What to look for when buying a gas hot water tank?
December 2, 2010 11:32 AM   Subscribe

What to look for in buying a new gas hot water heater?

Our current hot water heater is a Bradford White that came with the house (note house built in 1985!!). While the hot water heater works, any professional I called said they were shocked it's still working. The reason why I think we need a new one is the water tastes like metal. There is no color change or sedement spouting out of it but it just tastes like metal when say your'e in the shower and rinse out your mouth. I also noticed that my hair significantly changed as soon as we moved into this house.

Anyway, I think we should get a new one (DH disagrees; if it's working why bother)? The choices are to go with our HVAC guy whose only choice is another Bradford White or look at Sears and figure out what to get in an energy efficient 40gallon gas.

I'm not looking for a tankless one so I don't want to go there. Just something simple, efficient, and maybe some features like you don't have to drain it or has some sort of lining. But I just don't know what to look for.

Should I just got with a Bradford White--whatever they got at the HVAC (it's all they sell) or look at Sears baffled and figure out what features? And what features DO you look at? I saw some articles on a BW and they said it sucks. But to me why would it suck if they only sell to HVAC people?


posted by stormpooper to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO, you're wasting your time worrying about what brand to buy. Instead, spend your time getting quotes from a number of competent installers. Pick an installer who has strong references, is licensed, etc. and you are confident will do a good job (not necessarily the cheapest, but also not necessarily the most expensive). Then let him or her use whatever brand he or she sees fit. They have a lot of experience installing and fixing these things, and they know which factors make a water heater good or bad. Find someone you trust to use that judgement instead of just try to upsell you, and then let them do their thing.
posted by sharding at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2010

Might want to make sure it qualifies for the tax deduction. See here.
posted by Busmick at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2010

If you're in the US of course. Sorry I didnt check.
posted by Busmick at 11:58 AM on December 2, 2010

In choosing a water heater, consider:
1. make sure it is a natural gas heater. Some may be design for propane, which is not the same thing.
2. energy efficiency is important. You need to drain your water heater regularly in order for it to have a long life. In operation, precipitate from your water will end up on the bottom of you tank. This reduces heat transfer efficiency, your water heater capacity, and may account for the metallic taste.
3. Beside energy feature, most water heater difference in price is related to the length of the warranty on it. I don't have comparison between brands.
4. Have a competent plumber to install it; water heater is one place in your house where you have energy (gas/electric) + water (plumbing/drainage) + vent (structural) all come together. Thus, there are many municipal codes apply to installing a water heater (to ensure its safe operation). Failure can be dangerous and costly.
posted by curiousZ at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2010

I just got a new one about a year ago. The company that delivers my oil installed it because I didnt have time to shop around (other one was ready to go). I got one that is liked with a thin layer of concrete (I think), or stone. Supposedly they last longer and have less chance of leaking but I wont know until 20 years from now. Again I didnt really research this so you might want to...just wanted to let you know these were out there.
posted by Busmick at 12:02 PM on December 2, 2010

Best answer: I checked Consumer Reports, which said water heaters tend to give out suddenly. If you are seeing signs of trouble, and because yours is old (double the typical warranty span), it is probably a good idea to replace.

Regarding whether to use your current HVAC guy or to check SEARS or elsewhere, here is what they say:
Plumbers who buy direct from wholesale suppliers may offer to install water heaters branded by one of the manufacturers. Often, these are utilitarian, no-frills units, but they too offer a range of storage capacity and warranty options. If the until breaks or needs service, your only recourse is the plumber, who may refer you to the supplier or the manufacturer for satisfaction. That may not be a problem if you deal with the same plumber for all your home's needs.
Regarding features to look for, here is what they say:
Heating elements

Most electric and gas heaters with long warranties have bigger burners and better heat transfer for faster water heating. An exception: Whirlpool’s 40-gallon gas heaters. The nine- and 12-year models were identical inside.

Dual anodes

Buying a model with an extra anode can reduce corrosion and extend the life of your tank. While anodes can be replaced if there’s enough clearance above the tank to remove them, you’ll need to hire a plumber unless you’re handy.

Anti-scale devices

Some brands—notably, Kenmore, State Industries, and Rheem—advertise features that are supposed to reduce buildup of mineral scale at the bottom of the tank by swirling the water. While scale can shorten the life of the heating element inside an electric water heater, you don‘t need to invest in fancy features to get a long-lived model. Simply look for a heater with a 12-year warranty, which typically includes a longer or thicker element.

Brass vs. plastic drain valves

These valves are situated near the base of the unit so that a garden hose can be attached and the heater drained. Look for more durable brass valves instead of plastic ones.

Glass-lined tanks

A glass-lined tank is another feature designed to reduce corrosion. During manufacturing, a glass-bearing-powder coat material is sprayed into the steel tank and baked solid.
Here is their buying guide.

