Recommend a hot water heater

We just bought a new house, and the hot water heater is leaking. Luckily we have an insurance policy for major appliances, and they’re going to spring for a new one. I don’t really trust them to pick a good one, and they agreed to pay us in cash if we want to deal with it on our own. The old one was 30 gallons, and we never had enough hot water for even a single ten minute shower. I’m sure this was because the old hot water heater was 12 years old and dying, but I thought it might be worth springing for a bigger one, even if we’ll be out of pocket. I’d like to go tankless, but I think the cost is prohibitive with all the money we’ve sunk into the house already.

It’s small three bedroom, one bath house, so we shouldn’t need anything too high end. Anyone have recommendations for size, brand, specs? I’ve always rented and know pretty much nothing about hot water heaters.

I can’t recommend a specific brand, but my real estate agent was absolutely giddy about his tankless water heater. He literally invited us over to go look at it (haven’t taken him up on that offer). He loves it. He knows his stuff about houses, so I trust him. When we replace our water heater we will probably get a tankless.

Are you electric or gas or what? I think that makes a difference.

I’m a plumbing contractor, and install water heaters. (although my personal background is primarily in HVAC)

As a service issue I seem to have problems all the time with Whirlpool. I spoke with several plumber friends and to a man (I haven’t found a single woman plumber, let alone the beautiful Latina plumber in the Kohler commercial) they agreed that Whirlpool sucks.

AO Smith, IIRC, is the largest worldwide, and actually makes them for other brands. So…that —> insert brand here<—may be made by AO Smith et al.

I install Rheem and have had zero problems. I hear very good things about Bradford White.

In the end, they’re all pretty similar. A gas valve, burner, tank and some skin is really all there is to them.

If you have hard water, make sure you have a softener. Thats big. And…blow down the water heater monthly.

Unless it’s electric, like mine.
What does “blow down the the water heater monthly” mean?


What about size? It’s just me, and my wife and son. The old 30 gallon didn’t ever seem to have enough hot water, but that’s probably because of how old it was. On the other hand, the difference in price to a 50 gallon isn’t much. Should I spring for the bigger one?

On gas WHs specifically, the burner is on the bottom of the tank. Over a period of time sediments gather up on the bottom of the tank and act like a “blanket” between the burner and the bottom of the tank.

The burners may be firing but the heat isn’t being fully transferred into the water because the sediments act as an insulator.

On the bottom of the water heater is a “boiler drain”, or drain cock and if you have a gas fired WH it helps to periodically drain down a gallon or 2 off the bottom of the tank to flush out these sediments that have settled there.

On a family that size, a 40 gallon will be just fine. (40 gallon is the most common size, by far)



The water will [obviously] be hot, and depending on where you set the thermostat it may be very hot.

Caution is in order.

I guess I shouldn’t have assumed…

Back to the issue of blowing it down…

To the extent a unit is simply “old”, the only reason it may not seem it heats very well is the accumulation of sediments on the bottom of the tank. It insulates the heat of the burners from the water you wish to heat.

Over the years the average homeowner responds by incrementally raising the thermostat setting to compensate for this reality.

The tankless are wonderful, but will cost 2.5-3.5 the cost of a standard tank type.

I had a tankless when I was living in Germany and loved it. Endless hot water for less cost. But as you said, they are very expensive, and I just don’t think we can swing it right now.

Thanks for the info about sediment. When the plumber came to check it last week, he fiddled with it for a bit, and the water has been *much *hotter since then. I wasn’t sure what he did, but it sounds like he might have drained some of the sediment.

I am not sure there is good data on the quality of different brands.

Replacing a hot water heater isn’t much of a job. If you are going to do that, I would see what your local Lowes, etc. or hardware has. If you hire it done, go with the plumber’s recommendation.

Note, if you are on a public water system, likely you have backflow preventer. Many utilities have installed them without bothering to tell the homeowner they will have trouble with their hot water heater without an expansion tank. They are a round thing with an inlet, outlet and should be installed between any valve and the water heater inlet.

One major factor in the life of gas heaters is how often you run some water out the bottom drain, blow down. A few gallons once a month can make a big difference.

Also talk to your gas or electric company. they may subsidize buying a more efficient unit.

I did a cost/payback on tankless a few years ago and went with a conventional. The claimed monthly savings exceeded my monthly summer gas cost which included a gas dryer. Note, my gas company bills a service fee and gas used. so I was looking at gas used, not the whole bill. You may also need a new supply line from the meter to tank, or even from electric pole outside. Figure such before buying tankless. They take a huge amount of power when running.

The tank itself won’t, but the installation probably will. A separate line usually has to be run for a tankless. The great thing is that you will have a payback in energy savings of about five years, and you have unlimited hot water. We had one put in, and love it. The only real maintenance is to clean out the small filter once in awhile. No blowdowns, no sacrificial anodes, no pressure tanks, no thermocouple, none of that crap that typically goes bad on a conventional WH. AND: no tank to rot out and leak all over your basement or garage and replace every damned 8-10 years.

We have a rinnai.

We are also on well water, installed a pelican water system (salt free altrnative water softener) and whole house filter to support the tankless operation.

Yes it was all together pretty pricey, but must have filters for the tankless esp since we are on well water.

We do a vinegar rinse on the rinnai once a year, change out filters at the same time.

Other than that, hassle free. Two story house w/hot water at every tap in seconds!

This is part of the dishonest hype that turned me off on tankless. You have instant hot water at the outlet of the water heater. You still have the same run of pipes that water will cool off in. The only way you can gain on that over a tank is to take advantage of the size to locate it closer to the point of use. That was why I investigated them. I wanted to put one in my crawl space under the lavatory we use the most to have warm water to wash with after using the toilet. For all their small size, they have huge clearance specifications. By the time I looked into hanging one on the wall outside as is often done, I was too disgusted with the lies to buy one.

The longest haul for ours to heat pipes is to the laundry room upstairs 2 rooms and a hallway away from the heater. I don’t notice a issue there (anymore). The bathrooms are stacked and the unit is in the lower bath. W/O the filtering we had problems almost immediately with lowered water pressure and loss of hot water due to scale formation. otoh The 30 gallon took years to fill up with sediments.

Placement is, of course, critical unless you have a circulating pump in your house. I’m not sure how anybody could not know that distance from the source would be a factor. In Europe, small flash heaters located in the kitchen and bathrooms is normal, and you truly have nearly instant hot water when you turn on the tap. Hot water takes just as long to get to our taps now as it did when we had a tank heater, but as I said, it’s limitless and far more energy efficient, since it doesn’t have to keep cycling to keep the water hot when the tap is shut off. You can buy small inline water heaters that can go under your sink, if warm water is really an issue for you.