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Water Heater Truths and Facts (Different Types of Water Heaters)

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Bringing you the truth about water heaters.

If you ask most people what they know about water heaters, they’ll tell you they heat water. After all, what else is there to know? Let’s back up the truck a little and consider the fascinating world of water heaters.

It’s time to get acquainted with water heater facts and statistics as we tour the interesting, bizarre, and downright crazy truths about how we heat our water.


18 Key Water Heater Facts and Statistics

With so many water heater facts and stats, we needed to narrow the field to our favorite 18.

  1. The average water heater accounts for 25 percent of your energy use.
  2. Only three percent of the planet has fresh water.
  3. The average American uses 1,207 cubic meters of water every year.
  4. The average water heater lasts for eight to 12 years.
  5. Most water heaters run for three to five hours per day.
  6. Energy Star estimates that eight million water heaters are purchased annually in the States.
  7. Tankless water heaters are the most efficient because they heat on demand.
  8. Tanked water heaters are the cheapest and most popular in the US.
  9. Solar water heaters only need servicing every three to five years.
  10. Heat pumps draw warmth from the air and ground and only use electricity to dispense the heat.
  11. Condensing water heaters use gas fumes to heat water.
  12. The first gas water heater was invented in 1868 by Benjamin Waddy Maughan.
  13. In 1979, Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar panels on The White House roof to heat water.
  14. In 1877, New York opened the first commercially successful district heating stations.
  15. Portland, Oregon, uses human feces to create methane to power homes, cars, and businesses.
  16. Gas water heaters are reliable but can destroy entire buildings when they blow.
  17. Tankless water heaters were invented in 1929.
  18. Ancient Egyptians used hot stones to heat their baths.

Energy and Water Consumption

How efficient is your water heater, and how does it compare to other models? Let’s face it, we all need to worry about our impact on the planet if we are to continue enjoying the things we take for granted.

How Much?

The average water heater accounts for almost 25 percent of all the energy used in your home. That’s a lot of energy used just to bring you hot water!

Wet Planet

While 70 percent of the globe is covered by saltwater, only three percent of the planet’s water supply is fresh. If predictions are correct, we will need 53 percent more water just to grow the food to feed the extra 2 billion people.

When you put that into context, water heaters of the future will need to be more efficient and utilize green solutions like solar and wind.

Water Consumption

The US is one of the greediest water consumers on the planet based on population. The average American uses 1,207 cubic meters of water every year. That’s an average of 82 gallons per household daily and 322 billion gallons across the nation every day.

The sad truth is that the average American household also wastes about 9,400 gallons of water yearly through leaks and bad plumbing. It puts the onus on you to maintain your water heater to ensure it runs at optimum efficiency. If not, we could see future restrictions on our water use as the supply dwindles.

Water Heater Lifespan

The average tanked water heater has a lifespan of eight to 12 years, but tankless models can survive for up to 20 years with the proper maintenance. So, tankless models not only deliver savings in energy use but also pay you back in longevity.

Adding Up the Costs

Most water heaters run for about three to five hours daily, using 4,000 watts of power. So, if it runs for three hours at a wattage price of $0.13 per kWh, it totals $1.56 a day, $46.80 a month, and $561 annually.

How Many?

With increasing pressures on the water supply, efficient solutions are needed to keep the nation in hot water. The Environmental Protection Agency’s flagship energy-efficient rating scheme, Energy Star, estimates that eight million water heaters are purchased annually in the US.

And that figure excludes water heaters installed in newly constructed homes!

Top Tip

Softened water can help your water heater’s efficiency. It puts less strain on the system, reduces mineral deposits, and increases the lifespan of your heating elements.

Types of Water Heating Systems

Knowing which water heater system is the best can be confusing with so many choices. Let’s take a look at your options.

Tankless Water Heater (On Demand)

Tankless water heaters are becoming more popular in the States. These water heaters are the most energy-efficient because you heat water on demand rather than an 80-gallon tank.

Compare this to a heated tank of water, and you can see where the efficiency savings are. You don’t get standby heat loss; they take up less room and deliver energy savings. They are commonplace in Europe and the UK, but the United States has some way to catch up.

A household using less than 41 gallons of water per day could see 24 to 34 percent savings. If your family uses a lot of water, they could still save you up to 14 percent in energy usage.

Cautionary Note

It’s not all sun and roses with tankless heaters. If you run the shower and the dishwasher simultaneously, these systems can’t cope and produce lower flow rates. It also lowers the temperature of the water.

Tanked Water Heater

The most common water heater in the US is the traditional tanked system. They typically hold between 20 and 80 gallons of hot water, ready to use when you want it. The plus side is you can run multiple appliances without a dip in performance or delivery.

The downside is you have to use gas or electricity to heat a large water tank regardless of the amount of water you need. You also get standby heat loss, as the water in the tank cools when not used.

Plus, your tank holds a finite amount, so when you hop in the tub and get cold water from the faucet, there’s a good chance someone has used all the water.

