A water heater ensures that you have access to hot water for showers, handwashing, kitchen tasks, laundry, and more. There are plenty of high-performing gas and electric water heaters to choose from, including tank and tankless versions.
Picking the best water heater depends on your hot water usage, existing installation requirements, and budget. Doyle James, President of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, advises homeowners: “Make sure the water heater you are looking at purchasing is the correct size, meaning the physical size, capacity, and output.” Keep in mind that you can’t use the storage tank capacity as the only determining factor. “Sometimes the unit could be the same gallon capacity but be shorter or wider,” says James. Measure the space you have available and factor in the amount of hot water you need, especially during the first hour of use, to pick a water heater that will suit your needs.
We researched water heaters from the top brands, judging them on effectiveness, energy efficiency, and ease of maintenance.
Best Overall, Electric
Rheem Performance Plus 50 Gallon Electric Tank Water Heater
Dual 5,500-Watt heating elements
LED indicator lights
Self-cleaning to reduce sediment build-up
Easy to install
No leak detection
Lacks digital control for setting target temperature
The Rheem Performance Plus Electric Tank Water Heater is well-equipped to supply hot water for showers, washing hands, or doing dishes. This 50-gallon model is the right size for a family of 3 to 5 individuals, and it comes with a 9-year warranty for peace of mind. While electric water heaters aren’t as energy-efficient as gas versions, this model has a Uniform Energy Factor (UEF) rating of 0.93, qualifying it as an energy-efficient electric water heater.
The simple design of this popular electric water heater makes it very easy to install. While it has a short list of features that don't include newer innovations like Wi-Fi integration or the option to receive an alert on your smartphone if a leak is detected, it does have LED indicator lights to give you at-a-glance notice if one or both of the 5,500-watt elements are operational. The lower element, which is more likely to fail first, is made of stainless steel for durability. The glass-lined water tank has a self-cleaning design that helps to reduce sediment build-up, along with a long-lasting anode rod.
The first-hour delivery rating for the Rheem Performance Electric Tank Water Heater is 62 gallons, enough to supply several showers with hot water. You adjust the water output temperature from 90 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit using a dial knob rather than digital controls. While digital controls are preferred by some users who want a fast and precise way to adjust the temperature, the knob on this model does just fine.
Price at time of publish: $679
Heating Source: Electric | Type: Tank | Tank Size: 50 gallons | Heating Power: 5,500 watts | Flow Rate: Not applicable
Best Overall, Gas
Rheem Performance Natural Gas Tank Water Heater
Filter-free design for less maintenance
Includes vacation mode for energy savings during periods of non-use
68 gallon first-hour delivery rate
Not equipped with an ultra low NOx burner
Analog dial for setting temperature
If your home has a natural gas water heater, our top recommendation is the Rheem Performance model. It has push-button ignition for the pilot light, a factory-installed pressure relief valve, and a simple-to-use dial for setting the water temperature or turning the unit to vacation mode to conserve energy. The temperature range spans 45 to 160 degrees, but it’s worth noting that you only have set intervals to pick from, rather than making a specific temperature selection using a digital control like you may find on more advanced water heater models.
This 40-gallon model is capable of outputting 68 gallons of hot water in the first hour of use; it’s the right size for households of two to four people. If you need an even longer-lasting supply of hot water, the Rheem Performance series also includes models with larger storage tanks—up to 98 gallons. Regardless of which tank size you choose, you’ll get the peace of mind that comes from having a glass-lined tank and an anode rod to attract minerals or particles of iron and limestone that may be in your water supply.
A filter-free burner also cuts down on maintenance tasks, but keep in mind that while it has a low NOx burner, it doesn’t qualify as an ultra-low NOx burner, as required in some states. But for under $600, this gas water heater makes an excellent buy and is noted for its ease of installation and reliability.
