Your water heater is the workhorse of your home. And it’s often the one you don’t think about until something goes wrong with it. It’s responsible for supplying hot water to your dishwasher, washing machine, sinks, showers, bathtubs, and more.
There’s a wide array of water heaters on the market, from tanked to tankless, gas to electric. Some are high-efficiency. Some provide on-demand hot water. They’re available in a range of sizes to suit your home’s unique needs.
But one thing bears repeating: every water heater requires regular maintenance to run properly, and even the most well-maintained units eventually need replacing.
Whether you need to install a new water heater, upgrade to a more efficient one, or simply maintain the one you have for optimum performance, here’s the High 5 Plumbing guide to everything you need to know about water heaters.
How to choose the right water heater for your home
What size water heater to choose
Whether to install a standard or high-efficiency water heater
How to properly maintain your unit and make it last longer
When to replace your water heater
Water heater safety
Smart home integrations
How to get instant hot water
Automatic shut-off valves
Water filtering and conditioning
Which Type of Water Heater Is Right for My Home?
Should I Install a Tankless or Tank Water Heater?
One of the most common questions we get from customers, especially when it’s time to replace their water heater, is whether to go with a traditional tank water heater or a tankless one.
Here’s a brief comparison of some of the key features of each.
Tankless water heaters:
Are more efficient than tank water heaters
Provide endless hot water (but not on demand)
Require more maintenance
Have restrictions on where they can be installed (all gas units need exterior venting; tankless units may require additional venting)
Can be expensive to install if the required venting is not immediately available
Save you money over time on energy bills
Produce fewer carbon emissions
Are smaller and take up much less space
Tank water heaters:
Are less efficient than tankless water heaters
More affordable (up front) than tankless water heaters
Take up more space than tankless water heaters
Do not provide endless hot water
Ultimately, the decision to install a tank water heater or tankless water heater is up to you, as long as the space is compatible with installation restrictions and venting requirements.
Going tankless is an extremely popular upgrade. Our customers have been very happy with their tankless units, and we regularly receive requests to replace tanked units with tankless ones because of all the benefits they provide.
If it’s an investment you can afford now, we highly recommend you consider going tankless. Because a tankless water heater is more efficient, you’ll save money over the long term. In fact, a tankless system can often pay for itself in savings (when compared to a tank water heater). Plus, tankless is the more environmentally friendly option!
Still not sure which way to go? Take a closer look at our comparison between the two: This is What You Need to Know About Tank Water Heaters vs. Tankless.
Should I Install a Gas or Electric Water Heater?
It’s important to understand that choosing between a gas and electric water heater may not be an option for your home, depending on the setup. It’s best to get a customized quote for your unique situation to determine the best system.
That said, here are some key comparisons between gas and electric water heaters.
Electric water heaters:
Are less efficient
Take longer to heat
Are perfect for crawl spaces (where only electric units can be installed)
Are more affordable because there’s less involved with electric units compared to gas
Do not last as long as gas units
Gas water heaters:
Require proper exterior venting and an alarm, installed by a professional who pulls a permit on it
Use gas which means carbon monoxide poisoning is possible
Provide lots of options for your home (there are a variety of efficiencies and sizes available, depending on your needs and wants)
At the end of the day, it’s a great idea to have one of our certified plumbing technicians get their eyes on your water heater setup. From there, they’ll be able to make the best recommendations for your home and the unique needs of your family. Schedule an in-home inspection today!
What Size Should My Water Heater Be?
Customers installing a new water heater or considering an upgrade to their current system often ask how big their water heater should be.
It’s an important question! Choosing a unit that’s too small may mean you never have an adequate supply of hot water. Choosing a unit that’s too large could leave you with larger-than-necessary energy bills, thanks to all that water you heated but never used.
Determining the best size water heater for your family depends entirely upon how many people are in your home, how much water you typically use, and how many hot water fixtures there are in your home (dishwasher, washing machine, showers, tubs, etc.). If you regularly use multiple hot water fixtures at once, like the dishwasher, washing machine, and a shower, you may need a bigger tank.
