Water Heater- Your Best Winter AllyBuying Guides in Heaters

Water heating is a thermodynamic process that employs an energy source to heat water beyond its initial (base) temperature. Typically, domestic applications of hot water include cleaning, bathing, and doing laundry and dishes, expressly so during bone-chilling winters! In fact, given the constantly evolving lifestyles of the upward spiralling masses, a constant supply of hot water in most households is no longer seen as a fancy luxury, but a staple necessity. Apart from domestic use, hot water and steam are extensively used across a plethora of industrial processes.

Appliances that ensure a steady supply of hot water in homes and offices through the existing plumbing system (taps/faucets/showers etc.) are most commonly referred to as Water Heaters. Other general terms used to describe such appliances are boilers, hot water tanks, calorifiers, or geysers, and the terminology largely depends on a wide array of factors-whether such appliances are being used to heat potable/ non-potable water or whether they are employed for domestic/ industrial use, the source of energy being used to fuel such an apparatus, and also which part of the globe they are being used in. For all intents and purposes, Water Heaters are pretty familiar fixtures in most contemporary homes, and characteristically appear like huge metal cylinders or tall drums often affixed into bathrooms, kitchens and/or laundry rooms.

Key Facts about Water Heaters

Broadly speaking, heating water accounts for as much as 20 percent of the average energy consumption of a normal household unit. Hence, it pays to judiciously explore all the relevant aspects affecting your buying decision, before you invest a substantial sum on acquiring a Water Heater , ideally suited to your individual requisites. Given below is an exhaustive set of information to guide you through the selection of an appropriate Water Heater:

Types of Water Heater

Before you zero in on a Water Heater apt for your family's daily needs, here is a quick low down on various types of Water Heaters available in the market:

Storage Tank Water Heaters

Storage Tank Water Heaters are basically steel cylinders fed by a cold-water inlet pipe (known as the dip tube), which juts into the tank (this line includes the shut-off valve). In such units, water gets heated in the tank, and hot water is dispensed through a hot-water pipe on top of the tank. Another pipe that emerges from the tank comprises of the temperature and pressure-relief valve, which opens up in the event of either of them exceeding a preset level. Additionally, such Water Heaters comprise a drain valve near the tank bottom, in addition to a control unit outside for setting temperatures on the electric models and, for controlling the pilot-light valve on the gas models. Storage Tank Water Heaters are mid-range models (price-wise), and remain very popular in most average-sized Indian families.

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless Water Heaters, also known as instantaneous water heaters, are suitcase-sized units that heat water as and when required, by using an electric coil (typically for low demand) or natural gas (for high demand), to heat water passing through a heat exchanger inside. Such models eliminate the risk of tank failure and energy pilferages by constantly reheating water, though their heat exchanger runs the risk of clogging or failing due to extensive use. Buyers must note that such variants are quite expensive to buy and install, and include limitations on hot-water flow rates, a likely issue in large families. Also, users must account for the fact that ice-cold incoming water in winters may not turn up to be adequately hot (as per their liking) when a Tankless Water Heater is being used. In fact, a few of the gas-fuelled Tankless Water Heaters are touted by the makers as huge energy-savers, as they supposedly cut up the running costs by up to half over regular storage heaters. However, the exorbitant upfront costs of such variants are a big deterrent, and hence, unlike Storage Tank Water Heaters, Tankless Water Heaters do not enjoy universal popularity in the Water Heater market.

Hybrid Electric Water Heaters

Hybrid Electric Water Heaters constitute a conventional electric storage-tank heater coupled with a heat pump that extracts heat from the surrounding air and uses it to heat the water. As a matter of fact, some premium Hybrid variants proffer an annual savings of about 60 percent over the extremely popular electric-only models. Also, whilst Hybrid Electric Water Heaters variants cost a lot more than electric-only models, the payback time in terms of sizeable cost savings is fairly short. However, it is not prudent to replace a relatively inexpensive Water Heater model running on natural gas with a Hybrid variant, as gas-run Water Heaters remain the most economical option in the long run.

