Is the hot water in your home lukewarm at best, does it constantly run out in the middle of your shower, or does the water look a little discolored (or even smell bad) when washing dishes in the sink? These are a few signs your hot water heater may be on its last legs. If you’re in the market for a new one, you may be wondering how to choose the right water heater for your Portland home.

In most cases, water heaters have a life span of 10-15 years when properly serviced. If you are having issues with your water heater, first check to see how old it is. There should be a manufacturer’s label that has the installation information on it. If it’s getting close to–or it shot well past–the installation date, it’s probably time for a new one.

How to Choose the Right Water Heater

There are several things to think about when choosing the right water heater for your Portland home. These considerations include:

  • Size of the Home
  • The Number of People
  • Water Consumption
  • Type of Water Heater
  • Fuel Sources
  • Budget

Size of the Home

A 900-square-foot bungalow will have different hot water needs than a 4,000-square-foot behemoth. Generally speaking, a typical residential home will have a storage tank that is from 30 to 80 gallons of water. A bigger home needs a bigger tank, presumably to bring hot water to more sinks, bathtubs, and showers.

The Number of People

A single person can probably get by with a smaller end tank: they’ll run the dishwasher less frequently, won’t need to wash as many loads of laundry, and so on. Even in a larger home, the demand won’t be as heavy as it would be for a family of five. If everyone wants to take a morning shower, get a big tank or set a timer!

Water Consumption

Different homes have different hot water needs. A family home will need a lot more water, which translates to more hot water. Estimate the peak hot water usage in your household, including showers, baths, dishwashing, and laundry. This will help you determine the size (gallons per minute or GPM) of the water heater you need.

For example, a standard shower head has about a 2.5 gallons-a-minute flow rate, which means a ten-minute shower uses 25 gallons of hot water. See what we mean by having a timer handy? An Energy Star dishwasher uses around 3.5 gallons of water per cycle, an Energy Star washing machine uses 14 gallons, and so on.

Rarely is that happening all at once of course. Because a water heater usually takes about an hour to heat, spacing these activities apart will ensure you have enough hot water for day-to-day activities. But, if having hot water at all times is important, a larger tank is necessary. Or you can go with a tankless heater.

Types of Water Heaters

There are a few different options when it comes to water heaters, each with its own advantages. They may need a certain amount of space to be installed, require a specific heating source, or specific installation techniques. Depending on what you need from a heater, however, there’s a style out there that fits your needs.

Tank: These are the most common heaters on the market because they’ve been used for so long and continually improve efficiency and operation. They fill up with cold water, the water is warmed, and then it gets sent to where it’s needed. But they can also take up a lot of room, so they are usually found in garages, closets, under stairwells, and other out-of-the-way places.

Tankless: With no tanks, these heaters require very little space and can be installed on the outside or inside of your home. Tankless water heaters work by heating the water as it’s needed–cold water goes through the heater, is warmed as it passes through, and then sent on down the line. It may take a few seconds to heat the water, but then you’ll have an endless stream of hot water.

Heat Pump: Heat pump water heaters use a different mechanism to heat water compared to traditional tank and tankless units. They extract heat from the surrounding air and transfer it to the water in the tank. This process is highly efficient because it doesn’t generate heat directly–it moves heat from one place to another.

Heat pumps do need a tank to heat the water, but offer a more continuous supply of hot water than traditional water heaters. They don’t offer immediate and non-stop hot water like tankless heaters but are still an energy-efficient way to provide hot water to your house.

Fuel Sources

Portland typically has access to natural gas, electricity, and sometimes propane as ways of heating your water. Your choice of water heater may depend on the available fuel sources in your area. Running gas lines to your home may be too costly if you don’t already have access to gas, so make sure you pay attention to the type of appliance you buy.


While price shouldn’t be the overriding factor when choosing a new water heater, it certainly plays a part. For example, if you’re in need of a new water heater in a home you’re about to sell or even a rental, you probably won’t break the bank on getting a high-end model. But a whole home remodel in your forever may just call for that high-end water heater with all the bells and whistles.

Determine your budget for the water heater purchase and installation. Keep in mind that while some models have higher upfront costs, they may provide long-term savings through energy efficiency. Operating costs also differ: electric water heaters use 98% of the energy supply while gas water heaters have an energy factor of around 85%. But, depending on where you live, electricity may cost more than gas.

Speaking of energy efficiency, look for water heaters with high Energy Factor (EF) ratings for electric heaters or high Energy Efficiency Ratio (EF) for gas heaters. Energy-efficient models can save you money on utility bills over time. It also makes sense to read reviews, compare features, and consider the reputation of different water heater brands and models.

In some cases, you may be paying more for the brand than the actual water heater. Look for warranties and customer support options, both with the manufacturer of your water heater and with the people you choose for installation. After all, water temperatures can’t tell the difference between brands.

How to Choose the Right Water Heater? Ask The Experts

If you have questions about water heaters, why not ask the people who work with them every day? Consult with a plumbing or HVAC professional to assess your specific needs and recommend the most suitable water heater for your home.

Meticulous Plumbing has been removing, installing, and servicing water heaters in the Portland area for 15 years and is more than happy to talk with you about the best options for your water heater needs. Reach out to us with your hot water questions–or any questions about your plumbing–and let’s see how we can help.

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