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What Is the Best Water Heater for a Small Family?

on May 15th, 2018 in Water Heaters

Having a small family has its perks. With less people running around the home, there less need for more rooms, food, furniture and yes…hot water.

Your needs are different than larger families, therefore the criteria for choosing a water heater will be different as well. In this article, we’ll go through the different factors to consider when choosing a water heater just right for your small family.

Cost

When it comes to cost, you need to think longterm and shortterm. The water heater that is often the cheapest to purchase upfront typically ends up being the most expensive to run. Likewise, the more a water heater costs upfront, the more energy efficient it to tends to be. Families that purchase more expensive water heaters are usually thinking about ROI. The 3 most popular style water heaters in the Toronto Market are conventional, power vent and tankless.

Conventional: The cheapest of the 3, they operate around 60% efficient. They’ll cost you more in the long run. They are tank water heaters that store heated water for taps and showers.

Power-vent: Slightly more expensive than conventional tanks, They’ll provide you slightly more savings with an efficiency around 70%. They are similar in looks and design storing hot water in a tank.

Tankless: These system are notable more expensive than the first 3. However, they offer the biggest energy savings with efficiency as high as 98%. They do not store hot water but instead heat water on demand. You gain further efficiency by preventing standby heat loss

Recommendation: If solely evaluating the options on price, a small family will most benefit from a low-cost conventional tank. Although it may cost more to operate, a smaller family has less demand for hot water versus a larger one, making any energy savings with a more efficient tank negligible. Keep in a mind, the more hot water you use, the better the ROI with a more efficient tank.

Note, conventional tanks require a chimney to exhaust. If there is no chimney available, then it will become very expensive to install. Your next best option would be to install power vent.

Premium Water Heater Solution

Now if you’re working with a bigger budget, the tankless is a no brainer. Not only will you have a higher efficiency water heater that will eventually repay itself in full and then some, but you get all the tankless water heater perks.

Tankless water heaters are compact, allowing you to regain some room in your mechanical room. This can be valuable if space in your home is a limited resource.

Tankless water heaters are safer, using a combustion blower to remove all exhaust and taking its fresh air supply from the outdoors. This has the bonus of preventing a low oxygen scenario in the burners that can lead to carbon monoxide buildup.

Finally, they are less vulnerable to the high levels of water damage both PV and conventional water heaters are notorious for. Since they do not keep a storage 40-50G of water, any rupture in the body of the water heater will lead to limited spillage.

Source of Heat

Water heaters need a fuel source to heat the water. There are various options, each with their own advantages and drawbacks. We’ll explore each option and help you determine what would be ideal for your small family.

Propane

Propane is stored cylinders of various sizes. Homes that run on propane typically have a large storage cylinder a minimum of 10 ft away from the any structure. These cylinders are regularly filled by a local utility company.

Water heaters that are heated by smaller propane tanks (similar to the ones you use for your BBQ) these systems require the regular observation of the homeowner to ensure the tank is filled. Overlooking to fill the tank can lead to the inconvenience of a frantic trip to buy a replacement, which if you’re relying on this type of heating, can be very far away.

Propane is usually last resort form of heating your home if other fuel sources are not available to you.

Solar

A lot less common than the other fuel sources, solar can be great if you live on the sunny side of the world. They use a solar panel that allows water to travel through it and to be heated by the sun.

A backup fuel source is usually needed as you won’t be able to rely on 100% sunlight conditions to heat the water all year long.

However, if for the the most part you are able to get a lot of sunlight, you can get a lot of “free heat”.

A solar heating option can have a higher upfront cost compared to other heating solutions. Naturally, a larger family with higher water usage will get a better ROI with a solar water heater solution. A smaller family with less water usage will take longer to realize such an ROI.

The final and most obvious factor is the amount of sunlight you get. Colder clients with less exposure to sun make solar a less practical solution. You’ll also need to use an anti-freezing solution and heat exchanger when dealing with colder temperatures.

Electric

An electric water heater uses elements in the tank to heat the water inside. Electric is the most expensive to operate but also the cheapest to buy. The two biggest factors that determine if electric is right for your family is “how long you plan to live in your/use the tank” and “how much hot water do you use?” If you plan to just use the tank for short period and have limited hot water use, then electric may be your best option. If the opposite is true, you may want to invest in a more energy efficient option.