Additionally, Hybrid Water Heaters have their share of downsides. Firstly, since the heat pump is usually placed on top, Hybrid Water Heaters require roughly 7 feet of space between the floor and the ceiling. Also, you would require up to 1,000 cubic feet of warm space to capture enough heat from the ambient air, along with a condensate pump (which does not come cheap!), if there is no accessible drain in close proximity. Also, Hybrid Water Heaters are much noisier than conventional Storage Tank Water Heaters, and such models exhaust cool air pretty fast, in addition to robbing substantial heated air during winters.

Solar Water Heaters

Solar Water Heaters work by supplementing an electric Water Heater with heat from the sun's rays. A roof-mounted collector absorbs the sun's heat and transfers it to an antifreeze-like fluid in a closed-loop system, which runs to the water tank. The collector is typically a flat panel or an array of glass cylinders (known as evacuated tubes). Solar Water Heaters deliver astounding savings during summers, and remain a very lucrative option for inhabitants of very hot and sunny locales. However, such models do not offer considerable savings during cold and cloudy days. Best Solar Water Heater models offer around 80 percent savings over electric Storage Tank Heaters during the peak summer months, however, these savings plummet to around 30 percent during extremely cold weather (when the hot water consumption shoots up radically). In effect, the amount of savings a Solar Water Heater unit delivers would vary- depending upon the region you live in, and the sun exposure received by your home.

Immersion Water Heaters

An Immersion Water Heater (popularly referred to as an Electric Rod) is the cheapest and most portable variant available in the market; though it is generally incapable of heating a large amount of water in one go. This kind of a device is directly immersed into a container (for instance an iron bucket or a small tank) to heat a small batch of water pretty quickly. The direct immersion method remains fairly energy efficient, and the water heating process can be effortlessly monitored. Though not apt for high-demand usage, required by large families, an Immersion Water Heater comes in handy when a small amount of water needs to be heated instantaneously for use by a single person, or to wash up a small lot of dishes in the kitchen/for shaving and other such trivial tasks that require a small quantity of hot water, in a jiffy. Additionally, such Water Heaters can be conveniently stashed into your luggage and carried around to places that do not have a permanent Water Heating facility.

Source of Heating

The type of fuel used to power the Water Heater would have a direct bearing on the overall cost of running the appliance. Characteristically, a Water Heater runs on electricity (most common practice in most Indian households), natural gas or propane gas (though the concept has not really gained momentum in a big way). As a general rule, gas should be the preferred fuel, if you happen to be residing in a locality, which boasts of a natural-gas service, or if you can find a convenient way of running a gas line into your home in a cost-effective manner. However, gas-fuelled Water Heater models cost a little more than those powered by electricity. Nonetheless, the higher upfront cost is by and large set off in the form of long-term operating cost savings, as a gas Water Heater typically costs half as much to run as an analogous electric Water Heater variant. Thus, a Gas Water Heater would essentially pay back the initial cost difference in almost a year! For the information of potential buyers, the Water Heater market remains broadly split on a 50-50 basis between electric and natural gas variants, and there exists a wide array of models in both the categories, to choose from.

Ascertain the Ideal Capacity

A majority of the Water Heaters are sold on the basis of the amount of water (in gallons) they can hold. For instance, a family unit of two to four people may use 80 to 85 gallons per day (sufficient for roughly three showers, two full laundry loads, and turning on the faucet a couple of times). One must always factor in high-demand conditions and buy a Water Heater with a little extra capacity than required for average routine usage. The table given below should help give you an approximate idea of the ideal capacity as per your family requirements, although it is always wise to check with the shop consultant before finalizing the capacity of the Water Heater you may be buying.