These systems are cheaper to purchase, but you lose money in the long run in inefficient costs. You can counter this by buying a high-efficiency tank, but they still don’t perform as well as other systems.

They also take up more room, which is why most water tank heating systems end up in the basement.

Solar Water Heater

Solar water heaters (also called solar thermal panels) are the greenest way of generating hot water. They work by attaching solar panels filled with water tubes to your roof. The sun heats the water and supplies your house.

The hot water is then fed to your storage tank, where it is stored and ready for use. The advantage is you use zero energy to produce the heated water, and there are no running costs.

Your solar water heating system is also extremely reliable and only needs professional maintenance every three to five years.

However, your water system is only as good as the storage water tank, so standby heat loss may be an issue. Plus, you can only have this system if you have a south-facing roof, live in a warmer climate, and have a backup electric or gas boiler for the winter.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps draw heat from the air or the ground to heat water inside pipes. It then transfers it through a heat exchanger to produce hot water. These systems are highly efficient and only use electricity to move the heat rather than create it.

You can expect a 60 percent energy saving with heat pumps compared to other standard water heaters. However, these heaters are expensive. An air source heat pump can cost four times the price of a tankless system.

Geothermal systems are among the most expensive, costing upward of $25,000. You also need enough space to accommodate the coils buried in the ground. Many believe this hybrid approach is the way forward for heating our water and homes.

Condensing Water Heater

A condensing water heater is a great choice if you use natural gas as your primary energy source. It uses the heat from the exhaust to heat the water and funnel it back into your home. The gas fumes are fed via a coil to the water tank’s base to heat the water.

It’s ingenious to use a waste product from the gas you’ve already burned to provide heat. However, water is stored in a conventional water tank, so you may still suffer from standby heat loss.

Random Water Heater Facts

Technician servicing the gas boiler for hot water and heating

Now comes the fun part. We reveal interesting and outright bizarre facts and data about water heaters.

Who Invented the Water Heater?

This accolade goes to Englishman Benjamin Waddy Maughan, who invented a means of heating water using gas in 1868. He called it the Geyser after the Icelandic hot springs. It worked by feeding cold water at the top and heating it in the pipes using natural gas.

Unfortunately, Maughan failed to account for gas fumes, neglecting to fit a flue. This made the heater unusable indoors.

Well Done, Mr. President

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar panels on the White House roof to heat water. It was a revolutionary green move and weighed 3,168 pounds.

District Heating

District heating has been in use for centuries. They were common in high-status Roman and Egyptian palaces and compounds. New York had the first commercially successful district heating system, launched in Lockport in 1877.

A central heat source pumped steam through pipes to homes and businesses to enable them to heat and cool their buildings.

Poo Power

A suburb of southwest London could soon see 2,000 homes heated by human poo. Kingston Upon Thames could be one of the first in the UK to benefit from hot water, thanks to the brown stuff.

Feces is already producing methane gas in Portland, Oregon. The Bureau of Environmental Services for Portland stores human waste and lets it decompose to produce gas. It is then turned into energy.

It’s a win-win for the environment but not great if you live next door to the gas plant.

Domestic Danger

Installing a gas water heater inside your home is relatively safe, thanks to the multitude of safety features on your system. However, when things go wrong, they can be catastrophic. If your boiler pressure starts to climb, it can destroy your home and neighboring properties.

Safety First

You should always keep maintenance at the top of your list and get your heater serviced yearly.

How Old?

Tankless systems may have taken a long time to catch on in the US, but they’ve been around for almost 100 years. The first on-demand water heater was invented in 1929 and used electricity to heat water.

Pharaoh Fact

The ancient Egyptians used red hot stones immersed in water to heat their hot tubs and baths. They lit fires to heat the water and dispense it into communal baths. Cleanliness was important to them, as it was for the Romans.

Water Heater Efficiency Comparison

We’ve discussed different types of water heaters and the pros and cons for each, but how do they compare for efficiency?

Here’s a handy comparison chart:

Type of Water Heater Efficiency Score Annual Running Cost (Approximate Estimate)
Electric Water Heater
Hybrid Heat Pump 2.0 $250
High-Efficiency Tank 0.94 to 0.95 $485
Standard Tank 0.90 to 0.93 $500
Gas Water Heater
Hybrid Condensing Tankless 0.92 to 0.96 $130
Condensing Tankless 0.92 to 0.94 $150
Non-Condensing Tankless 0.82 to 0.85 $175
Energy Star Tank 0.67 to 0.70 $225
Standard Tank 0.58 to 0.60 $250
Solar Water Heater 2.0 to 3.0 $120

The Heat Is On

Moving forward, we will place a heavy burden on our water resources as the population grows. When choosing your next water heater, it’s crucial to have all the information. Knowing all the water heating facts and statistics can only lead to better choices for you and the planet.

There will be a greater emphasis on solar and green solutions, so maybe it’s better to invest in the future now and get the most advanced system for your budget.

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Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.