Price at time of publish: $549
Heating Source: Gas | Type: Tank | Tank Size: 40 gallons | Heating Power: 36,000 BTU per hour | Flow Rate: Not applicable
Best Budget, Electric
Rheem Performance Electric Tank Water Heater
Two 4,500-watt heating elements
Anode rod to slow corrosion
May need to replace the copper elements over time
Basic tools required to adjust temperature settings
The Rheem Performance Electric series is frills-free but an easy-to-install choice for a hot water heater. This 40-gallon model supplies up to 53 gallons of water in the first hour of use. It will meet the needs of small households of 2 or 4 people, but you can size up the tank if you have more frequent demands for hot water. It has a UEF rating of 0.93, which isn’t impressive enough to earn it Energy Star certification, but it is on par for the size and price point of this electric water heater.
This budget electric water has two 4,500-watt elements. Unlike the Rheem Performance Plus series, which has a stainless steel lower element, both elements in this model are made of copper. Copper elements are more affordable but less durable. However, the screw-in elements can be replaced if needed. There are two thermostats to adjust the burners independently; a panel on the water heater covers each thermostat dial, and you’ll need a small screwdriver to make the adjustments. This is a bit more work than what you’ll find on some water heaters with digital temperature controls, but in most cases, you won’t need to adjust the water temperature too often.
Other maintenance-friendly features of this economic model include a glass-lined tank and anode rod for reducing sediment and corrosion. This model lacks other bells and whistles, but for less than $450, it supplies your home with hot water for showers, dishes, and laundry.
Price at time of publish: $439
Heating Source: Electric | Type: Tank | Tank Size: 40 gallons | Heating Power: Two 4500-Watt elements | Flow Rate: Not applicable
Best Budget, Gas
Envirotemp 40-Gallon Tall 3-year Limited 35500-BTU Natural Gas Water Heater
Self-cleaning dip tube
LED status lights
Low NOx burner
Doesn’t satisfy requirements for ultra low NOx burner
Warranty coverage limited to 3 years
Natural gas water heaters offer better efficiency than electric models but do cost more initially. If you’re looking to offset the investment, pick an economical but efficient model like the Envirotemp 40-gallon Natural Gas Water Heater. It has a 35,500-BTU low NOx gas burner and essential components like an anode rod, ceramic tank shield, and push-button pilot ignition. LED status indicator lights are also helpful in checking the status of the appliance, while a self-cleaning dip tube means you can drain the tank less often.
The 40-gallon tank of this budget gas water heater has a 65-gallon first-hour delivery rate, making it a good choice for three- to four-person households. Larger families can size up to a bigger tank while still capitalizing on the economy of the Envirotemp water heaters. An electronic gas valve makes for simple temperature adjustments, and a vacation mode ensures maximum savings when you’re away. The biggest tradeoff for the economical price is a shorter warranty period. You’ll only have 3 years of coverage, compared to 6 years or more for some other models.
Price at Time of Publish: $529
Heating Source: Gas | Type: Tank | Tank Size: 40 gallons | Heating Power: 35,500 BTU | Flow Rate: Not applicable
Best Tankless, Electric
Ecosmart ECO 27 Electric Tankless Water Heater
Stainless steel heating elements
Adjust temperature in 1-degree increments
Saves floor space by mounting on wall
May not be as effective for large homes in cold-weather
A tankless water heater saves space and energy, making it an appealing choice for homeowners that want a streamlined and efficient option. The Ecosmart ECO 27 is a top choice because of its easy-to-use control panel, highly adjustable temperature output, and small footprint. It measures 17 x 17 inches and can be installed on the wall in a closet or basement.
Flow rate is one of the biggest considerations when it comes to choosing a tankless water heater. The greater the flow rate, the more plumbing fixtures that can be in use at once (like sinks, showers, or appliances like a dishwasher). The ECO 27 offers a flow rate between 2.7 and 6.5 GPM, depending on incoming water temperatures. At a minimum, you can expect it to keep up with hot water demands from a shower and sink simultaneously. In colder climates, don’t count on it to heat water for much more than a single shower; if you need more hot water simultaneously, you may need to upgrade to a larger model in the Ecosmart ECO series.