Family Size Minimum Gallon Capacity Recommended for Electric Heaters Minimum Gallon Capacity Recommended for Gas Heaters
5+ members 80 50
3-4 Members 50 40
2-3 Members 40 40
1-2 Members 30 30
Water Heaters with Anti-scale Feature

Some premium Water Heater variants boast of sophisticated features that help reduce the build-up of mineral scale at the bottom of the tank, by swirling the water. While such kind of mineral scale build-up may shorten the life of the heating element inside an electric Water Heater, consumers need not have to pay through the roof for such fancy add-ons. The more judicious alternative would be to invest in a model that comes with protracted warranty and sports a longer/thicker heating element (as explained in the previous paragraph).

Drain Valves- Brass versus Plastic

Drain valves are located near the base of the unit, for accepting a garden hose (to drain the heater). It is always advisable to buy a Water Heater comprising brass drain valves, as these tend to be far more durable than plastic, though brass drain valves raise the total cost of the unit.

Water Heaters featuring Glass-lined Tanks

Some high-end Water Heaters sport a built-in glass-lined tank to mitigate the ensuing water corrosion. The glass-lining is embedded during the manufacturing process by applying a coating to the interiors of the steel tank and subsequently heating it up to form a protective, porcelain glass-like layer. This process essentially increases the shelf-life of the Water Heater, though the extra feature comes at an extra cost!

Water Heaters sporting Smart Digital Displays

Digital Displays are most commonly found on the Hybrid and Solar models, and help monitor levels and customize the operation. What's more, some electric/heat-pump Hybrid models allow you digitally set a 'Vacation Mode', which uses just the heat pump for augmented efficiency while you are away. Digital Displays on Solar Water Heaters often exhibit tank and collector temperatures, along with pressure readings and other helpful information. Simple models designed for domestic use do not really have/need a Digital Display facility, though you may find some expensive variants expressly boasting of such a feature.

Space Requisites

It is imperative to establish the precise height and width of the Water Heater and ensure adequate space for its fitting and installation. Users must note that due to the top mounted heat pump on Hybrid Water Heaters, they are typically taller than conventional models; hence, such Water Heaters would occupy more space. Also, a few makers, in an attempt to bolster the insulation on regular storage-tank heaters, add roughly three to four inches of width over earlier versions, hence buyers with space constraints need to account for these factors.

Pay Due Heed to Safety Concerns

Most domestic tank-type gas-fuelled Water Heaters typically include FVIR (Flammable-Vapour Ignition Resistance) to avert likely flashback fires in the event of vapours from a flammable liquid gas contacting another combustible element. Also, when buying an electric Water Heater, buyers must essentially check for ISI certification. In fact, depending upon the fuel source, it is of utmost importance to check for such inbuilt safeguards when buying something as inflammable as a Water Heater. Additionally, if you have a vent pipe that runs to the outside of your house (as part of the plumbing ), and if you are contemplating buying a tankless Water Heater, make sure to use Category 3 stainless-steel venting to resist corrosion from any likely condensation that forms in the pipe.

Check for ENERGY STAR Certification

ENERGY STAR is the most trusted government approved certification for energy efficiency, which abets consumers in selecting home and kitchen appliances that save money, and also help protect the environment through decidedly regulated energy-efficient products and practices. As a matter of fact, a multitude of efficiency-conscious homeowners settle for ENERGY STAR approved appliances due to the excellent environmental benefits and long-term cost-savings offered by such variants. Though the highly energy efficient (ENERGY STAR certified) models are a tad more expensive than the regular variants, they are engineered to save your money in the long run, that too in an environmental-friendly way.

A good practice (as part of your market research) would be to conduct a comparative analysis and gain a valuable insight into the projected performance and estimated annual operating costs of each of the diverse Water Heater models available, and also refer to the Energy Guide label to gauge the expected performance of the variants so short-listed. For all intents and purposes, it is extremely discreet to opt for highly energy efficient Water Heaters to save big bucks and mitigate your carbon footprint in the process!

