Water heaters are a modern convenience that you may take for granted until something goes wrong. Hot water is an essential part of cooking and cleaning, and you probably enjoy taking relaxing baths or showers to wash the day’s stress away. 

Whether you’re buying brand new or it’s time to replace your aging water heater, you should understand how these appliances work and what qualities to look for when shopping for them. As a top-rated Home Advisor contractor, we’re here to answer all your questions with this user-friendly guide to water heaters.

What Is a Water Heater? 

A water heater is a device with a straightforward, but essential, purpose: heating water and distributing it through your home. A correctly functioning water heater puts warm water at your fingertips, so it’s ready when you need to take a shower or start a load of laundry. 

Water heaters are familiar fixtures in many garages, basements or laundry rooms. While they are often large, cylindrical metal drums, tankless water heaters are an alternative option that have gained popularity among eco-friendly homeowners.

Since a water heater isn’t a common purchase, you may not have taken time to educate yourself about how these appliances work, the various styles available on the market, and where to get one. Read on to learn more.

Types of Water Heaters 

Even the best-maintained water heaters will only last about a decade before they start struggling to keep pace with your household’s needs. Older water heater tanks can leak, causing flooding, mold growth and other issues associated with water damage. 

If your water heater is eight or nine years old, it’s probably best to get ahead of the curve with a new water heater, even if you’re not experiencing problems with your existing setup. Here are the options you should be aware of.

Conventional Storage Tank

Traditional tank-style water heaters are probably the first thing that comes to mind when you picture this household appliance. They have a simple setup that holds gallons of water, heated via electricity or a fuel source such as propane or natural gas.

A gauge inside the tank reads the water temperature and reheats the water when it drops below your desired, preset temperature. This constant cycle ensures hot water is always ready for you when you need to draw a bath or run your dishwasher. However, it also leads to higher energy bills because you’re paying to heat water you might not use.

Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters solve the wastefulness issue associated with conventional water heaters by providing on-demand hot water. Using heated coils enables these appliances to quickly warm water to the desired temperature.

Tankless water heaters are an excellent option for anyone who wants to use less energy on maintaining a consistent internal temperature. However, a potential drawback is that they tend to require more upkeep, so they can cost more to install and maintain.

Switching to a tankless water heater also requires you to assess your home’s water usage to ensure you get the appropriate size. If you purchase a unit that’s too small, it will struggle to keep up with the demand you place on it.

Heat Pump Water Heater

This style of water heater uses a pump to draw heat out of the
surrounding ground or air. Their design enables these hybrid appliances to use less electricity than conventional water heaters, which you’ll appreciate when it’s time to pay your utility bills each month. Heat pump water heaters use a tank, which will require periodic maintenance if you want to prolong your unit’s lifespan.

If you’re considering installing a heat pump water heater, think about where you plan to have it installed. Because they work by pulling heat out of the air or ground, they perform best in insulated spaces and areas that experience milder winters. Hybrid water heaters can have a higher upfront price tag, which is another possible disadvantage if you are on a tight budget.

Solar-Powered Water Heater

You’re probably already familiar with the concept of using the sun’s rays as a clean, renewable energy source. Homeowners who have already invested in solar panels can connect their solar-powered water heater to their existing photovoltaic array to enjoy an environmentally friendly source of warm water.

If you live in a climate that sees plenty of sunny days each year, a solar-powered water heater might be an excellent choice for you and your family. However, you might want to consider getting a backup system that runs on natural gas or electricity so you can still enjoy the convenience of hot water on cloudy days.

Condensing Water Heater

Do you use natural gas to heat your home in cold weather? If so, you may wish to save money on energy by getting a condensing water heater. This efficient design channels the exhaust from your natural gas system through a coil at the bottom of the tank to heat the water.

If you use electric heat, a condensing water heater isn’t a practical choice for you unless you plan to retrofit your home to natural gas. In most cases, that conversion work might be prohibitively expensive and might not even be available where you live, if there isn’t a gas main line in your neighborhood.

Choosing the Right One

If you’ve never shopped for water heaters before, you may find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options available to you. In addition to choosing the correct water heater style, size and features for your home’s needs, you will also need to consider any long-term costs associated with owning this appliance, such as maintenance and energy expenses. Remember, also, that you might be eligible for rebates or other incentives for purchasing energy-efficient appliances.


First, calculate how much room your current water heater takes up in your home. Measure the maximum dimensions of the space around the existing appliance. Keep in mind that even if a brand-new water heater holds the same amount of water as your current model, some newer models may require more room due to increased insulation and other efficiency improvements. Know how much extra space you have to work with, if any, before you commit to purchasing a larger model. You don’t want to bring home a new water heater, only to discover it doesn’t fit.


A brand-new water heater can be a significant investment, so you’ll want to look for a unit that comes with the longest available warranty to protect your purchase. Coverage may last several years, possibly including the option to extend the warranty. It might cost you a bit more upfront for a longer warranty. However, when the manufacturer stands by their equipment, it gives you greater peace of mind that they will cover the cost of any necessary unforeseen repairs.

Drain Valves: Plastic or Brass?

