How to Choose the Best Water Heater

A modern hot water heater hanging in the corner of a room where it has just been installed.
It's easy to take hot water in our homes for granted—that is until we lose it. If your water heater is over a decade old, you could find yourself hopping into an ice-cold shower when you least expect it. Even worse is a potential tank leak that results in flooding and damage to your basement.

Inspecting your tank regularly and performing routine maintenance can reduce the chances of these unpleasant and unexpected events occurring, but they don't eliminate the possibility entirely. If your current unit has served you well for ten or more years, it may be time to consider a water heater replacement.

If it’s been a while since you replaced your heater, you may be surprised to learn that a storage tank heater is no longer your only option. With so many different models available today, there’s a lot more that you need to factor into a decision about the type that is right for you. In this article, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision, and once you’ve picked out a new system, one of our Wichita handyman professionals can install your replacement for you.

How Do Water Heaters Work?

Unless you stop to think about it, you probably don't realize how amazing it is that you can access hot water in your home whenever you need it. By simply turning on your tap or pressing a few buttons, you have the supply you need for your bath, shower, washing machine, dishwasher, and sinks.

Though the first heater was invented in the late 19th century, it did not become widespread in American homes until the 1940s. Before this time, large pots had to be boiled to be used to wash dishes and clothes. Only the wealthiest had the opportunity to regularly bathe and wash. The invention of this particular plumbing fixture was, therefore life-changing for many North Americans. But how exactly do they work?

The precise mechanics of your unit will vary according to its type, but conventional water heaters in Wichita, KS, that residents are most familiar with function like this:

  1. Potable cold liquid from Wichita's city pipelines enters a large, metal drum through a device called a dip tube.
  2. Once the tank is full, the automatic shut-off valve cuts off the supply.
  3. Depending on the fuel type (gas or electric), warming occurs using an electric heating element or a burner and chimney system. A pressure relief valve, also known as a pressure release valve, regulates the psi (pound-force per square inch) by releasing pressure in the tank when it gets too high.
  4. The tank also contains a device called a sacrificial anode. This anode attracts corrosive minerals, so the anode corrodes instead of the lining of the tank itself.
  5. Heated liquid exits the tank through the heat-out pipe to your plumbing fixtures for use.

When Should I Consider Water Heater Replacement?

Water heater replacement isn’t an insignificant expense. Many homeowners prefer to wait to make a purchase until they have no other choice. The problem with this approach is that it often ends up costing homeowners more in the long run, as we’ll discuss further below. That being said, there are some situations where heater repairs might be more beneficial:

  • Pressure Relief Valve is Malfunctioning: This valve is one of the most important safety features of your unit. It’s a good idea to test this valve twice a year to make sure it’s in good working order. To test it, pull the test level on the top of the valve and make sure that liquid comes out of the overflow tube. If it's dry, or if it won't stop dripping, you’ll need to replace your valve.
  • Heating Element is No Longer Working: Oftentimes, the heating element will outlast your tank—but this is a trend, not a rule. If you begin to notice that your supply doesn’t last as long as it used to, there may be an issue with your element. Replacement parts can be fairly pricey, so consider the age of your unit when deciding whether or not it's worth it to invest your money in a new element.
  • Lots of Sediment in Your Tank: Since you can't actually see inside your tank, this one is a bit of a guessing game. Some possible symptoms of sediment build-up include fluctuating temperatures, strange noises coming from the tank, discoloration, and leaks near the drain valve. Try flushing out your tank and replacing the sacrificial anode before replacing your system altogether.

If your current heater is over ten years old, doesn’t heat up properly despite troubleshooting, or leaks around the base of the tank, it’s time for a water heater replacement.

Types of Water Heaters in Wichita, KS

Many homeowners replace their existing conventional tank-style units with the same thing simply because it's what they know. However, there are so many different fuel types and designs for heaters today, and a conventional system may no longer be the best system for your household. Below are some of the most effective and common types of water heaters in Wichita, KS.

Conventional Water Heaters

Also known as storage tank water heaters, these systems have a large tank or drum in which liquid is heated and stored until ready for use. If you have a long shower, you may find that it begins to get cool towards the end. This indicates that you’ve used your entire supply that was being stored. The tank refills as you use your plumbing fixtures, but it takes some time to heat up again.

This type is generally the least expensive unit that you can buy today, but that lower cost also comes with several cons. Not only can running out of supply be an inconvenience, but these systems also tend to cost more to operate than other types of heaters based on their energy usage.

