50-gallon water heater

How to Know if a 50-Gallon Water Heater is Enough for Your Family


Whether you’re renovating an older home or building a brand new one, it isn’t always easy to know how you should size your water heater. You’ll need to factor in a few things to be sure which is the best choice for your family, but for many households, a 50-gallon water heater is the perfect size. So, why is sizing important?

Bigger Isn’t Always Better: Why a 50-Gallon Water Heater May Be the Best Choice


The single most important factor in determining the best size water heater for a particular home is the number of occupants. While everyone’s usage varies, here’s a rough breakdown to keep in mind:

  • 1 or 2 occupants: 30-gallon water heater
  • 2 to 4 occupants: 40-gallon water heater
  • 3 to 5 occupants: 50-gallon water heater
  • 5 or more occupants: 80-gallon water heater

At first blush, it can seem better to spring for a larger water heater than you truly need just to be on the safe side. While this is a good strategy under certain circumstances, bigger isn’t always better. Unless you plan to increase the number of people in your home over the lifetime of your new water heater, upsizing may mean spending more money up-front, higher energy costs, and minimal return on investment. This means a young family with plans to expand in the near future may find it worthwhile to spring for a 50-gallon water heater designed for 2-4 occupants over the 30-gallon tank appropriate for their current household size. 

You’ll also want to take the First Hour Rating (FHR) into consideration when choosing a water heater. This is the amount of water the tank can heat over one hour when the tank is fully heated. For example, a 50-gallon water heater typically has an FHR of 90 gallons, which means you can expect it to provide 90 gallons of heated water in an hour. Compare the FHR to your estimated hot water use during peak use times in your household. Rough estimates of water usage:

  • Washing a load of laundry – about 30 gallons
  • Running a dishwasher – about 14 gallons
  • Washing hands – about 2 gallons
  • Taking a shower – about 20 gallons

Hypothetically speaking, running the dishwasher and washing machine while one person showers and another decided to wash their hands would be about 76 gallons of hot water. With an FHR of 90, a 50-gallon water heater would exceed those demands. 

Benefits of a 50-Gallon Water Heater

Assuming your household size is appropriately matched, a 50-gallon water heater does offer some benefits over smaller models. Larger tank capacity isn’t the only upside, either. Even with the additional 10 gallons, the energy usage and cost for a 50-gallon water heater is roughly the same as a 40-gallon model. Of course, you don’t want to pay to heat water you’re not using, but with operating costs being close to equal, the additional ten gallons of tank capacity will be significant if your family grows. 

Choosing the Right Water Heater for Your Household

Undersized tanks are always working to keep up with demand, and the constant overworking can shorten the lifespan of your investment. In addition, oversized tanks cost more to buy and more to run, bringing the added sting of continually paying to heat water you aren’t using. While loose guidelines can help, they’re just that – loose guidelines. 

The best course of action by far when choosing the right water heater is to work with a knowledgeable professional for sizing, purchase, and installation. If you want to make sure you save time and money by installing the right water heater for the job the first time, Maxwell Plumbing and Heating can help.

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