February 2017

Plumbing Lessons: Water Heaters 101

Water heaters are the type of appliance you rarely think about. You expect your water to be hot when you need it — when showering, washing the dishes, doing laundry, etc. But the more you know about your water heater, the better you’ll be able to care for it.

Here’s everything you need to know about water heaters:

Most homeowners use a tank-type water heater. As its name implies, this kind of water heater system comprises a large, cylinder-shaped tank connected to a series of pipes. Tank-type water heaters are standard, and can be powered by electricity, gas or oil. If your unit is fuel-fired, it requires a vent pipe to carry exhaust out of your home.

Tank-type water heaters not only heat water, but also store it until it’s needed. That’s why it’s important that your water heater tank is properly insulated. When you’re ready to use the hot water, it will travel through delivery pipes to the appliance or fixture in use.

Don’t see a hot water tank? Then your water heater is tankless. This type of equipment usually relies on a boiler to heat water. The water warms up the coil, bringing hot water to your taps. A big difference between tank-type water heaters and tankless water heaters is that the latter only heat water as needed — they don’t store hot water.

Stand-alone water heaters are also available. Again, these instantaneous water heaters don’t require a tank. Instead, they use a coil and heat exchanger to produce hot water when it’s needed. Therefore, stand-alone water heaters do not store hot water either.