You probably don't think about your hot water heater much until you're forced to take a cold shower. The energy they use seems insignificant compared to that consumed by your HVAC system or even lighting. However, when it's time to buy a new one, it's worth it to do a little research and compare water heaters in order to choose the most energy efficient model.
Conventional Tank Heaters
Chances are good that your current water heater is the conventional type with a large storage tank. Gallons upon gallons of water are heated and kept at the ready. This wastes energy, and it still takes a while for that water to travel from the tank to your sink or shower. What's worse, the tank may run out before your shower is over, leaving you in the cold.
One argument for the conventional water heater is that it's affordable. You can purchase one for just a few hundred dollars. If budget is your main concern, look for an affordable water heater that features the Energy Star label, which guarantees that it operates more efficiently than its counterparts. Also, choose the right size water heater for your home. There's no need to waste energy to heat a tank that is a larger capacity than necessary. Another factor to consider is the fuel type: gas or electric. You may not have a choice in the matter, but if you do, contact your utility company to compare rates.
Solar Water Heaters
Rather than taxing the environment by using electricity or natural gas, harness solar power, a renewable resource. Solar water heaters rely on photovoltaic panels that can be mounted flush to your home's roof. There are two main types of solar water heating systems: passive and forced circulation. The passive model features a storage tank located adjacent to the panels and is only suitable for warmer climates. A forced circulation system allows the tank to be located elsewhere by means of a pump. Solar water heaters may also be used to heat swimming pools.
The downsides? Solar hot water heaters aren't an option for everyone. If you live in an area that doesn't receive enough sun or your home is not oriented in a way to capture its energy, it's not worth the cost. Speaking of cost, solar hot water heater systems are expensive. However, you must think of it as a long-term investment that will eventually pay for itself. Sunshine, after all, is free.
Tankless Water Heaters
One of the best hot water heater options on the market is the tankless water heater. About the size of a backpack, these compact heaters supply hot water on demand. The water passes through very hot heating elements and then is delivered directly to your faucet or shower. You'll never run out of hot water again, and you'll never have to worry about a devastating leak from a tank.
Sold on the idea of a tankless water heater? Be prepared to fork over the money. These heaters easily cost twice as much as the conventional tank heater, but they last years longer. Not to mention the savings on your electrical or gas bill--they cost mere dollars to operate each month.
Your choice of water heater will depend on budget, fuel availability and climate. Take the time to shop around and compare water heaters, read customer reviews and determine the operating costs.