A Beginner’s Guide To Hot Water Systems

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Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
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Hot water is one of the many things we take for granted in our day-to-day existence. Every time we return from work after a long and tiring day, we simply walk into the shower, and the warm water soothes our bodies.

Have you ever imagined how the mechanism that delivers hot water to you works in the background? In other words, have you tried to figure out the mechanism of hot water systems, how they work, and what are some of the benefits of using them?

In this beginner’s guide on hot water systems, we are going to speak with leading hot water system experts. We are specifically going to discuss the three main points-

  1. The different types of water heating systems available in the market
  2. Significant benefits of having hot water systems in your house
  3. Challenges that you might have to face on hot water systems in your house

If you want a new installation in your home, this guide will help you address many of your questions.

What Is a Hot Water System?

One of the first things you need to know about hot water systems is that it is one of the most used forms of energy in an average household. According to official figures, nearly 25% of all energy used in a home is used by hot water systems.

Firstly, hot water systems have at their core a storage tank where the normal water is converted into hot water, and pipes then transport the same to different parts of the house. The following are some important parts of a hot water system-

  1. Anti-corrosion anode rods
  2. Cold water shut-off valve
  3. Inlet and outlet pipes
  4. Temperature pressure relief valve
  5. Operating controls for the thermostat
  6. Drain valve
  7. Standard tank (sizes of 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, and even 120 gallons)

Homeowners should note that according to experts, there are three main places where you should be installing and setting up your hot water system; the basement, garage, or outside a shed.

Most governments have regulated that the system should be placed facing the wall on one side, towards a corner part. This allows for opening up space and properly positioning the fuel. You don’t want to keep gas cylinders, oil canisters, or other flammable components near the hot water systems.

Different Types of Hot Water Systems in the Average Household

When it comes to the installation of hot water systems, homeowners are often confused regarding what would be best for them. In this section, we are going to list down the different types of hot water systems that can be installed in a household-

1. Electric

An electric hot water system uses your house’s electric supply and heats the water. While this is easier to install since it is very popular and nearly 70% of all homes have this, it is expensive to maintain in the long run since the energy costs start rising when the system ages. Most installation companies are familiar with this as well.

electric hot water

Image source: popularmechanics.com

a) Point of use water heaters

Point-of-use water heaters provide water only to one plumbing fixture, like the kitchen sink or shower. Tank point-of-use heaters have a small storage tank that keeps a small amount of hot water. However, tankless point-of-use heaters are ideal for showers. This is because you don’t have to worry about running out of hot water when taking a shower.

point of use water system

Image source: unitywater.com

Point-of-use water heaters are affordable and take up only limited space. They can be installed even under the sink. One major drawback is that these water heaters are usually less efficient.

b) Tankless water heater

A tankless water heater is usually small, about half the size of a standard water heater tank. This feature makes them the best option to install if you have a small apartment or townhouse. They are made to heat water quickly as it passes through heated coils to provide hot water.

tankless water heater

Image source: waterheaterleakinginfo.com

A tankless water heater can be fueled by electricity or natural gas. Tankless heaters do not waste energy by heating and reheating a tank, and this makes them more energy efficient. Whether you buy the best tankless gas water heater or an electric one, you can be sure that energy efficiency won’t be an issue.

Tankless water heaters heat water on demand hence providing an endless supply. Electric tankless water heaters take up less space and are more efficient. However, they cost more to buy and install.

c) Tank water heaters

Tank water heaters come with a heating element and a storage tank that stores water till you need it. It is one of the most affordable in the market. A tank water heater can be powered by gas or electricity.

tank water heater

Image source: thespruce.com

Once the water inside the tank has been heated, the heating stops and starts again after it has all been used or when it has cooled below the designated temperature.

2. Solar 

Next, you have the latest technological innovations that are run by solar energy. While the one-time installation costs on this might seem to be on the higher side, over the long run, you end up paying nothing by way of energy electricity charges.

solar hot water heater

Image source: ensia.com

However, to install a solar-powered water heater, you need to stay in a location that gets a lot of sunlight. They are not very effective in areas that experience a lot of snow as the snow tends to block the solar panels, hence preventing them. You also need to know that solar water heaters do not always rely on solar, so it is important to keep electricity or gas as a backup plan.

