SKL New York

Water Heaters 101

After the major catastrophe of a failed oil-fired water heater, I needed to have an emergency crash course education on water heaters: comparing prices, models, efficiency, different types (oil-fired, electric, gas, propane, tankless, etc) and quickly decide what the best (and most affordable) options were.  And even though I am a resourceful DIY-er, there are some things better left to the professionals.

My first thoughts were: How much is this going to cost? How do I know I’m getting a good price?  What model do I choose?  How do I know I’m getting a good system, installation, etc? Since I have to replace it anyway, should I consider a completely different system? at which point, my mind started to whirl…

Like most people, I am not well-versed in the subtleties of major home heating systems and appliances, but am determined to learn; after all, not only is it in my best interest to understand how my major utilities operate, but also, it’s a substantial investment.  I dislike making major decisions under duress, but the absence of hot water emphasized urgency.  To add to my already challenging situation, my computer had completely failed due to a hot cocoa “accident”.  So most of my research was limited to what my four-year old smartphone would allow, hindering my desire to be an “educated consumer”.

Price was on the top of my list of considerations.  Next, was longevity – and by extension, resale value of the home.  In addition, I needed to consider the placement of the tank and the amount of space around it to work with, as well as, what system would work best with the other existing systems (furnace, well pump, and ventilation/exhaust systems) The current systems in the home are oil-based (oil-fired water heater and furnace, no gas or propane), so I opted to focus my research options between oil-fired and electric tanks.

Here is a bit of what I learned:

– Oil-fired water heaters

  • have the quickest recovery time and heat water to higher temperatures, offering more efficiency in colder climates.
  • cost more to purchase and install (approx $2500 and up in the Northeast).
  • are apparently the most affordable option to operate for fuel-based tanks, aside from gas (but with oil at over $4 a gallon, I’m not so sure).
  • Best brands are Bock and Bradford White Aero Series (source: Wet Head Media) with Bock leading the pack with many websites and forums boasting about their longeveity and effeciency.  Also Toyotomi Oil Tankless Water Heaters, however, they aren’t ideal for large family or multiple fixture usage.

– Electric water heaters

  • are inexpensive to purchase and install (depending on it’s proximity to a service panel and other plumbing).
  • have many different options to choose from (with tankless and hybrid options available)
  • are the most expensive to operate and not as environment-friendly as other options
  • require very little to no maintenance

My existing water heater was placed in a rather tight corner of the cellar, with a rear-vented flue and it shared exhaust ventilation with the forced air furnace.  I had been told that I couldn’t switch from a rear-vented heater to a top-vented one. (Bradford White Aero series being the only rear-vented model). However, I preferred the Bock heater for it’s stellar reputation, even though it was only a top-vented model.

Here’s some images to illustrate the situation:

After getting three or four estimates, I decided to go with another oil-fired water heater and utilized my oil provider Burke Heat for installation.  Even though an electric water heater would cost a fraction of what an oil-fired system costs for purchase and installation – with additional energy costs of $50-$60 per month for the electric heater, the monthly costs would surpass the cost of purchase and installation of a oil-fired system in only two years.  Furthermore, knowing that Burke Heat uses licensed professionals was big plus (there is a one year warranty on installation and 6 year warranty on the appliance), not to mention that they were going to be servicing this unit AND my furnace and would be able to monitor any additional maintenance needed.

So after all was said and done, I now have a beautiful, shiny new Bock water heater with all new ventilation tubing.  And the installation was beautifully done – as I watched every part of it, fascinated particularly by the technique of cutting copper piping and soldering it (I’m turning into a complete DIY geek…).  They did an amazing job of re-fitting the rear-vent flue to a top-vent and replaced extra tubing.

Here are the after photos:

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t panic
  • Gather as much information as possible
  • Consider how the new system will function in connection with your current systems
  • Get as many professional estimates as possible
  • Ask as many questions as you can think of
  • Research wholesale prices of any model you are considering – if anything, it is a great negotiation tool.
  • Check the warranty on the appliance AND the installation.
  • Know that whatever decision you make will probably be fine (for at least 5 – 7 years)

Here are some links to useful websites:

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) had quite a lot of helpful information.

A good article from December 2011 at Consumer Reports

If you live in the CT area, call Jay at A Plus Plumber

This entry was published on October 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm. It’s filed under Interiors and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Water Heaters 101

  1. Pingback: What to Do When Your Gas Or Electric Water Heater Goes Bad | Water Heater Problems

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