A popular feature of this tankless hot water heater is its digital temperature control, which allows you to read and adjust the target temperature in 1-degree increments. Temperature settings range from 80 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. As water passes through this tankless water heater, a stainless steel heating element warms the water to your ideal temperature before passing it through your pipes to the plumbing fixture in use. The steel heating elements inside the unit carry a lifetime warranty, so you can expect years of reliable performance from this tankless water heater.
Price at time of publish: $599
Heating Source: Electric | Type: Tankless | Tank Size: Not applicable | Heating Power: 27 kilowatts | Flow Rate: Between 2.7 and 6.5 gallons-per-minute
Best Tankless, Gas
Rinnai RL75iN High-Efficiency Plus
Equipped with ultra low NOx burner
Temperature range of 98 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit
0.4 GPM activation flow
Professional installation recommended
If you have a natural gas connection and want a space-saving hot water heater, consider a tankless version like this Rinnai model. This non-condensing gas water heater is about the size of a small suitcase and mounts on the wall in your basement or utility closet, but it can also be installed in attics or crawl spaces, as long as a vent is available for hot exhaust. It offers a flow rate of up to 7.5 gallons per minute; even in the coldest climates, you can count on this model to supply hot water to at least two showers. Set the water heater to a temperature that suits your needs, ranging from 98 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Reviewers agree that the supply of hot water from this model is consistent—once it begins. The fact that the water heater has a minimum activation rate of 0.4 GPM means that some low-flow faucets aren’t sufficient to trigger the tank’s heater. In addition, there can be a little lag as you wait for hot water to begin flowing from a fixture. This isn’t a unique problem for tankless water heaters, which don’t keep hot water ready and waiting for use. Most people don’t mind waiting a short while for hot water in exchange for energy savings and the fact that the hot water won’t run out due to a depleted tank. This unit has a UEF rating of 0.81 and an ultra-low NOx burner that meets the strictest of emissions standards.
Price at time of publish: $1,255
Heating Source: Gas | Type: Tankless | Tank Size: Not applicable | Heating Power: 180,000 BTU | Flow Rate: 7.5 gallons per minute
Best for Large Family
A.O. Smith G6-S7576NV Signature 100 Series 74-Gallon Short Natural Gas Water Heater
Short tank for installation in compact spaces
First-hour rating of 125 gallons
75,100 BTU low NOx gas burner
No smart features
Temperature settings can be challenging to adjust
When picking a water heater for a large family, you need to choose a model that is capable of keeping up with frequent and simultaneous hot water demands. If that’s your situation, we recommend the A.O. Smith Signature 100 Series 74-gallon Natural Gas Water Heater. This high-capacity water heater heats quickly and delivers 125 gallons of hot water in the first hour of use, meaning that you can run multiple showers back-to-back or at the same time without worries over losing hot water. The low NOx burner has 75,100 BTU to heat water rapidly as the tank refills. It’s recommended for households of 5 or more people.
Despite having such excellent capacity, this gas water heater has a short tank design. It’s more compact for fitting into utility closets or tight spaces and installs easily, according to reviewers. Other features to point out include a self-cleaning dip tube and anode rod to protect against corrosion and reduce maintenance tasks.
An electronic gas valve allows for better control over temperature settings. However, that’s one area where reviewers sometimes express dissatisfaction since the water is hotter than expected. An analog dial allows you to pick a setting that suits your preference for performance and energy efficiency, or you can set the unit to an energy-saving vacation mode when you’re away.
