Water Heater Buying Guide

Revised: 8/29/19
Grainger Editorial Staff

Where would the average workspace, building or home be without a water heater? This single heat-brewing apparatus is responsible for generating heated water for use in faucets, showers, bathtubs, washing machines, dishwashers and hoses. It is even responsible for space heating.

Choosing the Right Water Heater

Water heating consumes 25% of your energy bills, so it is critical to differentiate between the types of water heaters so you can find the right one to fit your space and heating needs.

This water heater buying guide explores standard water heaters—both electric and gas powered, as well as gas tankless water heaters and electric tankless water heaters to help you decide which is best for your next installation.

Types of Water Heaters

Standard Tank Water Heaters

Standard Tank Water HeatersAlso known as storage tank water heaters, these heaters have become the standard in most indoor spaces. Staying true to their monikers, storage tank water heaters are comprised of an enclosed tank that heats water and stores it for later use. Standard heaters are constantly in operation, heating water to redeem the loss of heat during standby times. The heated water flows out from a pipe perched on top of the heater.

This type of water heater houses a pressure-relief valve and a temperature valve which open up if their contents surpass a preset level. A storage tank water heater can store between 20-100 gallons of hot water. However, it requires recovery time after the tank has been in use. Tank heaters rely on a 70 % usable capacity, so if the water heater has a 50-gallon tank, 30-35 gallons of hot water will be used. Tank water heaters come in electric and gas types.

Best for:

  • Places with large amounts of people in need of hot water simultaneously.
  • Large residential homes.
  • Laboratories.
  • Multi-appliance workspaces that rely heavily on hot water.

Electric Tank vs. Gas Tank Water Heaters Guide

  Electric Tank Water Heaters Gas Tank Water Heaters
Energy Use Coal, natural gas power plant, nuclear wind power, other domestic sources Natural gas
Life Span 13 years 12-13 years
Recovery Rate ~14 gallons/hr. ~50 gallons/hr.
Works in a Power Outage? No Yes
Price Range $300- $2880, not including wiring and installation $250- $1,500, not including gasoline

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless Water HeatersTankless water heaters are also called on-demand water heaters; as they do just that—provide hot water immediately upon request. They provide 2-3 gallons of hot water per minute. Unlike traditional or storage tank water heaters, tankless water heaters do not store water; they incorporate heating coils to heat the water on demand. They essentially can deliver a limitless supply of hot water.

Tankless water heaters restrict the flow of water to maintain its heat. They tend to be more expensive than storage tank water heaters but can save money in the long haul, as they are more energy-efficient. Because tankless water heaters restrict the water output, they may not be able to handle high-demand workspaces.

This type of water heater can outlive a standard water heater almost twofold—up to over 20 years. Tankless water heaters are small and take up much less space than a storage tank and can fit on a wall outside. Tankless water heaters come in electric and gas types.

Best for:

  • Those not consuming water at more than one place at a time.
  • Public bathrooms or remote hot tubs.
  • Bolstering appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.
  • Supporting a solar water heating system.

Electric Tankless vs. Gas Tankless Water Heaters Guide

  Electric Tankless Water Heaters Gas Tankless Water Heaters
Maintenance Doesn't require annual maintenance Requires annual maintenance
Venting Not required, can be installed anywhere Requires venting as part of the installation process
Price Range $500- $700 $1,00- $1,200
Environmental Effects No greenhouse gas emissions and reduces environmental footprint in manufacturing and disposal Can create greenhouse gasses and is reliant on fossil fuels
Operating Cost Can be cheaper to use than propane in most areas, but will rise with the cost of electricity Natural gas is cheaper to use, but natural gas prices are slated to rise heavily

Choosing Electric or Gas Water Heaters

When choosing a water heater, whether you decide on tankless or tanked, there are several factors to consider:

  • Operating Power: Standard water heaters offer more heated water based on tank size.
  • Longevity: Both gas and electric appliances last a little over a decade.
  • Price Point: Electric heaters tend to be less expensive. With tank heaters, although the gas price range seems smaller, this bare bones range doesn't include the gasoline itself, making the addition of gas a more expensive heater.
  • Environmental Impact: Gas heaters are also more environmentally taxing; however, they can work during an outage, unlike electric heaters. Tankless water heaters also heat water on-demand helping to conserve more.

How do I choose a hot water heater?

Choosing a water heater depends on the needs of your facility or those of your customers. You should consider the various costs that go into owning a water heater, as well as the different brands. Beyond that, it boils down to what is important to your facility and your requirements.

Water Heater Safety

Remember, always take extreme caution when handling water heaters because when water reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit it can cause third-degree burns in less than 5 minutes. Pay special attention to the “cold water sandwich,” a happening where a facility’s piping has layers of hot and cold water, which usually occurs during “on” and “off” water switching.


Hot Water Facts


Consumer Reports

The product statements contained herein are intended for informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness for a specific application or use. W. W. Grainger, Inc. does not guarantee the result of product operation or assume any liability for personal injury or property damage resulting from the use of such products.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


Stay ahead of the curve with industry insights and news you can use.