Three highly rated companies in the Chicago area discuss common water heater issues.
Water heaters play an important role in the home. Responsible for heating the water used for bathing, hand washing and cooking, a water heater provides instant comfort when working properly.
Dan Cox, owner, AHS Plumbing & Sewer Repair of Wheeling, Ill.
Ricardo Matias, creative director of marketing, Four Seasons Heating & Air Conditioning of Chicago
Keith Durso, co-owner, R & S Plumbing Inc. of Rolling Meadows, Ill.
What can I do to keep my water heater running smoothly and efficiently?
Cox: You should do a visual check with a flashlight every couple of months, looking closely for leaks. Those can cause serious damage to the heater.
Matias: If you don't drain or flush it regularly, preferably every two months, you'll have sediment buildup, which can shorten the life of the heater.
Durso: My opinion is that you shouldn't touch them if you're connected to city water. If you use well water, you should flush it frequently, perhaps four times a year.
What are the most common types of water heaters in Chicago?
Cox: Gas water heaters are the most common. Also finding a place are hybrids — tankless water heaters with a small two-gallon tank to heat up the water in the "sandwich" between uses.
Matias: Gas is the most common here, with all the dense apartment buildings and older homes.
Durso: Gas heaters are prominent because of the cost difference between gas and electricity.
What are the pros and cons of tankless heaters?
Cox: They only make hot water as fast as they can produce it at the desired temperature. During cold times of year, you might get a slower flow rate.
Matias: You'll save room and have hot water on demand. You also save around 40 percent on energy. However, it'll take about 15 years to recoup the investment.
Durso: They're more efficient, but you could run short of hot water if you have several fixtures running at once. They last longer, but are more expensive.
How much should I expect to pay for a new water heater?
Cox: A standard 50-gallon tank installation should cost between $1,000 and $1,200. For a tankless unit, you're looking at between $3,000 and $4,500.
Matias: A standard water heater ranges between $970 and $1,300. A tankless heater ranges between $3,700 and $4,500.
Durso: Installation should cost between $800 and $850 for a 40-gallon tank and $900 to $950 for a 50-gallon tank. Tankless heaters cost about three times as much.
Any other advice you'd like to share?
Cox: When hiring a contractor, don't go only by price. You get what you pay for. If your installer uses lousy, cheap connections, you'll pay for it in the long run.
Matias: If your heater is in an unheated basement, you can reduce energy costs by wrapping it in an insulation blanket. They're available at home supply stores for less than $20.
Durso: Chicagoland area code calls for solid piping when installing water heaters. If a company is using flexible piping, be extremely cautious.
Have you repaired or replaced a water heater recently? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on Aug. 16, 2011.