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What kind of tank water heater should I get?

In this article, we go over the essentials of what you need to know before buying your tank water heater. By the end, you'll know about the different kinds of tank water heaters and the advantages of each.

If you’re in the market for a new water heater, the options can seem endless and overwhelming. Tank water heater or tankless water heater? Gas or electric? Heat pump or power vent? What qualifies as high efficiency? Yikes!

If you opt to use a professional installation service like Water Heaters Now, we can help you narrow down the options quickly – especially considering we carry only the best of the best in tankless and tank water heaters. But let’s start with the big question:

What exactly does a tank water heater do?

All tank water heaters operate on the basic principle that cold water enters the storage tank, gets heated, and then travels to the point-of-use where you need it in your home. They all have cold and hot water connections, drain valves, pressure release valves, and temperature control. The biggest differences between the two major types of tank water heaters are their fuel source (gas or electric) and how the water gets heated and stays heated once it enters the storage tank. 

Do I need a gas or electric tank water heater?

If you’ve already got a tank water heater and want to upgrade to a new one, the first thing to consider is what energy source your home has. Do you need it to be an electric water heater or a gas water heater? If you want to switch from one type of water heater to another, you’ll need to consider what additional plumbing or electrical will need to be installed or retrofitted. If you’re simply upgrading to a better model of the same type of water heater, it should streamline the process. That said, there are pros and cons to each of the four main types of tank water heaters listed below. 

Natural Gas and Propane Tank Water Heaters

Atmospheric Water Heaters

These are one of the most common types of tank water heater. Atmospheric water heaters use natural gas or propane to power a burner at the bottom of the tank. The exhaust from the gas being burned is pushed upwards through a chimney in the storage tank to heat the water, and then it vents out a metal chimney pipe leading outside your house. The way the exhaust is vented is what differentiates atmospheric water heaters from other types of gas water heaters. 

Atmospheric water heaters are the most common gas-powered tank water heaters found in homes built before 2003. They are great tank water heaters for heating enough water for your whole home, however, they are the least efficient water heaters on the market and will cost more to run in the long term. 

Power Vent Water Heaters

These tank water heaters also rely on a natural gas or propane burner to heat air that then heats the water, but unlike atmospheric water heaters, a power vent water heater uses an additional blower motor to assist in pulling the hot air through the water tank and then out. A major advantage of a power vent water heater is that it doesn’t require placement next to a chimney stack, so it can be placed in more convenient areas of a mechanical room. Not needing to be near a chimney stack makes this a great water heater for a remodel when you want to tear out an old chimney and free up more space in your home.

There are other advantages as well: they have higher efficiency ratings than atmospheric water heaters, and many are ENERGY STAR® certified and qualify for a rebate with your gas company. It’s also an enclosed venting system, which means that if something ever blocks the exhaust from leaving your home, a sensor on the unit will flash an error code and keep carbon monoxide from entering the home. Power vent water heaters have self-lighting pilot lights — if you go on vacation, when you come home all you have to do is turn it on and it will fire up on its own. No more manually lighting it yourself! 

Electric Tank Water Heaters 

Electric Water Heaters

This type of water heater uses electricity to operate two heating elements inside the tank that heat the cold water. They are simple and come in a lot of different sizes, which allows you to tailor the size to your hot water needs. If space is a concern, electric water heaters can often fit where other water heaters can’t – and newer heaters have a really high Uniform Energy Factor (UEF), which means they don’t waste a lot of energy while heating the water, even if they take a little longer than their gas counterparts. 

New federal regulations mean that there aren’t as many options for off-peak electric water heaters. The reason for this is that manufacturers need to redesign the way they’ve been making larger electric tank heaters to fit with new energy efficiency standards. If you’ve been using an electric water heater, you may need to switch to something else. Our recommendation is to get a heat pump water heater. 

Heat Pump Water Heaters

Heat pump water heaters also run on electricity, are highly energy-efficient, and an overall excellent option to replace an existing tank water heater. This can mean big savings on your energy bill and a potential rebate for your new heat pump water heater. They have both a heat pump and direct heating elements, which is why they are sometimes called hybrid water heaters, and many are ENERGY STAR® certified. They are best suited to an open room or basement since they take the heat out of the surrounding air and compress it to heat water inside the tank. When not enough heat is available in the surrounding air they switch to using the direct heating elements. Want more details? Check out our blog all about heat pump water heaters here.

Whichever type of water heater is best for your home, upgrading from one that’s more than ten years old will certainly lower your operating costs due to new federal regulations that require water heaters to be more energy efficient – which is good news for everyone.

How many gallons of hot water is enough?

There’s a formula for that!

Our installation professionals can help you figure out the best size for your needs, taking into consideration how many people are in your home and what your hot water demands are. We can walk you through estimating how many showers, dishwasher or washing machine loads, and more you will run in the peak hour of your home, whether that’s right away in the morning before you head to work or in the evening when everyone is heading to bed. Once you have your peak hour estimate, you can choose the water heater capacity that is right for you and your home.’s online resource Energy Saver also has a calculator to help you figure out the gallon capacity of your new storage tank water heater. 

Does it matter where I buy my tank water heater? 


Professional-grade water heaters offer far better performance and warranties than the residential water heaters that you can get at a big box store. That’s why we only carry professional water heaters. When you trust Water Heaters Now with your water heater installation, we offer warranties that you can’t find with other installers, and especially not at a big box store. And if you ever have to call a big box store to get parts for a water heater you purchased a few years ago… good luck! Nine out of ten times, the answer is no and you’re stuck calling a 1-800 number hoping their hotline can get you a part within a week – a part that Water Heaters Now will likely have in-stock and installed within 24 hours if you call us. 

And with us, your water heater is delivered and installed by our trained professionals – no waiting around on an electrician or plumber to be available after you’ve already hauled that heavy water heater home yourself. 

Want help in deciding what tank water heater is best for you and your home? Give us a call at 507-410-0368 or get an online quote here.

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