For a super-precise answer to the question of size, you’d have to measure how many gallons of water you typically use when the demands on your hot water heater are highest (for instance, the hour or two in the morning when your family showers or the hours at night when laundry and dishes are being washed).
For a looser, more general recommendation on the size of your water heater, here are some rough guidelines:
For 1 to 2 people, consider 30-40 gallons
For 2 to 3 people, consider 40-50 gallons
For 3 to 4 people, consider 50-60 gallons
For 5+ people, consider 60-80 gallons
Remember, it all comes down to hot water usage. While one family of four may do just fine with a 30-gallon tank, another family of four may need one twice that size.
Customer Story: Amanda W.
While much of our business is residential, we’re happy to serve commercial customers as well. We can walk you through the unique hot water needs of your business and help you choose the best unit for your situation.
Amanda W. had a commercial water heater that needed to be replaced. Her old unit was leaking at the top (see before and after photo below), so we set her up with a new, reliable water heater that's safe for her business.
Amanda’s leaking water heater (before) and the replacement unit (after) © High 5 Plumbing
"Had to use High 5 Plumbing at our office to replace a water heater. They were highly recommended on the Nextdoor App, so I thought I would give them a try for our business, and I couldn't be more pleased from the initial phone call to the follow up phone call. They were pleasant and quick to set up an appointment, they were here an hour earlier and called me to ask me if it was okay if they came early. Made some suggestions since our business had older pipes and the technicians were amazing to work with. They were professional, and courteous. Shortly after they left I received a phone call asking how the service was. That is what I consider 5 star service. Superb company and will do business again!”
— Amanda W.
Should I Opt for a High-Efficiency Water Heater?
If cost savings and low environmental impact are priorities for your water heater, you may consider a high-efficiency water heater.
In general, compared to standard units, high-efficiency water heaters
Heat up faster,
Are more efficient,
Create hot water faster, and
Save you money.
It is important to note that high-efficiency water heaters require a different type of venting than a standard water heater. Installing a high-efficiency unit often requires the installation of a new venting system for safety reasons. With this more complicated setup, the cost to install a high-efficiency water heater is typically higher.
How Can I Make My Water Heater Last Longer?
There are several steps you can take to maximize the life of your water heater. But the short answer is: regular maintenance.
There are no shortcuts to caring for your water heater. Think of it like the engine in your car. In order for it to last as long as possible (and function as efficiently as possible) your water heater needs regular inspections and tune-ups just like your car does.
Just like a car, the average life of a water heater varies. How long your water heater will last depends on how much you use it and how the maintenance is done.
For starters, we recommend an annual flush for every single water heater, regardless of the type or power source.
Depending on your particular unit, you may also need to
descale your unit,
clean the inducer motor,
clean up the area around your unit, or
replace your anode rod.
Learn more here: Everything You Need to Know About Water Heater Maintenance
When Will I Need to Replace My Water Heater?
Many tank water heaters can be expected to last 8-10 years or more. And tankless water heaters can last 20 years or longer.
The actual lifespan of every water heater varies depending on how much it’s used and whether it receives the regular recommended maintenance (at least annually). The Department of Energy says that if your water heater is over seven years old (and it’s not tankless), you should begin doing some research and thinking about a replacement now, not later.
Don’t wait until your water heater fails to begin planning for its replacement.
Watch for these classic signs that your water heater may need to be repaired or replaced:
It’s more than seven years old
It doesn’t provide as much hot water as it used to
The unit’s recovery rate (the number of gallons it will heat per hour) is poor
It’s noisy while operating
There’s calcium buildup
It no longer provides any hot water
Customer Story: Joe E. from Thornton
One of our High 5 Club Members, Joe E. from Thornton, had some work done on his water heater. Two of our plumbing technicians, Josh and Luke, went out to Joe's place where his water heater was leaking and needed to be replaced.