Price at time of publish: $1,199
Heating Source: Gas | Type: Tank | Tank Size: 74 gallons | Heating Power: 75,100 BTU | Flow Rate: Not applicable
A. O. Smith Signature 40-Gallon Tall 6-Year Limited 35500-BTU Natural Gas Water Heater
Anode rod to protect against corrosion
Self-cleaning dip tube
LED status light
Doesn’t meet the requirements for an ultra low NOx water heater
Some dents and dings noted after unboxing
One of the most highly-rated gas water heaters is this affordable model from A.O. Smith. The natural gas water heater has a 40-gallon tank with a ceramic shield and insulation to prevent heat loss. When it comes to supplying hot water, reviewers have high praise for this 35,500-BTU burner model, frequently mentioning how it outperforms larger, older models of hot water heaters.
This model delivers 65 gallons of hot water in the first hour of use, which is plenty for a family of four. Aside from performance, customers appreciate the value of this model which costs less than $600. Even with the emphasis on affordability, preventative maintenance features like an anode rod and self-cleaning dip tube aren’t overlooked. An LED status indicator light is another feature that reviewers mention; with just a glance, you’ll receive confirmation that the pilot is lit and that the gas control valve is working properly.
If there are any flaws to mention for this popular natural gas water heater, it would be the tendency of the unit to arrive with some dents and dings. Most people find that it doesn’t impact performance, but others have exchanged their unit for a new one. In addition, the low NOx burner doesn’t meet the higher standards for gas water heaters in states that require an ultra-low NOx burner. In general, though, the positive points far outweigh these few downsides and make the A.O. Smith Natural Gas Water Heater a great buy for reliable, efficient operation.
Price at time of publish: $569
Heating Source: Gas | Type: Tank | Tank Size: 40 gallons | Heating Power: 35,500 BTU | Flow Rate: Not applicable
If your home is set up for a natural gas water heater, the Rheem Performance Natural Gas Water Heater is easy to use and install and heats quickly, thanks to the 35,500-BTU low NOx burner. The 40-gallon tank is the right size for families of 2 to 3 people, but you can pick a model with a larger tank if necessary. But if you’re interested in a continuous hot water supply, consider a tankless water heater. The electric Ecosmart ECO 27 requires minimal installation space and can supply multiple fixtures with hot water, especially in warmer climates.
What to Look for in a Water Heater
Size and Capacity
The size of a water heater refers to its physical dimensions. Whether your water heater is installed in a basement, utility closet, garage, or other area of your home, it’s important to measure the space available to ensure that you pick a model that will fit properly.
The capacity of a water heater is a measure of how many gallons of water it holds in the storage tank. It’s related to size because larger water heaters usually have increased capacity. Most water heaters are offered in various tank capacities, starting at 40 gallons and ranging up to 75 or 100 gallons. A 40-gallon water heater is typically the right choice for a household of two or three people, while a large-capacity water heater, like the A.O. Smith Signature 100 Natural Gas Water Heater is a better fit for large families that place frequent demands on a hot water heater.
When deciding what capacity water heater you need, Doyle James, President of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, says that your old water heater can be a guide. “If the previous unit provided the needed hot water output, a similar size and capacity unit should do the job.”
When deciding on the best water heater to buy, you have two options: gas or electric. Within each category, you have the choice between a conventional tank model or a space-saving tankless option.
Tank-style water heaters hold water at a set temperature. As the tank empties, a water supply line refills the tank, and the appliance heats the incoming water. In the case of a gas water heater, a burner supplies the heating power. For electric water heaters, an electric element does the job. Most modern electric waters have two elements to ensure that the water heats quickly.
A tankless water heater operates differently. Rather than keeping gallons of water hot and ready, these appliances use multiple heating elements to warm the water as it passes through the heater. The process happens on-demand when you turn on the hot water at a plumbing fixture, like a sink or shower. As a result, you sometimes have to wait a short period of time for the hot water to start flowing. Once it does, the supply is virtually unlimited since the heater will keep operating until you shut off the hot water.
