Hot Water Systems
All water heaters are not created equal: Some are more expensive to run than others. Electric water heaters cost more than twice as much to run as oil units. So you know you’re paying too much if have an electric water heater! Other heaters aren’t so easy to generalize. Some boilers are quite efficient in making hot water, while others are very wasteful.
How can you tell if you need a better water heater?
- Can you take two hot showers in a row?
- Can you take a hot shower while someone is doing the dishes?
- Can you take a hot shower while the washing machine is on?
If you answered “No” to any of these questions, you need to upgrade your hot water heater. Contact us and we’ll perform a no-cost inspection and give you options for improving your hot water supply.
There are a number of energy-efficient options. The Rinnai Tankless Hot Water Heater, for example, is a small box that mounts on your basement wall. Unlike tank heaters that waste energy by keeping water hot all the time, the Rinnai heats water on demand and can save you up to 40% over a tank-style heater.
Good and Bad Ways to Make Hot Water:
Electric Water Heater.
This is a freestanding tank with wires coming into it and pipes going out. The only way to spend more money while making hot water is to burn a $20 bill every time you step out of the shower. If electricity were sold in units with the heating equivalent of a gallon of Heating Oil, we would be paying $7.44 "per gallon" for electricity (CL&P's rates as of July, 2009). The good news if you have an electric water heater is that you stand to save a lot of money by upgrading!
Coil in the Boiler.
This is a clever but ineffective way to make hot water. The cold water supply pipe is basically run through the boiler that heats your house and comes out hot on the other side (it coils around in there to provide more surface area for heat exchange). Why is it a bad idea? Let us count the ways:
- You have to keep your boiler hot all summer long in order for it to work. The new generation of boilers are cold in the summer and only lukewarm in the spring and fall to save energy. This can be a significant energy waste, depending on the boiler.
- The water that first comes out is 180° F, hot enough to burn you if not mixed with cold water which is dangerous with children. Consider that public buildings are not allowed to run tap water hotter than 120° F.
- The temperature of the water changes every few seconds, depending on how much hot water the house is using. So you must constantly adjust the faucets to keep the temperature the same.
- If too much hot water is being used, it won't get hot at all. If the washing machine is filling, there's just no way you're going to get a hot shower. We've known households that came up with elaborate schedules for timing the use of hot water so nobody gets a cold shower… and they thought everybody did that!
- The minerals in well water (lime, calcium, etc.) fall out of solution inside the coil and build up on the inside, giving it a "clogged artery" effect. The water slows down because of the restriction and doesn't get as hot as it used to. Eventually it stops working completely. If you think you have this problem, turn on the cold water tap and take note of how much pressure you get. Then turn on just the hot water tap. If it's much less pressure than the cold, you have a coil in your boiler.
Sidearm Water Heater.
You don't see these much any more. It's a tank a bit larger than a basketball that hangs off the side of the boiler. The really old ones are made of cast iron. These are slightly better than coils in the boiler, but not much. They have all the same problems. (NOTE: Many heating systems have expansion tanks that fit this physical description. If your tank says "Extrol" it's not a sidearm water heater, and it's OK.)
Oil Fired Water Heater.
Thirty years ago, this was the water heater of choice for people who wanted ample hot water at an affordable price. It's essentially a water tank with an oil burner at the bottom. It's still a good solution because it provides plenty of hot water at a constant temperature and volume, and it isn't affected much by hard water. Its efficiency is good, but not great, and it requires annual maintenance. We still recommend them for some situations.
Propane Fired Water Heater.
This is just like the Oil Fired Water Heater above, except that it heats with Propane. It doesn't require annual maintenance, but the efficiency is not very good. We strongly suggest that people upgrade to an Indirect Water Heater or a Tankless Water Heater.
Indirect Water Heater.
Let's start by saying this is a wonderful way to make hot water. It's an insulated tank of hot water with a radiator inside. The radiator is heated by your boiler like any other radiator in your house, except that this one is on it's own thermostat, it's own "zone." It has no burner to be maintained, it doesn't suffer from hard water problems, and you can set the water temperature with great precision. Did we mention that it's warrantied for life? We're still searching for something not to love about Indirect Water Heaters.
Propane Tankless Water Heater.
This is the latest high-tech weapon in today's arsenal of super-efficient equipment, the darling of the heating industry. And we have to say it's pretty remarkable. Basically, it's a water heater with no storage that turns on only when you need it, so there's no standby waste. It's about the size of a small suitcase, and extremely efficient. For people with warm air heating systems, this is the way to go.
Huge Horizontal Storage Tank.
OK, we just included this for fun. But there are still a few out there. Giant tanks that hold 200 gallons or more, often uninsulated. They make a lot of hot water, but they also use a tremendous amount of energy to do so, and they lose energy by inadvertently heating the basement. This is almost as bad as an electric water heater. Run, don't walk, away from this thing!