"Josh and Luke were top notch pros at helping me in my time of need! They went above and beyond and I would expect this to be a core value for High 5! Thanks again!"
— Joe E. from Thornton
Joe and Luke share an air-five for a job well done © High 5 Plumbing
In the photos below, you’ll see Joe’s old water heater (on the left) was wrapped in insulation. Prior to the early 2000s, some manufacturers would recommend this extra layer of insulation. Now, water heaters are made more efficiently and don’t require any additional external insulation.
Josh and Luke installed a new 40-gallon standard recovery water heater with a new thermal expansion tank (see photo on the right).
Joe’s old insulation-wrapped water heater (left) and the new installation (right) © High 5 Plumbing
High Recovery Water Heaters
If you notice your water heater takes a long time to recover, we recommend you consider a high recovery water heater which is designed to give you more hot water faster so you don’t have to wait on so many hot showers!
Check out this high recovery water heater installation from High 5 Plumbing Technician Josh M.
High recovery water heater installation © High 5 Plumbing
Do you think you’re reaching the end of your water heater’s life? Schedule an in-home inspection today, and let one of our experienced plumbers give you the peace of mind you deserve.
How Can I Ensure My Water Heater Setup is Safe?
We know safety is top-of mind for our customers. Water heaters are a major part of a well-functioning home, and their installation, repair, and regular maintenance can seem a bit overwhelming.
Whether you’re installing a new unit or just need to make sure your current one is in proper shape, hiring one of our qualified, experienced technicians is the best first step you can make. Our certified plumbing techs will ensure your system is up to code and inspect it for proper installation. This is especially important (and required) if you plan on selling your home soon.
What’s an Expansion Tank, and Why Do I Need One?
A residential thermal expansion tank looks like a small, basketball-sized propane tank. If you have one, it’s likely on the top of your water heater.
If the city water supply to your home is above 80psi, you have high water pressure. In that case, you should have a pressure regulating valve (PRV) installed on your supply line (to lower your home’s water pressure to the normal range of 40-80psi).
If you have a PRV (to regulate water pressure) or a check valve (to prevent backflow) installed on your home’s incoming water supply line, you should also have an expansion tank.
Why? Think of your water heater like a tea kettle. While your water heater doesn’t boil your water, it does heat it up and expand, creating pressure that must be released. Normally, this pressure is released into your municipality’s water supply where it dissipates and doesn’t create any problems.
If your system has a check valve or PRV, however, this changes things. Those valves create what’s called a ‘closed-loop system.’ If this is the case in your home, we highly recommend installing an expansion tank.
When properly installed, an expansion tank absorbs the pressure from thermal expansion and protects your plumbing system from the constant fluctuation of high pressure caused by thermal expansion in a closed-loop system.
Over time, the wear and tear from this excess pressure can reduce the life expectancy of every part of your plumbing system, including your water heater.
It’s also important to note that everywhere we operate in the Denver metro area, thermal expansion tanks are required any time the water system is closed, regardless of the water pressure, in order to pass plumbing inspections.
A High 5 Plumbing customer in Commerce City had a 50-gallon water heater that was leaking from the base. We replaced it with a new 50-gallon single-pipe power vent water heater, as well as a new thermal expansion tank (see photo below).
50-gallon single-pipe power vent water heater with thermal expansion tank (on right) © High 5 Plumbing
More Water Heater FAQs
Why should I install an automatic shut-off valve for my water heater?
Water damage can be an immensely stressful, expensive, disruptive thing to deal with as a homeowner. And if you’re out of town or unable to get home right away, even the most straightforward leak could mean catastrophic damage to your home.
That’s why an automatic shut-off valve is an absolute must for your peace of mind. This simple device will detect the presence of any unusual liquid (and, in some cases, alert you to the malfunction via smartphone). The shut-off valve is designed to automatically turn off your water supply, as soon as a leak occurs. It’s an easy, affordable way to prevent extensive damage to your home.
