Water Heaters: Explained

Have you had the same water heater for years? Has the unit just been out of sight and out of mind? Do you need help deciding if it’s time for a new one? Maybe you need help understanding the differences between a standard and tankless system. Follow along, and we’ll guide you to endless hot water in your home.

When you think of hot water, you probably visualize a tall cylinder tank in your garage or closet. Growing up, you may have run out of hot water with a large family taking nightly showers while cleaning the dishes and running other appliances. Not every water heater, though, has this problem, and there are many different options available.

Benefits of Standard Water Heaters

Standard hot water systems are quick and easy to install. It’s easy to maintain peak performance. Hot water is stored and ready when you need it for a full bathtub, and the whole family needs to shower off the mud and troubles of the day. It’s also common to find a system that has an incredible 10-year warranty.


Water is heated using one or two heating elements. This water is stored hot in the upper reservoir. When cold water from the street enters the lower tank, the water pressure pushes upwards, forcing the stored hot water to the desired fixtures. The upper tank has a thermostat that signals when it’s time to heat the water.


Depending on propane or natural gas location and availability, these systems typically cost less to operate and cost more upfront to install and maintain. Electric water heaters are simple and affordable but may use more energy.

Benefits of Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters operate only when you need hot water. This drastically cuts down on energy costs because hot water isn’t required to maintain a specific temperature throughout the day. With instantaneous hot water from a tankless system, you’ll never run out.


The whole heating process takes only seconds. Within the unit, a flame ignites when hot water is needed. Water passes through stainless steel pipes into the heat exchangers and is sent to the water fixture where it’s needed. When you’re finished using water, the system pauses, turning off the flame.


With a second heat exchanger, exhaust is looped back into the system to heat water more efficiently.

  • Higher heater cost, though the venting materials are more flexible including 2” PVC
  • Higher energy efficiency
  • Must drain condensation at the bottom of the heater
  • Ideal for colder climates with lower groundwater temperatures


With only one heat exchanger, exhaust gas is ventilated out of the top of the heater instead of used in the heating system.

  • Lower initial cost, though you need a metal-based exhaust vent system
  • Simpler maintenance
  • No need to drain condensate if vented horizontally
  • Ideal for warmer climates with higher groundwater temperatures