Premium Electronic Gas Valve- A Key Feature in High-end Gas Water Heaters

Most of the upscale gas-fuelled Water Heaters (notably those made by Whirlpool) feature a sophisticated electronic gas valve. The advanced electronic gas valve is self-powered by a thermopile, therefore does not require an external power source, and facilitates effortless installation. Also, owing to fewer moving parts than a conventional mechanical gas valve, this kind of valve-fitting yields a far more reliable and accurate performance of the Water Heater, thus delivering better temperature control and faster hot water recovery. If these attributes are of significance to you, it would be wise to invest in an expensive Water Heater model sporting this added facet.

Check Warranty Details Scrupulously

Typically, Water Heater models that boast of a longer-warranty period are more expensive, nonetheless you end up with a superior overall package. Upscale Water Heater variants with longer warranties characteristically sport larger heating elements to speed up water heating (thus, generating an increased amount of hot water in a lesser span of time), thicker insulation (facilitating less heat loss), and much thicker and longer corrosion-fighting metal anodes. It is, therefore, prudent to cherry-pick models with the longest available warranty.
An important point to note here is that some dealers tend to shorten the warranty for units intended for use with hard water, or in consistently high-demand situations (for example large and extended families), apart from recommending annual service a qualified technician, for better maintenance.

Accessories to Boost the Safety and Efficiency of your Water Heater

Given below are some of the commonly available accessories that may help bolster the effectiveness and fail-safe operation of your Water Heater unit:

Water Heater Stands: Water Heater Stands are employed to raise gas units off the ground, and they help lessen the risk of fire in the likely event of a flammable liquid spill nearby.

Water Heater Pans: Water Heater Pans sit neatly under the Water Heater and collect water spilled over from leak/ overflows caused by excess pressure in the tank. The Water Heater Pan consists of a side-opening for a drain hose to carry away any overflow of water.

Tank Expanders: Tank Expanders are tidily plumbed to the Water Heater, and are designed to hold the extra volume of water that is likely to be produced when cold water is heated in the tank.

Water Alarms: Water Alarms are placed either on the floor or in the pan adjacent to the Water Heater. In the event of the Water Heater leaking or overflowing, the Water Alarm would intelligently detect the liquid and raise an audio alarm to alert the homeowner that there is a perilous problem that needs fixing.

Pressure Regulators: Pressure Regulators are connected to the outlet side of the Water Heater, and help check the water pressure from exceeding a predefined acceptable limit as it exits the tank. Regulating the pressure of water in this manner shields the interior pipes from bursting/leaking due to pressure surges in the plumbing system.

Insulating Water Heater Blankets: Insulating Water Heater Blankets are expressly designed to snugly fit over the Water Heater unit and buttress the insulating capability of the Water Heater. Insulating blankets remain the best accessories for Water Heaters that are placed in unheated and very cold spaces such as garages, basements etc.

Timers: Timers are characteristically wired into the Water Heater unit's electrical supply, and can be expediently preset such that the Water Heater draws electricity only at specified times. This is a great way to cut down on energy use and save money by running the Water Heater in a disciplined manner, only when really needed.

Depending upon your individual requirements, you may pick one or more of the above accessories to fortify your existing Water Heater unit.

Prominent Brands

Once you have ascertained the exact set of features, you essentially need in a Water Heater unit, you may for your scout for competing variants offered by the following key brands:

  • Whirlpool
  • Kenstar
  • Bajaj
  • Whirlpool
  • Crompton Greaves
  • Racold
  • Inalsa
  • Havells
  • VGaurd

Be an Astute Buyer

Potential buyers must employ the above exhaustive buying guidelines and tips to select the perfect Water Heater ideally tailor-made for their specific requirements. It would be perceptive to factor-in the explicitly distinctive attributes pertaining to your family unit, viz., family size, total daily demand for hot water (average out seasonal demand fluctuations), your family?s individual style of living, any existing space constraints, easy accessibility of fuel, and availability of utilities in your area. Due deliberation to all these aspects shall help you buy a Water Heater as unique as your household!