We especially recommend shut-off valves for water heaters, but they’re also an invaluable safeguard for any water-using fixtures like dishwashers, washing machines, toilets, and even some refrigerators.
Do you offer any other technologies for smart home integration?
Many of our customers love the convenience and peace of mind that comes with some smart home integration for their water heater.
If you have a smartphone, we can set up a controller that allows you to adjust your water temperature or turn on a circulating pump remotely. So if you’re heading out of town for a few weeks and forgot to make any adjustments manually before leaving home, you can do it from the road on your phone!
Why does it take so long for my faucets to get hot water?
We often have customers ask why it takes a lot of time to get hot water to their bathroom. (After all, who hasn’t waited on hot water before jumping in the shower?)
Our technicians follow up with questions like,
“Where is the farthest bathroom in your house (from the water heater)?”
“How long does it take to get hot water?”
“Would you like it faster?”
If your answer to that last question is yes, one great solution would be to install a hot water recirculation system to deliver you instantly hot water.
Learn more about the benefits of a hot water recirculation system here: Are You Tired of Waiting on Hot Water?
What is an anode rod?
An anode rod is a simple but incredibly effective solution to the problem of scaling and mineral buildup on the lining of your water heater tank. It’s a metal rod in the center of the tank that acts as a “sacrificial lamb” of sorts, collecting calcium and deteriorating over time from the corrosion that would otherwise plague the walls of your water heater. The anode rod should be regularly replaced (every one to three years).
Learn more about anode rods and essential water heater maintenance here: Everything You Need to Know About Water Heater Maintenance
Why do I need a filter for my water heater?
A water heater filter is a scale inhibitor designed to protect your water heater from the impacts of hard water on your plumbing system. Most homes have hard water containing minerals like calcium, magnesium, and silica. These minerals aren’t unsafe, but they can damage your plumbing over time.
When water heats up in your water heater, these minerals come out of solution and begin to scale up on the elements of the units. In a tank water heater, these minerals will scale up on the heating elements or on the bottom of the heater, eventually turning to rock. In a tankless water heater, the scale will accumulate on all the elements inside the unit.
Over time, build-up from these scaling minerals will reduce the efficiency of your water heater until it finally dies.
A water heater “filter” is actually not so much a filter as it is an anti-scale product designed to keep scaling minerals in solution in your water (where they can’t accumulate on your water heater itself). With a water heater filter, you can rest assured that your water heater is safe from scaling buildup, long-term damage, and an unnecessarily short life.
What is water conditioning, and why does it matter?
We offer a number of water conditioning products to improve the taste, quality, and clarity of your municipal water supply, including solutions from HALO and Novo.
Hard water is tough on your fixtures, your appliances, and your laundry.
Poor-tasting and foul-smelling water isn’t something you need to “just live with.”
Contaminants in your drinking water can be dangerous to your health and the safety of your children. In fact, if you live in the Denver metro area, you may know about Denver Water’s Lead Reduction Program. And the safety of your home’s drinking water supply may be impacted by lead pipes. A Brita filter is a short-term solution--but one that’s nowhere near as convenient as a permanent filtration system.
Water conditioning systems are convenient and environmentally friendly, and they’ll save you money on bottled water, wear and tear on your laundry, and long-term damage to your fixtures and appliances.
Here are a few solutions we offer:
Water softeners that address hardness, bad taste, and odor caused by chlorine, chloramines, or organic matter
Drinking water filtration systems
Filtering solutions for water that is acidic or high in iron, hydrogen sulfide (that “rotten egg” smell), copper, lead, and more
Systems for small homes, large homes, and businesses
Is your water heater due for some regular maintenance? Are you concerned it may need to be replaced? Would you like to upgrade to a newer, more efficient water heater? Do you need help deciding the next steps to take with your water heater? Contact us today to schedule a water heater inspection from one of our certified plumbing technicians. We’ll have you on your way to lower energy bills and reliable hot water in no time!