How Water Heaters Work

hot water heater When you think of taking a shower or running your dishwasher, you think of hot water – but you probably don’t think about how that hot water becomes hot. Today, there are many types of water heaters on the market, including electric, gas, and tankless. Each has the same job, but each operates a little differently, so our water heater installation experts are here to explain how they work:


Direct water heaters can be powered by electricity or gas and look a lot like big metal cylinders. They both have two tubes at the top of the tank, and cold water enters through the first tube and travels down to the bottom of the tank.

If the water heater is electric, the heating mechanism in the tank will begin to heat the water to whatever temperature you set (usually between 120 and 180 degrees). If the water heater is gas, the heating mechanism comes in the form of a gas burner located underneath the tank and a chimney through the middle of the tank. In both water heaters, once the water is hot, it rises to the top of the tank. When you turn on a faucet or appliance to use hot water, the water will exit the tank through second tube and travel to where you need it.

Because these electric and gas water heaters are traditional tank water heaters, you’ll have anywhere between 30 and 80 gallons of hot water on reserve.


Indirect water heaters are just like direct water heaters, but instead of having a heating mechanism right in the system, these water heaters are heated with a separate boiler. These water heaters are equipped with a tube that extends from the boiler into the water tank. To heat the water in the water tank, the boiler pumps its own hot water through the tube. As the fluid travels through the tube, it transfers its heat to the water that’s in the tank, heating it up.


Unlike direct and indirect water heaters, a tankless hot water heater operates on an as-needed basis. This means that instead of heating large amounts of water and reserving them in a tank, a tankless water heater heats water when you need it. This type of water heater also has two tubes, but once cold water enters the first, it passes through a coil system instead of traveling to the bottom of a tank. This coil system instantly heats the water as it passes through and the water exits through the second tube to wherever you need it.

Which water heater you choose depends on your home size, family size, heat source (electric vs. gas), budget, and more. Our water heater installation experts can help you decide which is best for you. Give us a call today!

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