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Short Vs Tall Water Heater: A Comparative Analysis

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

Short vs Tall Water Heater

Want to compare a short vs tall water heater? Home is where the warmth is. Nothing beats crawling into a hot bath after a long day of rubbing your frozen hands together and lugging your feet around in the cold.

Having flowing hot water in your home is a necessity that can easily be overlooked, but it’s also one of those investments you should take seriously.

What’s the best water heater size for you? Will it depend on how big your family is? Does size even really matter? Let’s find out.

Table of Contents

How Does a Water Heater Work?

They may not look like much, but water heaters are ingeniously designed for convenience and longevity. It’s just a large container with a heating device on the bottom – sort of like a big self-heating kettle.

A water heater separates incoming cold water from the outgoing hot water through the hot air principle.

Once the water is hot enough, it rises out through a heat-out pipe located at the tank’s top. From there, the hot water flows through the pipes and is carried out around your home – where you can twist open a faucet and have hot water at a whim.

The most prominent part of a water heater is its tank, usually covered with insulating polyurethane foam outside. On the inside, it’s made of heavy metal with a liner that protects it from the water. A sacrificial anode rod made of magnesium or aluminum with a steel core is suspended inside the tank to help hinder corrosion.

The dip tube is where the water enters the tank. From here, the water travels to the bottom where the heat is. A separate unit outside of the tank has a shut-off valve that stops the water from flowing inside. Along with that is a pressure relief valve, which keeps the pressure in the water heater within safe limits.

A thermostat acts as a thermometer and temperature controller of the water heater’s heating mechanism. Modern heating mechanisms are electric, while some water heaters use gas propane or a burner and chimney system.

If you already have a water heater in your home, it’s likely a tank-style water heater, as these are the most common. Nowadays, there are other types of water heaters gaining popularity, such as tankless water heaters, hybrid water heaters, point-of-use water heaters, and solar-powered water heaters.

What Is a Short Water Heater?


At a modest height of 30 to 49 inches, short water heaters are indeed short. They are wide, round tanks that usually have a diameter of 20 to 26 inches. Adding to that, it has a connecting pipe that’s between 29 and 32 inches. This water tank is less than five feet tall and could very well be shorter than most adults.

Now they may be short, but they’re very versatile. With the nickname “low boy”, short water heaters are usually installed in homes that do not have the extra space for a basement. They’re designed to take up as little room as possible to fit in crawl spaces, a spot under your sink counter, inside an empty closet, or even up in your attic.

This is why you see these ‘low boys’ more often in apartments.

Some short water heaters are manufactured to store just about 10 gallons of water. While some models, especially ones utilized for whole house water heating, can store up to 30 to 50 gallons of water. If you live in a household with just 1-2 people, having a ‘low boy’ will do just fine.

Since short water heaters are so small, they’re easy to maintain and are energy-efficient. They’re significantly cheaper than their taller counterparts and are just as effective.

What Is a Tall Water Heater?

As its name says, tall water heaters are indeed tall. They are made to be around 50 to 76 inches in height and will be able to hold up to 100 gallons of water.

Ideally, they’re installed in your basement or garage – wherever they can be close to your home’s plumbing system.

Tall water heaters are aptly nicknamed “tall boys.” Because they’re so tall, they need an extra 30 to 40 inches of space for their respective plumbing fixtures to work correctly.

If you’re planning on getting a tall water heater, make sure first to measure how much space you have in your garage or basement. It’s recommended that you give some allowance above the tall boy’s highest point, as well as to keep it slightly elevated. This is to minimize the risk of leakage or malfunctions.

If you live in a busy home with more than five people running about, a tall boy is the ideal water heater. It’s estimated that around 60-80 gallons of water are needed for five or more people. A tall water heater will provide more than enough since its large tank can store up to 100 gallons.

However, you’ll need a lot of power for your tall water heater to work efficiently. Suppose an electric-powered water heater has you worrying about your monthly electricity bills. In that case, you may want to consider a gas-powered water heater, which will work even during a power outage.

Do take note that a gas water heater should be elevated at least 18 inches off the ground, according to the National Fuel Gas Code.

Should I Get a Short or Tall Water Heater?


Deciding on whether to get a short or a tall water heater depends entirely on the state of your home. Both water heaters function the same way, and their only difference lies in their size and capacity.

Get a short water heater if you live in a small space, and get a tall water heater if you live in a big busy house. While both water heaters have their limitations, their presence and constant maintenance will all be worth it when the cold seasons come.

Can a Water Heater Explode?

Because water heaters utilize pressure and high temperatures, they could explode once reaching dangerous levels. This usually happens when the pressure is so severe that the temperature and pressure relief valves can’t relieve the tank.

For an explosion to be possible, there has to be a buildup of gas within the water heater. If the valves are clogged, the entire water heater then becomes a bomb. This could lead to a devastating explosion that will cause severe damage to your home and everyone nearby.

If you suspect an irregular pressure buildup in your water heater, disconnect the electricity and gas lines immediately. Do not attempt to fix the heater yourself. Contact a professional. There have been cases of fatal accidents occurring because of people trying to fix their water heaters. When dealing with gas and high temperatures, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How Do I Maintain my Water Heater?

Now that you know what water heater you’re looking for, be mindful of how to keep it in tip-top condition.

First, see the capacity of your water heater. Tank water heaters usually only deliver 2/3 of hot water, as the remaining 1/3 is cold water that enters the tank. This means that a heated 50-gallon tank will only have about 33 gallons of hot water.

It would be best if you also got used to estimating when to refill your water heater and for how long you need to fill it. It takes about 20 minutes to refill a 50-gallon tank and another 20-60 minutes to heat it.

Let’s say you’re on the way to the shower. Sadly, someone got there first, and they had used up all the hot water. You’ll have to wait an hour for your water heater to bubble up a new batch for you. If you live in a busy house and own a tall water heater, make sure it’s always filled and heated. Otherwise, some poor unfortunate soul will end up shivering in the shower.

To keep your water heater for longer, you have to watch out for any suspicious changes. Keep an eye out for uneven pressure spurts, which could mean that it’s clogged. If you hear pops or cracks, your water heater may have some sediments building up. You can solve this by draining the heater twice a year.

You should also check the relief valve. Lift, and then snap it back. This will release water into the overflow drain pipe. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to replace the valve. When not in use, lower the thermostat, so the tank doesn’t overheat.

If your water heater is gas-powered and starts smelling like rotten eggs, this could mean a faulty aluminum rod or a gas leak. If there are puddles around your water heater, this could indicate a water leak. Never try to solve this yourself – call in a professional to help you with repairs or replacements.

Short, Tall, And Everything in Between

Being able to have hot water in your own home may be considered a luxury – but it’s one that everyone deserves. Whether you’re lounging in your bathtub or having a hot shower after a long day, water heaters are essential for your overall health.

It won’t matter if a heater is tall or short as long as it gives you that much-needed heat and warmth in the comfort of your home. Hoping you learned something from this post on short vs tall water heaters.

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