How Do Hot Water Heaters Work?

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How Do Hot Water Heaters Work?
How Do Hot Water Heaters Work? (Image: David Hernandez)

Types of Water Heaters

Most of us take hot water for granted, until we don't have any. We tend to gain new respect for the water heater when we're in the middle of a shower and the water turns cold. The electric, gas and tankless water heaters are the three basic types on the market today. Each has it's advantages depending on your situation. The most common are the gas and electric with the tankless or point of contact water heaters rapidly gaining popularity.

Gas and Electric Water Heaters

Gas and electric water heater work in much the same way except the electric heater has two heating elements in the tank. One at the bottom and one at the top. The gas heater has a burner at the bottom in a separate chamber with a chimney that runs to the top. The most common size tanks for a home hold between 40 and 60 gallons of water. They work by allowing cold water in through a dip tube. It fills the glass lined steel tank where either the heating elements or burner come on and heat the water. This is thermostatically controlled so your water is as hot as you want it to be. Then when you turn on the hot water tap, the pressure inside the tank forces the water to the open tap. Water heaters have a pressure relief valve on them in case too much pressure builds up inside the tank. This valve prevents them from exploding.

There is also a drain valve, which looks like a small tap, that allows you to drain the tank in case you need to repair it or move it. The most common repair to these type of water heaters are elements in the electric versions. The average price of a water heater is a little over $200 to around $800 depending on the size and style you need.

Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters are gaining popularity in the U.S. due to some very interesting advantages over the tank heaters. They are more energy efficient, heating only the water you need at the time and they are space saving since they small units that hang on the wall or under a sink. Basically the unit is the burner or element and the hot water tap is what turns the unit on. Water is piped to the unit, the hot water tap is turned on and the unit comes on. The water is heated as it flows through the unit. These units are either gas or electric and they come in whole house units or point of contact units where there is one for each hot water tap. They save energy because they do not have to hold many gallons of water at a certain temperature whether you are using it or not. You set the temperature that you want the water to come out of the tap and the unit instantly heats the water, no waiting for it to come from the hot water tank. The normal life span of a tankless heater is 20 years or more and they don't loose efficiency over the years like that of the tank heater. The price range on these heaters is between $250 to about $1300.

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