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Dear Jim: Our old electric water heater does not leak yet, but we run out of hot water for morning showers. Would a new water heater help and does it make economic sense to get a new one before the old one leaks?
Tom F.
Dear Tom: It is often wise to replace an old (at least 10-years old) water heater with a new super-efficient model. With new designs and better tank insulation, installing a slightly larger model to satisfy all your morning hot water needs will still cut your utility bills.

Older electric water heaters cost more to operate than most people realize. For a typical family of four, replacing an old model at a 0.80 EF (energy factor) with a new one at a 0.94 EF, saves about $100 per year. During its life, this compounds to more than $1,000.

Some of the most efficient models also use a "never-leak" design with lifetime warranties. These models have a spherical top, instead of the typical flat top, to provide extra-thick insulation where the water is the hottest.

Never-leak water heaters use all plastic and composite materials so there is no steel to rust near the water. The inner tank, made of tough, stable polybutylene, is wrapped with multiple layers of wound fiberglass for strength.

This inner assembly is then encapsulated in thick rigid foam insulation. The exterior shell is made of tough polyethylene plastic that resists dents and scratches. No anode rod is needed, so it does not create a water odor problem.

Some water heaters now include setback clock thermostats that can use up to 15 percent less electricity. Others have new efficient electronic controls with four settings: normal, scald-resistant, energy-saver, and vacation/cabin. The normal setting allows for any water temperature.

If space is limited and you cannot install a larger model, some new high-quality models offer 5,500-watt (3,800 or 4,500 watts is typical) heating elements.

Especially in hard water areas, select a model with larger, hand-size sediment clean-out access holes.

Write to James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 (or instantly download -- for Update Bulletin No. 568, buyer's guide of 12 manufacturers (55 models) of super-efficient and never-leak electric water heaters. Include $3 and business-size self-addressed stamped envelope.

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