What is a Water Heater?


A water heater is a plumbing fixture that heats up water in your home. Water heaters can be powered by gas or electricity and can come with a storage tank or be tankless. Water heaters are usually replaced every 10 years, and where you live will determine the types of water heaters you are allowed to have in your home.

Water Heater Nameplates

Water heaters will have something called a nameplate on the side of them. Nameplates are labels that list tank capacity, insulation R-value, and working pressure.

The nameplates for electric water heaters will also include voltage and wattage capacity. They can sometimes include a yellow energy guide label that lists how much operating the water heater would cost on a yearly basis.

Gas Water Heaters

Gas water heaters will be powered by either propane or natural gas depending on your home. These water heaters are generally inexpensive to run but have a higher initial cost than electric water heaters.

Gas water heaters can be broken down into the following parts:

  • Draft hood
  • Vent
  • Tank
  • Cold water inlet pipe
  • Hot water outlet
  • Dip tube
  • Gas burner
  • Pressure relief valve
  • Anode rod
  • Thermostat
  • Thermocouple

Electric Water Heaters

Electric water heaters utilize electricity to heat up water and have a lower initial cost than gas water heaters. Something to note is that many water heaters require a dedicated 240-V service in order to run effectively. That means the source should only power the water heater and not any other appliances.

Electric water heaters can be broken down into the following parts:

  • Cold water inlet pipe
  • Cold water inlet valve
  • Hot water outlet pipe
  • Insulation
  • Drain Valve
  • Pressure relief valve
  • Power cable
  • Upper heating element thermostat
  • Upper heating element
  • Lower heating thermostat
  • Lower heating element
  • Gasket
  • Bracket

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters have the ability to heat water directly without needing a storage tank. Cold water runs through the water heater, and either a gas burner or electricity is used to heat the water. They have a higher initial cost than standard storage water heaters but can save you money long-term due to their energy efficiency. Tankless water heaters are also smaller than traditional water heaters, making them easy to own and replace as a homeowner. For more information, check out our guide on the best tankless water heaters.

Storage Tank Water Heaters

Storage tank water heaters utilize tanks that act as a reservoir for hot water. Water stored in the tank is continuously heated via gas or electricity until the hot water tap is used. These water heaters are much heavier than tankless water heaters and consume more energy due to continuous heating. This inefficiency is called standby heat loss.

Is a boiler and water heater the same thing?

A boiler and a water heater are not the same things, although they can be used to do the same things. Water heaters are mainly used for creating hot water that can be run through the sinks and showers in your home. Boilers, on the other hand, are mainly used to turn water into steam. That steam is then used to heat up your home.

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