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posted: 8/28/2011 12:01 AM

Ask the plumber: Vacation-cabin water heaters

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  • You have several options for hot water in a vacation property that is not in use much of the time.

    You have several options for hot water in a vacation property that is not in use much of the time.
    Scripps Howard News Service

By Ed Del Grande

Q. I'm interested in purchasing a new water heater for a small vacation cabin I recently invested in. We'll use the cabin once a week in warmer weather. It has electricity and propane gas. I plan to turn the water heater on only for quick showers, and shut it off when we leave. What are my options for this application?

A. I understand the concern for not wanting to keep stored hot water operating while you're not at home. So, I'm going to give you three basic options for small water heaters that may work for you.

Whichever you choose, have it professionally installed to your local codes.

First the basic: A small 20-gallon electric water heater can handle a quick shower, and can easily be turned on and off at the breaker panel. This is a very affordable option, but it may take a little time to heat up the water.

Next step up: A 40-gallon propane water heater. This type has a quick recovery, and can easily handle your shower needs. Get a model with a "vacation" setting on the tank thermostat. This allows you to turn the tank temperature down, but leaves the pilot on. Because of flue/vent needs and gas lines, installation costs will be higher than electric.

Top shelf: You can go with a propane-fired tankless water heater. This will give you the power and efficiency of propane gas, without the issue of storing hot water. These only operate when a shower or faucet is turned on, and heat the water instantly as it goes through the unit. When you close the faucet, the unit shuts off.

Remember: This can be a high-end option, so don't get yourself into hot water by going over your budget!

• Master contractor and plumber Ed Del Grande is the author of "Ed Del Grande's House Call" and hosts TV shows on Scripps Networks and Visit or write