Tankless Water Heaters

Also known as an on-demand unit, these systems don’t store hot liquid but rather heat it up as it is needed. When you turn on a hot tap, cold liquid flows through a heating unit with a gas or electrically-powered heating coil. This coil instantly heats water so that it’s nice and warm as soon as it comes through your plumbing fixture. Because your supply is heated on demand, there is no need for a storage tank.

Heat Pump Water Heaters

If you hear someone talking about a hybrid unit or hybrid heat pump unit, they're referring to heat pumps. That hybrid label comes from the fact that they have a storage tank with a heating element like conventional systems for instances where demand exceeds supply, but they primarily heat water by drawing thermal energy in and expelling cold air. This is essentially the same process as a refrigerator uses, except in reverse.

Electric Vs. Natural Gas Water Heaters

While shopping for your water heater replacement, you’ll likely find that they’re powered by one of two types of fuel: electricity or natural gas. Thanks to their ease of installation, electricity is the most popular choice for Wichita homeowners.

Electric units have a heating element, while a gas unit has a burner underneath the tank. Most gas models today are ignited using electricity, but older models may have a pilot light. To safely dispose of combustible gas, these models also have a venting system that directs gas out of your home. There are two types of venting systems: indirect and direct vent units.

Solar Water Heaters

Most water heaters in Wichita, KS, are electric or gas-powered, but solar-powered systems are also an option. These systems come in two varieties: active and passive.

Active systems may be direct circulating or indirect circulating. They differ in the fact that indirect circulating systems circulate a special heat-transfer fluid to heat the water, whereas direct circulating systems circulate water directly. Indirect systems are necessary for climates that are prone to freezing temperatures, like Wichita.

Passive systems are less efficient and effective, as they require the use of the sun to heat the water. Because they rely on the sun, they’re a better option for our more southerly neighbors.

Residential Water Heaters Vs. Commercial Water Heaters

Residential and commercial property owners have different needs. Special commercial heaters are designed to heat water to a higher temperature and store a higher capacity.

A commercial system will hold more than double the gallons of water that a residential system can. It can also support up to 1 million BTUs (British thermal units), whereas a residential unit generally caps off at around 75,000 BTUs. Building codes differ for residential and commercial units, and heaters are required to meet these code requirements.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Water Heater Replacement

Now that you understand the different options for a water heater replacement, you can compare the advantages and disadvantages of each to determine the right choice for your home and lifestyle. The four most important factors to consider when choosing a replacement unit are cost, predicted system lifespan, and special features.


When choosing water heaters in Wichita, KS, many homeowners only consider its upfront cost. Conventional units are generally the least expensive, hybrid units are the most expensive, and tankless units fall somewhere in the middle. If you have the option to do so, it’s typically recommended that you choose a tankless or hybrid heater installation.

The reason? These units are more energy efficient. Although conventional units are insulated to help keep water hot once heated, heat will always escape. This requires your system to repeatedly reheat the water until you need it. For this reason, the energy efficiency of these models leaves a lot to be desired, and the cost of this inefficiency will be reflected in your energy bills.

Although more efficient models have higher price ranges than conventional units, your energy savings will add up over time, meaning they could cost you less in the long run. They’re also often easier to install, which reduces associated labor costs.


When calculating cost, you’ll also want to consider how long the unit will last before you need another water heater replacement. Regular maintenance can help your unit last longer, but in general, you can expect your new unit to work for approximately:

  • 8 to 12 years for a conventional unit
  • 20 or more years for a tankless unit
  • 12 to 15 years for a hybrid unit

Though tankless units tend to last longer than many hybrid units that are available today, you'll have to sit down and crunch the numbers to determine whether the upfront costs combined with your expected energy savings each month make a hybrid the better option. Something else worth looking at is whether the unit comes with a manufacturer warranty or a limited warranty. The longer the warranty, the better.

Special Features

Different heater manufacturers will offer different perks. Some are just presented for advertising purposes, while others may have considerable benefits for your household and property type. Some of the special features you may see when shopping for a hot water heater replacement include:

  • Automatic self-cleaning action
  • Advanced anode rod protection
  • Lasting tank protection
  • Quality brass valve
  • No noisy operation
  • Glass-lined tanks

Ready To Install Your Water Heater Replacement?

Mr. Handyman of the Wichita Metro Area is a locally owned and operated franchise serving the areas of Derby, Eastborough, Schulte, and beyond. Our experienced and professional team of service technicians is dedicated to helping you protect your biggest investment—your home—and lower your energy bills by providing outstanding water heater replacement services.

When you choose our team of professional plumbers, you can rest assured that your water heater replacement will be done right and on time. If you have any questions about our services or would like to schedule an appointment, give us a call today. We provide a wide range of home improvement services, including everything from caulking and hanging services to wallpaper repair and door replacement.