Heating the water in your home for showers and washing dishes is one of the modern creature comforts we tend to take for granted--at least, until suddenly something goes wrong with your system. Then you have to decide whether to fix your water heater or upgrade to a newer unit. If you decide on an upgrade, you're going to want the best quality you can afford without breaking the bank. This is where discount water heaters can be tempting. But are they worth the hype, or will they end up causing you even more heartache in the end? There are a few tools you can use to decide if the slashed price is worth the purchase.
Image courtesy of Hot Water Sydney
The Energy Factor
The Energy Factor, or EF, is one of two professional ratings you'll need to consider when pricing your water heater. This is, essentially, the heater's efficiency rating--or how well it heats up the water in both terms of cost and time. The higher the EF, the more efficient the unit is at heating up water.
The other rating you'll use to gauge the quality of your heater depends on whether you'll have a tankless heating system or a water tank.
- Storage tank water system: first-hour recovery. This number refers to how much hot water you'll get in an hour after turning the water on. The higher this number is, the more hot water you'll get at a time.
- Tankless water system: flow rate. This is how quickly the water is heated as it flows through the unit. This is an important consideration because the water is heated on demand, and you'll have to consider groundwater temperatures year-round when settling on an acceptable flow rate. A local plumber should be able to recommend a range of flow rates for your area.
One great way to decide on whether a deal is a steal or a rip-off is to check out consumer reviews online. This is really helpful for people who are unfamiliar with the technology and have never made this kind of purchase before. There are always people who will never be satisfied with their purchases, so take really awful or really amazing reviews with a grain of salt and keep an eye on the overall rating. You can also ask other homeowners who have purchased a water heating system or plumbing professionals what they think of the cheaper models.
If you live alone, shower quickly once a day, and have a smaller home, a bargain-basement cheap water tank might suffice for you. But if you have a family and everyone showers around the same time of day, you're going to need a more efficient, faster unit. You can still shop around for deals, and some stores will even let you haggle or negotiate for paying in cash, DIY installation, etc. Here is where reviews, recommendations, and expert advice kicks in.
If you're handy and have some experience installing fixtures into your home, you might be able to install the new system yourself. Generally, if you can handle installing new ventilation, re-configuring gas piping, and adding a 100-Volt receptacle, you can probably install the heater yourself. Of course, if you're not sure of your prowess, the safest bet is to have a pro install the system to ensure against problems in the future. Make sure the contractor warranties his work in case of problems.
Some appliance stores like wholesalers and liquidators obtain appliances at rock-bottom prices and pass the savings on to you. These heaters could be last year's models, overstock, or simply out of fashion but still perfectly usable. The most important thing is to review the wholesaler or liquidator to make sure they're on the up-and-up, and do some comparison shopping.
Often, a cheap water heater will seem like a bargain, but then you realize too late that it's horribly inefficient and your water and heating bills go through the roof. You end up paying far more monthly than you saved initially. The reverse might be true; you may buy "too much" water heater for your needs and end up with a big initial investment that doesn't get as much use as you'd expected. Do some rough calculations during your research to make sure you're getting enough of what you need, but not too much.
The bottom line is that if you do your research and have a realistic expectation of what you need, you can get a great bargain with discount water heaters. Discount prices don't necessarily mean a rip-off, but they don't necessarily mean a deal, either. Do your homework and you will find the right option for your household.