How To Stay With Hot Water in Your Household

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Every household needs hot water. You take it for granted until the hot water heater breaks down and you are confronted with a cold shower in the morning. It makes you wonder why people in trouble say that the are in hot water. But think about another saying instead – every cloud has a silver lining.

A broken hot water heater is an opportunity to upgrade and select the most appropriate hot water system that fits in with your priorities. Selecting a new water heater means you should be fully informed, so let’s check out the candidates and their pros and cons.  

Electric Hot Water Heater

Electric hot water heaters have a storage tank that retains mains pressure. This is the big advantage of conventional storage water heaters. If you want a strong shower at the maximum pressure that your pipes can deliver, then the electric tank is for you. Another pro is the cost. They are cheaper to buy and, if you are replacing like for like, they are cheaper to install.

The downside is that the design demands that a large amount of water must be kept hot. This means that you use more electricity than you would for other hot water heaters. They cost more to run. The other problem is that they are bulky and not exactly an architectural feature.     

Tankless Water Heaters

For a better look that uses less space, a tankless water heater is a good choice. Tankless water heaters work by heating the water on demand. When you turn on the faucet the water heater springs into action and starts heating the water. That’s both an advantage and a disadvantage. You’re not wasting energy heating water that you aren’t using, but you need to run the faucet for a little while for the hot water to reach it, which wastes water.

Generally tankless water heaters run on natural gas and are not expensive to run. But the burst of heat required to heat water on demand makes the electric versions of tankless heaters not very energy efficient.

Solar Water Heaters

If your number one priority is to save energy and avoid burning fossil fuels as much as possible, then a solar hot water heater is the best choice. They run on free sunlight and are best suited to the sunnier Southwest states.

Even there, there are times when cloud cover interferes with the operation of the system. Solar hot water has a back up heating element for when this happens, so sometimes the system does use either gas or electricity, albeit a small amount.  

Heat Pump Hot Water

Heat Pumps look a bit like conventional electric water heaters because they have a storage tank.  But the way they heat the water is different.  It’s a complicated process that involves condensers and refrigerants. What matters is that heat pumps use much less electricity than conventional tank heaters. That makes them cheap to run. And you don’t need a natural gas connection.

The biggest things that count against them are that they cost more upfront than conventional water heaters and they make noises like a fridge. Like refrigerators, some models are noisier than others and top of the range models are very quiet.  

Tankless Coil and Indirect Water Heaters

The final types of hot water systems are the tankless coil and indirect water heaters that are integrated into a home's space heating system and use that to heat water.

They are a good choice in those parts where the long cold winter means that the central heating is used a lot. If you are going to use energy heating the house, why not piggyback off that and use part of the same system to heat water as well?

Which One?

Your choice depends on what you want the most. You can combine solar panels and a conventional electric water heater to cut down on greenhouse gasses and get good mains pressure showers. If you don’t have gas and you really want to save on energy use, a heat pump will do the job. Most folk find that a gas tankless heater is a no-fuss solution that ticks most boxes.

The size or capacity of the hot water heater that you need is dictated by the amount of people who use it. Getting a storage tank that’s too small will result in running out of hot water and getting one that’s too big means you are heating a whole lot of extra water for no good reason.

What it all boils down to is selecting a hot water heater that is reliable, affordable and doesn’t cost the earth to run. But whatever your choice, it’s more than likely that your new hot water heater will be a big improvement on systems of the past.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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