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A Buyer’s guide to hot water systems

You may not see them but hot water systems are essential for your home. Here’s how to choose the right option for you.

The humble hot water system has a tendency to fly under the radar – we don't often pay much attention to it until something goes wrong, then we remember just how valuable they are!

When it comes to purchasing a hot water system, it pays to be prepared. There is nothing more likely to ruin your day than an unexpected cold shower and sudden breakdown lends urgency to buying a new unit. Think ahead and do your research before you need to install a new system.

A little education might save you time (and dollars) in the long term.  On average a hot water systems should last about 10 years, so it's worth making a considered choice. All systems will require a plumber to install them, and often an electrician.  A licenced retailer can often sell and install your new system for you, making it convenient to setup and to service over the life of the appliance. Here's the lowdown on everything you need to know.

Choosing the right hot water system starts with the right energy source:  Electric, Natural Gas or solar?

Natural Gas is generally cheaper and often the recommended option for continuous-flow systems. It is most effective if you have piped Natural Gas available on your property, which is common in Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and metropolitan NSW. Other parts of Australia have limited availability, so again check with your provider. LPG gas is also used to heat hot water, but costs about three times more than Natural Gas.

Electric systems are available everywhere, but usually have the highest running costs of all options, so it makes sense to check with your electricity provider if you can access off peak tariffs. Installation is usually easier and cheaper, if your existing system is electric. Alternatively, you could try a electric heat-pump hot water system, a more energy-efficient electric option. These products generate heat similar to an air conditioner but in reverse. You can save up to 80 per cent on the cost of hot water by using a heat-pump system versus a conventional electric storage system.

Solar systems generally have a gas or electric booster – or even a heat-pump system – to ensure hot water, stored in an insulated tank, is always available. These systems are much more expensive to purchase and install than a Natural Gas or Electric system. Solar systems are more common with new home builds or people looking to make their homes more environmentally friendly. A sustainable model is a great long-term investment saving you money after the initial costly installation. Solar-powered systems work better in some parts of Australia, particularly Queensland and Northern Territory. If you’re situated in southern Australia, however, your system may need to rely on your booster more often so it is important to consider this .

Image Credit: Dan Smedley on Unsplash

Understanding the different types of Hot Water systems

Storage or Tank hot water heaters are the most common type of hot water system in Australia. These systems work in a similar way to a kettle, using either a gas or an electric element to heat the water and store it for use. When needing to make a replacement in an emergency, many people opt for a storage unit because it's what they are familiar with and will simply replace their old unit with a new version. They work well if you use off-peak tariffs, ensuring that you purchase energy at the lowest possible rate. They're often cheaper to install, especially if you had a similar unit. However, storage units can be more costly to operate, can run out of hot water and take a while to warm up. Sizes vary, but remember that they heat the whole tank, so make sure you choose the right size for your family, to minimise wastage.

Continuous-flow hot water units are small, instantaneous and never run out of hot water. Most major hot water system companies now offer a variety of units to cater for the amount of hot water you require at any given time. Also known as instantaneous hot water systems, they take up far less room than most storage units and can even be recessed into the wall. Unlike storage units, they only turn on when needed, which means they don't waste energy when not in use. They're also good if you have fluctuating demand – frequent visitors or a family with kids. Continuous-flow units are measured by flow rates, so, a 16-litre-per-minute unit delivers just that. Choose the right flow rate for the number of outlets – if you have two or more bathrooms you may want to have a higher flow unit, keeping in mind that a normal shower-head runs at about nine litres per minute.

Note that these hot water systems require different gas connections to storage units and also need access to a power point for the electric ignition – so if you are planning on changing systems, there may be additional installation costs.  It is advisable to talk to a specialist to discuss your needs and get an accurate quote.

Questions to ask before installation

  • Can you supply and install my new hot water system? Understand the total cost and any applicable discounts and time saving.  Or will you need to find a plumber and electrician.

  • Are you licensed? Always use a licensed installer

  • Are you an accredited installer of the specific hot water system purchased? Your plumber needs to be experienced in installing the selected system and have accredited training by the manufacturer. 

  • Where is the best place to install your new system? Units are more efficient when located next to the kitchen and/or bathroom. There will be a delay if you put the system away from point of use. Hire an expert and trust their advice.

  • What can I expect to pay? Always get a quote prior to installation. Read the fine print.

A version of this article originally appear on Homes To Love