After deciding against an on-demand hot water system, I went out this weekend and bought a General Electric 12-year 40 gallon natural gas water heater. Consumer Reports and others recommend getting longer life water heaters because not only should they last longer, but you are getting other extras like added insulation, a better burner, and faster heat-up times. There is not nearly the selection available for water heaters as there is for refrigerators. The differences in energy consumption are pretty minor. Disappointingly, even though Home Depot calls this a “high-efficiency” water heater, the Energy Guide on the side indicates it will use 254 therms out of a range going from 234 to 258. So “high efficiency” means 4 therms less the least efficient heater in the entire class. This is still more efficient than my old one which was rated for 319 therms per year. Sears has a 12-year model that only uses 238 therms, but GE heaters use a magnesium anode which is supposed to be better than the aluminum ones used by some Sears heaters (I couldn’t tell from the Sears website what the 12-year tank’s anode is made of). Not that Sears makes theirs (they are made by A.O. Smith). GE doesn’t even make theirs (they are made by Rheem). Not many choices and very difficult to shop online. From most efficient to least efficient there is only a 10% difference.
My friend Bill came over to “help” me install the heater. By “help” I mean he did pretty much everything and I stood around and ran errands for him. There were a couple of needed upgrades that made the job a little more complicated. First the supply lines had a 3′ stick of old and rusting galvanized pipe in both the cold and hot water pipes which needed to come out. Second I wanted to install an expansion tank since the water meter has a back flow preventer that can cause very high pressure in the lines inside the house. Third, the thermal expansion valve was piped through plastic and, since I put siding on that exterior wall, had drained inside the house instead of outside (though it had never leaked a drop). When I bought the house the home inspector had said the plastic pipe didn’t meet code. Lastly, since Bill was doing the job he wanted to make sure I had unions installed in all of the connecting pipes to make it possible to install the next water heater without soldering any pipes, just unscrewing stuff. I counted 26 joints to be soldered and not one of them leaked (Bill has done a lot of this).
While we were at it, we had to move the washing machine out of the way and noticed the shut-off valves for the washer connection are really old and hard to turn. So Bill cut the old valves off and soldered news ones in place (we had to go to Ace to get some additional supplies anyway). It was probably nearly $1000 worth of plumbing that Bill did for one meal at Skip’s.