Most of us never give a second thought to our electric water heaters until they break down on us. And even then, we simply get a replacement of the same type installed without even taking the time to review other available options.
But what if your ignorance on hot water systems is costing you? Perhaps you’re missing out on a better product that will save you both energy and money and maybe even be kinder to the environment. Well, in this article, we’ll take a closer look at electric water heaters to help you determine if you’re using the right system for your household.
How They Work
Electric water heaters come in 2 main types: tank (A.K.A. storage) and tankless (A.K.A demand) water heaters. A storage electric water heater may be equipped with 1 or 2 direct immersion heating elements. The components are controlled by either a microprocessor control module or thermostat, which heat water in a tank to the target temperature.
While this type of electric water heater comes in a wide range of options, a standard residential tank-type electric water heater comprises of an upper and lower thermostat, two heating elements, one manual reset high limit switch, and wires. When the water heater is turned on, the upper third of the tank is heated to the temperature set on the upper thermostat after which power is switched to the lower heating element. This heating element then continues to heat until water in the lower portion of the tank reaches the lower thermostat setting. The tank in turn holds the reservoir of the heated water and releases it from the top when you turn on the hot water tap at the shower, bathroom sink, bathtub, or kitchen sink. As hot water flows from the top of the tank, cold water reaches the bottom of the tank via a dip tube. This continues until the cold water eventually mixes with the hot lowering temperature to below the upper thermostat setting, thus triggering the heating process all over again.
Tankless electric water heaters, on the other hand, simply feature a heating element, which heats up cold water as it is moving into your home. When the water reaches a pre-set temperature (usually anywhere between 120-140 degree Fahrenheit), it then flows through the hot water line of your home and to whatever faucet you’re using. While the process of having to wait for water to get to your home pipes and heat to a certain temperature before being able to flow through your hot water faucets seems like a lengthy one, it only takes a few seconds to complete. This is the reason why tankless electric water heaters are also known as instantaneous water heaters since they provide hot water whenever you need it.
Tank electric water heaters offer the benefits of being cheaper because they are simple and easy to install as no gas pipes or venting is required, and safe since there’s no risk of fuel leak/expulsion, no release of combustible by-products, and no pilot light to go out leaking gas into home. They also allow for simultaneous multiple uses of hot water. Therefore, a tank-type water heating system can be used to run a hot shower in one bathroom, a hot bath in another, and deliver hot water in the kitchen sink all at the same time. With the tankless options, multiple simultaneous uses may be impossible or difficult depending on the model you are using.
Tankless electric water heaters on, the other hand, deliver the same level of safety as the tank types are 8% -34% more efficient than storage water heaters, have lower operating costs, and can save you as much as $100 or more annually on utility bills.
With conventional storage tank electric hot water heating systems, heated water eventually cools down through what’s referred to as standby heat loss when left unused for extended periods of time. This results in wasting of energy even when your hot water taps are not running. Tankless versions do not have this problem as they heat water only when hot water is needed.
Tankless electric water heaters have a higher initial installation cost than their tank-type counterparts. They also have a hot water output limit of about 2-5 gallons per minute thus making it difficult to enjoy steady flow of water when multiple hot water faucets run simultaneously.
In conclusion, if you want to save on maintenance costs, tankless electric water heaters make the ideal option. Unfortunately, they’re limited when it comes to multiple simultaneous usages and are therefore unfit for large households with a high demand for hot water. So, smaller households of around 4 people will do well with a tankless electric water heater, while the tank-type water heater versions are best suited for huge families. The only other alternative for large households is to have several instantaneous water heaters installed so as to meet the high hot water demand. However, this route can be quite costly.