3. Gas

The first thing that you should know about gas hot water systems is that they have to be located outside the house because they result in emissions. The venting requirements mean that they have a medium purchase cost, along with average installation charges. Most experts believe that if you are living in very cold regions, gas water heater systems are ineffective.

gas water heater

Image source: thespruce.com

a) Condensing water heater

A condensing water heater uses the waste fumes produced by the home’s natural gas system. Due to their reliance on gas, condensing water heaters are best used in homes that use gas as their primary source of heating.

They are energy efficient as they do not use electricity and help keep utility bills low. However, condensing water heaters are only available in large units and cost more.

4. Heat Pump (Hybrid water heater)

This hit water system is different from an electric one and even uses less than 70% of the power. The way it works is pretty simple. You have a refrigeration cycle that helps in heat extraction from the air.

heat pump water heating system

Image source: orangecountyplumbing.com

The compressor is part of this system that plays a critical role here. It runs in the same way as an air conditioner does. If you don’t like noise, you should stay away from this.

A hybrid water heater also has an insulated tank, and its heat pump is mounted on top of the water tank. A hybrid water heater is more expensive and also takes more space than a conventional tank hot water heater.

Benefits of Having a Hot Water System in Your Home

Apart from getting hot water whenever you want (that is quite obvious), hot water systems have the following major benefits:

a) Rebates from Government Bodies 

One of the many reasons you should look to switch to solar-powered hot water systems is because of the rebates that are on offer. Governments all over the world, including in Australia, are incentivizing their citizens that are choosing solar-powered hot water systems. This helps in saving energy costs, cutting down on fossil fuel consumption, and less harmful emissions.

b) Great Space Saving in your Home

If you have seen any old movies of late, you might have come across huge boilers that were located deep down in basement areas. Not anymore. If you opt for continuous-flow hot water systems, you don’t need to keep that behemoth of a storage unit anymore. This helps you free up space that can be utilized to store something else in the house.

c) Lesser Greenhouse Emissions

In order of types that contribute most to greenhouse emissions, you have gas, electric, and solar. If you are using gas hot water systems, you are contributing negatively to global warming. On the other hand, if you use electricity, you are saving a ton on energy consumption. The best one of them all that does not lead to any greenhouse emissions is solar-powered systems.

What to Consider Before Replacing a Hot Water System

Your hot water system may be giving you signs that it needs a replacement. Or maybe, you do not have a water heating system and would like to install one in your home for the first time. So, here are a few considerations to make before you make that order.

a) Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the main considerations to make when replacing a water heating system. Get one that is energy-star certified to be sure that it is energy efficient.

If you are to shop for a gas-fired or oil water heater, check the energy factor (EF). It indicates how energy efficient the heater is, and this is for both tank and tankless heaters. The higher the energy factor, the more efficient it is.

b) Warranty

The warranty for water heaters ranges from 3-12 years. Normally those with extended warranty periods come at higher prices than the ones with short warranty periods.

To be on the safer side while buying a water heater, select one with a longer warranty. This ensures that even if it develops a fault, the company can take care of it, and you will not incur unnecessary costs.

c) Capacity

If you opt for a tank water heater, you need to ensure you get the right capacity to meet your family’s needs. This is not only about how much water the tank can hold but also how fast it heats the water.

The storage capacity should be proportionate to the size of the family. I the family is large, getting a tank water heater with a larger capacity may be the best thing to do. In addition, your water usage affects the tank capacity of the heater.

d) Drain Valves

Drain valves are elements found at the bottom of a water heater. They help drain the heater tank completely during repair and maintenance. Also, ensure that these drain valves are made of brass, not plastic, as plastic valves are damaged easily.

check thedrain valves as they are ital during repair and maintenance

Image credits: thespruce.com

e) First-Hour Rating

First Hour Rating (FHR) is the amount of water your heater produces in its first hour of operation. When getting a water heating system, ensure that its FHR is close to the amount of water your family uses during its peak time, with most hot water points running simultaneously.

f) Tank or Tankless

Would you like your water heating system to be tank or tankless? Tank water heaters are more common. They are also cheaper upfront but may lead to higher bills in the long run.

On the other hand, tankless water heaters cost more but will not raise your electricity bills to the extreme. These water heaters are more compact and don’t reserve water. Tankless water heaters may not be the best option if you have a large family that may need to use different sources of warm water at once.

g) Fuel

Before replacing your old water heater, ensure that you know what type of fuel it uses so that you can buy the right one. Though it is possible to switch the type of water heater you use, that is entirely dependent on your home. It can also come at a high cost.