Electric water heaters are also more flexible with installation applications. Smaller families may not have a mechanical room or if they do, have limited requirements to install a gas system.

Electric tanks do not need gas line, venting or a condensate drain line to be installed. It just needs power and water lines. Allowing it to be located almost anywhere.

Natural Gas

Natural Gas is the most popular option, especially in the city. Most homes in urban areas have access to natural gas and therefore can easily accommodate a natural gas water heater.

They are less complex systems than solar power yet simple enough that they can easily be installed and serviced by any heating contractor

They’re also the cheapest fuel source, providing a notable savings on energy when you upgrade from electric. If this fuel source is available for your family, we recommend you pursue this option. Even if you’re planning to only live in your home for a short period and your hot water usage is limited, the initial cost of installing these systems compared to electric is not that significantly more, making natural gas a sound investment.

Size of the Water Heater

The actual size of a water heater can have a big influence on whether a water heating solution will work for a smaller family or not. There are only two types of water heater designs that vary in design: tank and tankless

Tank: These styles are bulky and take up more room. They come in varying sizes either one slightly bigger or smaller than the other. The size is directly correlated with it’s capacity. With the common water heater, sizes range between 40-60G.

Note that there is also a 30G water heater that is less commonly used to supply for a whole family. You’ll see later when we discuss sizing why 30G is too small for most people. However, after doing the math, it happens to work for you, a 30G electric tank would be your winner. They are small (arguably take as much footprint as tankless), cheap, easy to install and can be installed almost anywhere.

Tankless

We already discussed all the benefits of tankless including its compact size. The only drawback is the higher upfront cost. Again, if you’re working with a larger budget, tankless would be the clear winner for you.

A final note on space: One needs to not only consider the size of the actually equipment, but the space all it’s attachments take up. Gas water heaters require venting and gas lines that need their own clearances.

Capacity

Another big consideration other than price and the actual dimensions of the water heater. Will it be able to supply enough hot water to for you and your family? We’ll go through each system and their capacity.

Tank Water Heaters

Tank style water heaters have set quantity of preheated water. Once all that reserve water is used, then your family will have to wait till your water heats up it’s storage of water. It’s important that you select a size that will hold enough hot water during an allocated period. For example, if you use a lot of hot in the morning because you run two long hot showers and the dishwasher at the same time you may need a 40G tank.

Note: if you use another 20G of hot water at night, that doesn’t mean you need a 60G tank. Your tank will have enough time to reheat it’s’ storage of water by that time.

Tankless

The core difference with tankless is that it doesn’t keep a storage of hot water. Instead, it heats the water instantaneously as you need it. When sizing a tankless, it’s important to determine how much hot water you believe you’ll use at a single time. This is done by determining how much gallons a minute (GPM) of hot water each facet and shower use and which ones can be expected to be use at a the same time.

On average showers use 2.5 GPM and sinks use 1.5 GPM. Next, match a tankless system that will be able to supply the sum of these GPMs. Note, during winter the supply water from the city will be colder and therefore your tankless water heaters capacity will be reduced. It’s important to determine a tankless water heaters capacity at different raise temperatures (temperature difference between supply temperature and the desired temperature out of a tap.

Recommendation: For most small families, a tank style water heater should be sufficient for your needs. If you’re working with a bigger budget than tankless would be your premium solution.

Find the Right One for Your Family!

There are many options when it comes down to providing hot water for your family. The biggest factors to consider our price, fuel source, physical size and hot water capacity. As a final conclusion, we’ll have to make a few assumptions. First that you’re dealing with limited space in the home. Second, your hot water use is probably less than the average family. Third, you’re in a remote area and more common sources of fuel is not available to you.

Therefore, the ideal water if working with a smaller budget is a 40G electric water heater. If you have access to gas a natural gas water heater is your best option. If you’re working with a larger budget, we recommend a tankless water.

Sources:

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/water-heaters/buying-guide/index.htm https://www.thetinyhouse.net/how-to-choose-tiny-house-hot-water-heater/ https://smarterhouse.org/water-heating/replacing-your-water-heater