobiles and household items. The tankless water heater is no different. It's a new resource designed to save space and provide an energy efficient source of hot water.


Water heaters have always used either electricity, gas, or oil as a source of fuel for years. Today, the most common fuel source is natural or propane gas; however, a few users still choose electricity. Because of our efforts to conserve energy, there are arguments surrounding efficiency and whether or not gas or electric is the better option.

Which do you think is the better bargain? There may be no hard and true answer, but understanding the differences helps us make an informed decision when we need to replace the one we have.

So what will you choose - tanked or tankless - gas or electric? Water heaters have changed over the years. Let's look back, see the progression, and then understand efficiency. Once clarified, making a selection will be easier.

Old World Water Heaters

Tanked water heaters have been around since the late1800's. Edwin Ruud, a Norwegian mechanical engineer, invented the first automatic tanked water heater in 1889. He pioneered the residential and commercial water heater after immigrating to Pittsburgh.

This water heater provided enough hot water for a large office building, and made hot water accessible. As water heaters developed, they became larger. These large storage tanks lodged gallons of water.

Americans adopted these large tanked water heaters. They quickly became popular and can be found in nearly every household today.

A State of Progression

In 1895 the British developed one of the first gas-fired water heaters. This water heater combined hot gases and water and burned about100,000 BTU/hr. In 1902, an American version was developed, differing slightly from its predecessor by keeping water and gas separate. These water heaters were the first to require substantial plumbing, and enabled users to apply the hot water to cooking and drinking.

The first known "modern" water heater arrived in 1913.Water was heated by way of convection and didn't require a flue. Parts could be replaced too, allowing for significant savings, a feature that's hard to come by today.

Since then water heaters have improved by leaps and bounds. In the mid 1900's, tanked water heaters became durable (made from copper, steel, and alloy) and lasted for years once installed. Tanked water heaters were better insulated too, a feature to help reduce standby heat loss. For this reason, tanked water heaters are more stable than they've ever been.

What hasn't changed, however, is the fact that tanked water heaters are large and take up a lot of space. They can spring a leak and cause water damage or implode without warning. So regardless of all the technological developments, there are still concerns.

Today, we have alternatives; we can choose between a tanked or tankless water. Modern science suggests that a tankless water heater is the most efficient choice. Let's look closely to better understand the engineering benefits of tankless water heaters.

New World Water Heaters

While most of us believe tankless water heaters are a new concept, they're not. Tankless water heaters originated in London, England in1868.

Developed by Waddy Maughan, this water heater moved cold water through wires that were heated by hot gases. Once warmed, the water flowed into a tub or sink. The problem associated with this design was that it was dangerous. There was no flue to remove heated gases from the bathroom.

Water heaters in the U.S. are typically vertical, cylindrical tanks, usually standing on the floor or on a platform. These water heaters may use electricity, natural gas, or propane as an energy source. Natural gas water heaters are most popular since gas is typically piped throughout cities and towns. It's an accessible resource.

Whereas tanked water heaters use energy to heat and store hot water for later use, tankless water heaters don't. While the water is stored it cools down causing the heating system to reactivate in order to heat the water back up. As a result, energy is constantly being used. Moreover, once the tank's supply of hot water has been exhausted, there is a significant delay before hot water is available again.

Tankless water heaters provide hot water when needed. Turn on the hot water, and the water heater produces it. For this reason, there are no standby losses to absorb. Tankless water heater lower energy use, which effectively lessens your energy costs and proves to be more efficient. Moreover, you don't have to give up valuable space to install it. An added benefit anyone can appreciate.

Know Your Options

There are two kinds of tankless water heaters: whole house and point-of-use water heaters. A whole house water heater's designed to provide large living spaces with a considerable amount of hot water.

A point-of-use water heater is designed to supplement your pre-existing system, providing additional hot water when needed. These water heaters fit neatly under a sink, behind a washing machine or near a shower.

Everyone's concerned about fuel efficiency too, which brings me to the topic at hand. I've argued that tankless water heaters are the way of the future, but which is best for you, gas or electric?

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Assess your needs and choose a type that's perfect for your lifestyle then choose a fuel source. Below I list a few of the differences between gas and electric tankless water heaters. Both types are energy efficient. Choosing between the two is a matter of personal preference.

Gas Water Heaters:

  • Average cost: $1,000-1,200
  • Professional installation
  • Up to 8 GPM
  • Cheaper to operate, but fluctuating energy rates
  • Produces greenhouse gases
  • Relies on fossil fuels
  • Annual maintenance
  • Venting required

Electric Water Heaters:

  • Average cost: $500-700
  • Lower installation costs
  • Up to 8 GPM in warm climates
  • Up to 3.5 GPM in cold climates
  • Stable energy rates
  • Emission free
  • No maintenance required
  • No venting required

Hanging on to old world ideas (resources we're comfortable with) is not uncommon. Technological advancement and change takes getting used to, but consider how efficient a tankless water heater can be and you might be willing to try one. Don't be afraid of change, embrace it and know it is progress in motion.

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