Choosing a water heater, Part I: FHR, EF, and other technical info FYI.

Your decision—or, perhaps, your necessity—to purchase a new water heater is an investment that is well worth some investigating beforehand. Choosing a water heater that fits your house, your budget, and you is important, and it's doubly important to know about everything that's out there for your consumption.

Showering consumes the most water in the shortest amount of time, and it's the test you can use to see how your water heater is actually doing. If the rate of flow out of the tank exceeds the water heater's capacity to heat the cold water flowing in to replace it, the temperature of the tank will start to fall until the water coming out of your faucet or showerhead is cold. If this is a problem, the only problem, that has you considering a new water heater, consider installing a point-of-use water heater by the shower or sink that gets a lot of use.

When you need a whole new water heater unit, there are two considerations you need to keep in mind: a unit's fuel type and its first-hour rate (FHR), or the number of gallons of hot water that can be produced in the first hour of running. While both are just as important when you're shopping, experts say you should focus more on the FHR. This tells you how much energy is being spent to keep the water in the tank hot, plus the amount of incoming cold water heated within an hour.

How do you find your FHR requirement? Consider when you use the most hot water in your home. There are many online resources that can help you find a ballpark figure. From there, it's simply finding a water heater model with an FHR specification that matches your own. Easy!

Here's another number to consider: the Federal Energy-Factor number, or EF, indicates how efficiently a water heater converts fuel into hot water. The higher the EF rating, the better (they can range from 0.5 to 2.4). Compare this rating only after you've found the unit with the correct FHR rating.

Give some thought, too, to the preferred fuel for your water heater. Water heaters can run on solar, natural gas, propane, oil or electricity. (Pity it can't run on water!) If you're replacing a water heater, chances are you're restricted to either natural gas or electric. There's an old rule of thumb that states that it would be worth switching to a less costly fuel only if you plan to stay in your home for the next ten years or longer.

If that is the case, then that opens up many more doors in the matter of an initial investment that would definitely help you save money! Electric water heaters are less expensive and more efficient than gas water heaters, mostly because they lose a lot of heat due to necessary venting. But this all depends on where you live. Natural gas rates could be a lot more cost-effective than electricity rates, which is definitely worth looking into. Gas heaters heat water a lot quicker than electric heaters, which means a smaller tank would be an option for gas users.

Next up: the fight between the tankless, gas, electric and hybrid water heaters. Which is better?


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