Over time, sediment builds up at the bottom of tank-style water heaters, which can lead to clogs and decreased efficiency. Conventional water heater maintenance includes periodically draining the unit to clear out this debris, which is why these tanks come with a drain valve near the bottom.

These valves’ design allows you to attach a standard garden hose to the tank for ease of use. If your water heater came with a plastic drain valve, most plumbers, HVAC specialists and other home service providers recommend replacing it with a brass valve as soon as possible. Plastic valves are less durable and are prone to cracks, leaks and damage around the threads.

Anti-Scale Devices

If your water heater is failing prematurely, mineral scale buildup might be the culprit, especially if you live in an area with hard water. While regularly draining your tank-style water heater is one way to reduce scale, you may want to invest in a new water heater that comes equipped with an anti-scale device. If your budget doesn’t have room to accommodate this additional expense, you can add an aftermarket anti-scale device after having your new water heater installed.

Glass-Lined Tanks

Corrosion is a prevalent problem with metal water tanks that leads to premature failure. To combat this, some manufacturers choose to add a glass or enamel lining inside the tanks they build. The lining features magnesium or aluminum rods suspended in the tank to fight internal corrosion.

While stainless steel tanks don’t rust, they’re more expensive than glass-lined tanks. Still, their higher cost may be worth it in areas where the water is acidic or full of minerals that accumulate on the tank walls, slowing heat transfer.

Digital Displays

Many newer-model water heaters come with digital displays that help owners monitor their unit’s health by showing information like water pressure and temperature levels. A digital display simplifies tasks like setting a precise water temperature.

Some water heaters with this advanced technology also come equipped with an onboard diagnostic system. When the unit needs attention or isn’t functioning correctly, the display will show a maintenance code. You can look up this code in your owner’s manual or report it to your professional repair tech for quicker, more accurate troubleshooting.

Frequent travelers may want to look for a water heater that comes with built-in vacation mode. This feature automatically adjusts your water temperature and decreases your energy bills while you’re out of town.


Tank-style water heaters typically hold 50 gallons or more. The size you buy depends on how many people live in your household and your peak water usage. For example, on a typical day, your family members might take baths or showers, run the dishwasher or wash a load or two of laundry. Assess your home’s typical water use to determine whether your current water heater has the appropriate capacity. If you frequently run out of hot water in the middle of tasks, that could indicate you need a larger-capacity tank.

Where to Buy a Water Heater

Many homeowners ignore their water heater until it breaks, which could lead to costly water damage. If your water heater is reaching the end of its life and you want to proactively replace it, you may be wondering about the best place to get a new water heater.

Your Local Hardware Store

If you prioritize shopping small and investing your hard-earned dollars back into your community, your first impulse might be to shop for a new water heater at your nearest locally owned hardware store. While these shops usually hire friendly and knowledgeable people, the store might not have the resources to maintain an extensive inventory of large appliances like water heaters.

Besides offering a comparatively limited range, workers at locally owned hardware stores may encourage their customers to take a DIY approach to water heater installation and maintenance. If you lack the tools and knowledge to handle this project on your own, do-it-yourself work can be risky and could also void your warranty.

Home Improvement Stores

Big-box home improvement stores often have a more extensive water heater inventory than their smaller, locally owned counterparts. However, depending on where you shop, you might miss all the services that would make for a well-rounded shopping experience.

Employees of big-box chain home improvement stores may prioritize closing the sale, especially if they work on commission. However, they may not provide delivery, installation or ongoing maintenance after you complete the purchase. Even if you find a discounted price on a new water heater, you’ll still have to spend time and energy figuring out how to get it installed.


While you’ve probably saved money comparison shopping for online discounts on other purchases, it might not be in your best interest to buy a water heater on the internet. The selection available online might be more limited than what you can find when shopping in person. These water heaters may also use less durable components like plastic valves or inadequate insulation, leading to a shorter lifespan and more frequent maintenance or repairs. When shopping online, you also won’t have access to expert knowledge or advice when you have a question.

Your HVAC Contractor

Buying a new water heater from a locally owned HVAC company is your best option if you want access to more high-quality choices and full service. A licensed professional will guide you through selecting a new water heater, determine the correct type and size for your household’s needs and complete a reliable installation.

A trained, experienced HVAC contractor will also be there throughout your unit’s lifespan. You can call whenever you need to schedule maintenance or have questions about how to make your water heater last longer. You can support a locally owned business and get the exceptional service you deserve, which makes this a win-win solution!


If you need reliable, top-of-the line HVAC service in Sussex and Kent counties in Delaware, or Dorchester, Worcester and Wicomico counties in Maryland, reach out to us today at Above & Beyond Services. Our large service area includes our neighbors in communities like Rehoboth Beach, Lincoln, Salisbury, Hurlock and Bishopsville. Our many achievements and awards are a testament to how diligently we’ve worked to achieve an excellent reputation, including our A+ grade from the Better Business Bureau. 

Whether you need 24-hour emergency repairs, preventive maintenance or a new installation of the equipment that helps keep your home healthy and comfortable, call us anytime. We offer free estimates and a 100% satisfaction guarantee.