Gallons per Minute and Flow Rate
If you are shopping for a tankless water heater, you should be aware of its flow rate, which is measured in gallons per minute. James explains that gallons per minute is the amount of water that passes through the system during a one-minute time period. “It is important especially in the case of tankless water heaters, as they are normally rated for a specific GPM capacity before they are no longer able to keep the temperature at the set level during operation.” Tankless water heaters with a higher GPM capacity will support more plumbing fixtures simultaneously.
Flow rate also comes into play when you turn the hot water on at a fixture, like a bathroom sink. The demand for hot water must meet a threshold to activate the tankless water heater. Some low-flow fixtures may inhibit a tankless water heater from working as effectively. As an example, the Ecosmart Eco 27 is activated when water flows at a minimum rate of 0.25 gallons per minute.
When it comes to energy use, water heaters are often compared using the Uniform Energy Factor (UEF). The higher the UEF, the more efficient the water heater. Electric water heaters typically use more energy to heat water and have lower efficiency ratings, while gas models typically have higher UEF ratings when compared to electric models. Depending on utility costs in your area, this means that a gas water heater can save you money on operating costs. A hybrid electric water heater is an exception, since the design of this water heater allows it to achieve significantly better efficiency ratings when compared to most electric water heaters. As a case-in-point, the A.O. Smith Electric Water Heater with Hybrid Heat Pump has a 3.45 UEF rating that tops the energy efficiency of any other water heater on our list.
What kind of maintenance do water heaters need?
When it comes to routine maintenance tasks for a water heater, plan to flush the tank annually. This reduces sediment buildup. Tankless water heaters also require a flush each year, which helps to reduce sediment build-up in the heater exchange tubing. James reminds homeowners to take an important step: “Before performing work on a water heater, drain the tank by turning off the power at its circuit breaker and opening an exterior faucet or drain valve. This will allow any remaining water in the tank to be drained out.”
In addition, most tank waters have an anode rod that attracts minerals and other particles from the water supply. While this helps to slow corrosion within the tank, it means that the anode rod will require occasional replacement. How frequently you need to replace the anode rod is largely dependent on incoming water quality.
Electric water heaters may also require element replacement. Because of corrosion, the heating element can become defunct. Most water heaters have screw-in elements that allow a replacement element to be installed, rather than requiring the purchase of a new water.
What is better: a tank or tankless water heater?
Most homes are equipped with a conventional tank water heater but tankless water heaters have become a popular alternative for their energy efficiency and compact design. When deciding which one is better for your home, James advises homeowners to consider any conversions that would need to take place to accommodate a tankless water heater. For example, he points out that a gas tankless water heater may need a larger gas supply line and vent pipe. Electric tankless water heaters might require a higher amperage electrical circuit. “The biggest benefit of a tankless water heater is, if properly sized to the needs of the home, a continuous supply of hot water,” James says. “Instead of running out of water when the tank of water that was preheated runs out, a tankless water heater heats the water as needed.”
What is the difference between an electric and gas water heater?
The biggest difference between an electric and gas water heater is efficiency. James says, “A gas water heater is more cost-effective and is usually the choice over electric, if gas is available. Gas water heaters typically will also recover more quickly than electric during heavy use.” When considering the best water heaters, there are high-performing models of both types, but if you have the set-up for a gas water heater, it usually holds a slight advantage over an electric water heater.
Why Trust the Spruce?
This article was researched and written by Erica Puisis, who is a professional writer that specializes in large and small home appliances, along with home improvement features and plumbing fixtures. Erica has been writing for The Spruce since 2017 and has covered everything from home saunas and infrared heaters to water softeners. To choose the best options for gas and electric water heaters, she compared the most popular models, including tank and tankless options. Each water heater was compared based on factors that affect the appliance’s performance on a day-to-day basis, such as the heating power, tank size, and energy efficiency.
In addition, we interviewed Doyle James, President of Mr. Rooter Plumbing. James spoke about the factors to consider when deciding between a gas or electric water heater or a tankless versus a tank water heater. He also provided tips on the routine maintenance homeowners should expect with a water heater.