The type of fuel source available dictates the type of water heater to use in your home. It will also affect the heating cost, so ensure you check on that as well.

h) Available Space

You shouldn’t always assume that your new hot water system would fit in the space that your previous one occupied. The shape and size may have completely changed over time due to newer technologies, such as upgraded insulation and efficiency enhancements.

It is possible to install a hot water system under a bench, in the garage, or anywhere within the home. Make sure the system you buy will fit in the space, regardless of where the system connections are.

i) Quality and Heating Elements

If your area receives hard water, you should consider the material used to make your tank and the heating elements. Hard water contains calcium which, when heated, adheres to surfaces and forms scales.

It may lead to clogging of your water pipes and build-up in your home appliances, including the heater. Hard water may corrode the heater, make it less efficient and lead to a shorter lifespan.

So, if you do not plan to get the best home water softener system, you should ensure that your water heating system has a corrosion-resistant material for reliability, efficiency, and durability.

Challenges and Problems Regarding Your Hot Water Systems

In this section of the guide, we will help homeowners identify signs that can help them understand whether there is a problem with their hot water systems. However, you should also know that there are ways of fixing these problems related to electric hot water systems. Let us look at the major challenges and problems below-

a) Not Enough Water

Firstly, if too little hot water comes out of the system, you have a problem with your hands. It can be the result of a faulty pilot light or a thermocouple.

b) Stinky

Secondly, if the water that is coming out from the heater smells bad, it can be because of bacteria. Make sure that the water temperature always stays between 55-65 degrees.

c) Noisy System

Thirdly, if the system is making a lot of noise, it can be because of an increase in the sediment pile-up. Another reason can be that some internal parts have come loose.

d) Leakage

If you spot a leakage that usually happens with older systems, you need to call the experts and get it fixed. You can also look at getting a new system.

e) Slow Heating

You don’t know real frustration if you’ve never stood in your birthday suit as you wait for the water to heat, especially on a very chilly day. If you experience this problem for a couple of weeks, your system may need a repair or replacement.

f) The water is Too Hot

Getting too hot water could be a small issue, or it could mean your hot water tempering valve is faulty. If you try to turn the set temperature down and it doesn’t work, know that the valve is the issue.

g) Low-Pressure

Low pressure is among the common hot water system problems. In most cases, the problem is usually associated with the plumbing pipe sizes. Another issue could be that your system is not coping well with usage.

Frequently Asked Questions on Hot Water Systems

1. What are the three main types of hot water systems?

The main hot water systems include;

  • Electric water heaters- electric heaters use high electric heating rods to heat water. These rods run vertically in the tank, and the water heats from the center and radiates outwards.
  • Solar water heaters– a solar water heater uses energy to heat water. They use energy from the sun to heat water.
  • Gas water heaters- these heaters heat water from a burner found at the bottom of a tank. The water heats from the bottom and rises to the top, where it is drawn by a tube. Gas heaters are more efficient than electric ones.

2. What is the most efficient type of hot water system?

An electric heat pump water heater is a more efficient option. It consumes less energy than an electric storage water heater.

3. What is the cheapest way to heat water?

The cheapest way to heat water is by using gas, followed by electricity, whereas propane is usually the most expensive.

4. How long should a water heating system last?

The majority of high-quality hot water systems should last between 10 and 15 years. However, the heating water systems with the highest durability are not just those of high quality; they are also those that are frequently maintained and examined.

5. How long does it take a hot water heater to warm up?

A professionally installed gas water heater heats the water quickly. For an average 40-gallon heater, you will have your hot water within 30-40 minutes. Though for a larger tank, like 80 gallons or more, the water could get heated in 60-70 minutes.

6. How do I know when my water heater is full?

When your water tank is full, you will see the hot water tap running normally without residual air coming out.

7. What is the maximum temperature for hot water heaters?

140 degrees Fahrenheit is the maximum temperature for most water heaters. However, you can set it at 120 degrees if you feel it’s too hot at 140 degrees.

The Final Takeaway

A hot water system is one of those things in a household whose worth comes into the limelight whenever there is a problem. As we said at the start of the article, most of us tend to take these machines lightly and for granted. In this beginner’s guide resource, we have touched upon some of the most important things you should know about hot water systems.

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About the author

Brenda Nyawara

Brenda Nyawara is an editor at Archute. She is a graduate architect with a passion for edge-cutting ideas in design, fashion, art and modern world interests.
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