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Selecting A Water Heater For Your Summer Cabin

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When you are ready to pick out a water heater for your future summer cabin, you'll have a variety of types from which to choose from.  Start by understanding what you really need and then narrow the list by ease of use and costs. Here is what you'll find when searching for the right water heater.

Establish Your Selection Criteria

Before you start shopping, set the parameters that limit the types of water heaters you could have in your summer cabin.

  • Fuel type and availability - How available are the most common fuels, electricity and natural gas? Are propane gas and fuel oil available locally and can they be delivered to your cabin? Is there enough sunlight available to make solar an option?
  • Capacity - How much hot water do you need? If the cabin will be used by you and a buddy for fishing trips, you will likely need less hot water than a family of five that visits the cabin most weekends in the summer.

Types of Water Heaters

Once you know the fuels available to the cabin and the capacity you want, you can begin to narrow down your choices from these water heater types.

Conventional storage water heaters - These are the traditional gas water heaters that you're most familiar with in a home. A steel holding tank is filled with water then heated by a flame (natural gas, propane and heating oil) or by heating coils (electricity). They come in various sizes and you can turn them off when not using the cabin. One advantage of the gas water heater over electric is that the water stays hot even if the electricity goes out.

Tankless or demand-type water heaters - This model provides hot water only when you need it. It is installed near the sink or tub where it will be used. When the faucet is opened, cold water flows into the unit and is heated by electric coils or a flame. These can be run by gas, oil or electricity. There is no holding tank so the amount of hot water you get at any time is based on the rate of output for the particular model.

Heat pump water heaters - These units take heat from the ground or surrounding air and use it to heat the water. These heaters use electricity to move the heat to the water tank. They can be used standalone with small capacity water tanks or made to work with an existing conventional water heater. Heat pumps work best in moderate climates that rarely get to freezing temperatures.

Solar water heaters - One type of solar water heater moves the water directly through the solar collectors to heat it, then back into the home. This style is best in areas that rarely experience freezing temperatures. Where temperatures do get to freezing, another model circulates a non-freezing fluid that is heated, then sent into the home to heat your water. You'll want a backup system, usually a conventional style water heater, for those days when there isn't enough sunlight to heat sufficient water for your needs.