Good luck!
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:23 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So is it best guessed that if it really is a 1985 model and water tastes like metal, it's time for a new one?
posted by stormpooper at 12:35 PM on December 2, 2010

As to whether it's time for a new one:

Are there scorch marks on the outside of the tank near the flame? We recently purchased a house with a 20-year-old hot water heater, and the inspector noted scorch marks. She said those indicated that the exhaust flue was likely corroded and not exhausting properly, meaning combustion gases (i.e., carbon monoxide) could be leaking into the home.

Since this was a major safety issue to us, we had the water heater replaced before we even moved in. I would suggest replacement ASAP if there are scorch marks.

Frankly, with a heater that old I'd replace it no matter what, because like others have said, when it goes it'll go suddenly. And winter is no time to be without hot water! You're not saving much by delaying 6 months, a year, whatever you can squeeze out of it. And your new one will probably be at least slightly more efficient.
posted by misskaz at 12:59 PM on December 2, 2010

Our hot water tank failed suddenly a few weeks ago. It was 7 years old on a 6 year warranty.

So, it's best that you figure out what you want before that happens.

I know that you said that you don't want a tankless. That's what we decided on, for several reasons:
- In MA, there's a rebate from the gas company.
- Tax rebate
- More efficient
- Failure mode does not dump unlimited water into my basement
- Smaller
- Longer warranty / lifespan

My plumber said that tank lifespans are getting shorter and shorter and that companies engineer them to last barely over the warranty period and that these days you are unlikely to get even 10 years out of a tank.

With the rebate and the tax thing, the cost of the tankless worked out to be roughly equivalent to a tank.

I'm sorry that I don't have recommendations for you on brands of tanks.
posted by reddot at 1:35 PM on December 2, 2010

Did you move to a new town (or a new water-supply district) when you changed houses? The symptoms you report may be endemic to the water supply. If they are, changing the water heater will have no effect on the taste or your hair. Ask around the neighborhood. If the water is the cause, at least some of your neighbors will tell you.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:46 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

So is it best guessed that if it really is a 1985 model and water tastes like metal, it's time for a new one?

Probably? I had a water heater that went out at about that age. This one actually gave a bit of warning first: there was a slight trickle of water coming from underneath. Definitely if you see anything like that you're on the last legs of the tank and it should be replaced ASAP. Unfortunately they don't always warn you like that and, when the tank fails, it can make a HUGE mess with the 40+ gallons of water dumping out plus the continued flow from the pipe, until you can shut it off.

If it was me and I wasn't strapped for cash I'd get it replaced soon at my convenience (because they never fail when it's convenient for you). If I was I was really strapped for cash I'd make my decision based on the layout of the house. WH in an unfinished basement, drain nearby, nothing particular susceptible to water damage right on the floor, you could probably afford to let it wait until it fails; a bunch of water might make a bit of a mess but it won't hurt much. But WH in a finished basement or on the living levels of a house I'd be much less inclined to risk it. If it fails there, especially if you aren't home and it goes for hours or days, you might be dealing with replacing water damaged drywall, wet carpet/pad (which may end up molding or smelling mildewy), damage to subfloor, damage to ceiling of rooms below, damage to furniture and personal items, and so on. Okay, that's kind of worst case scenario, but take a look at the water heater and imagine where all that water might go (and a drain won't save you from a catastrophic failure because no drain can handle that volume immediately).

As a final note make sure you know where the shutoff valve(s) are.
posted by 6550 at 4:55 AM on December 3, 2010

Response by poster: Yea if this thing went and 40 gallons of water went with it, oh hellz no. It's a finished basement w/ new couches and huge tv that you can't just lift out of there.

Looks like I"m shopping for a new one. My husband wanted tankless but I didn't like the fact that you had to get these add ons if you want to run dishwaster, washer, and say take a shower at the same time because there are times when we do.

Plus our goal is not to stay in this house forever. It will have a cap on how much we can get on this house and we already sunk a lot into it. I hate to have the latest and greatest on this house and get a minimal return only for someone else to enjoy the benefits.
posted by stormpooper at 7:41 AM on December 3, 2010

What add-ons do you think you have to get for a tankless? Ours should support at least 3 separate simultaneous hot water activities with only the unit. How many people live in your house and how often do you really run more than 2 hot water actives at the same time? A lot of the information (such as the Consumer Reports stuff) on tankless is fairly old and there have been a lot of improvements. Additionally, most of Europe uses only tankless.

Also, when a tank fails, it's not just the water in the tank that goes into your basement; it's theoretically unlimited. The tank is open to the water main and is pressurized. So, if your tank fails and you don't notice, you could theoretically have unlimited water fill your basement. So it's best to replace before there's a problem. But the problem with that is how do you time it so that you don't replace it too soon?

I was lucky to catch my tank w/in 15 minutes of it failing.

In any case, if your situation is not urgent, check with your gas / power company for rebates on tankless. You may find the costs to be about equivalent.

If you do get a tank, don't get an AO Smith tank. 75% of them in our condo complex failed within 1 year of the end of the warranty.
posted by reddot at 8:16 AM on December 3, 2010

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