This project involves abandoning a chimney and replacing a Natural Gas HWH. They were going to go solar (with condensing direct vent back up), but after realizing how efficient the new generation HWH are, the savings of going solar are quite small, the payback after incentives is still longer than the service life of the components. 
Our decision is to just get the most efficient, durable natural gas HWH out there and forgo the added expense of solar thermal.

Currently there exists a conventional 50g, 40k BTU with an 89 FHR. The family of six has been well served by the capacity of this HWH. They currently have no space-heating requirements of the HWH.

I'm having a hard time finding a 95% or better efficient HWH in this size and capacity. The best units (listed below) seem to be much larger and often designed for space heating as well. They are not adverse to spending $2-$4k as long as there is real value.

They will probably be adding a 200 sq. ft. room addition in the next couple years. It's long side will face due south and passive solar heating opportunities abound. Maybe one of these larger WH with side mounted taps would be wise to provide for a radiant slab in the future addition? Is it wise to put radiant in a solar thermal mass? I have seen it done before locally, but never experienced it.
I have narrowed it down to: 
Bradford-Whites Residential Ultra High Efficiency Energy Saver (http://www.bradfordwhite.com/products2.asp?id=1&product_id=345).
Does anyone have experience with these units, recommendations of others, or a different strategy to offer?
Many Thanks!

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RP,

I purchased a Polaris 95% WH 5+ years ago and am still waiting to connect it to my upcoming radiant /forced air hydronic/towel heater project.

My choice was savaged by a Berkeley contractor who suggested a similar condensing unit from AO Smith.

I only want an American unit (to create jobs in the industrial sector) so I am not interested in what I'm sure are top quality Euro units.

My other plumber told me about some AO Smith shoddy workmanship regarding a lack of welds (just one spot weld on the burner!) and no replacement parts on the entire west coast.

I'm still in a quandry about which units to use... but the Polaris 50 gallon unit is working great for me so far. Mfg in Tenn.

I look forward to seeing what our cohorts recommend.

GM

Another plumber, giving me a proposal for a 10,000 sf house with 25 family members had great things to say about "triangle tube" water heaters. These are used in radiater heating but can also do DHW and connect easily to their own solar preheaters.

 However, when making the proposal for another job He wants to install Lochinvar "98% efficient" water heaters.

I am curious what others think about these brands and which they deem the highest qualitiy. I'm looking for long-term efficient function w/o problems and US manufacture.

GM


Thanks for the input. I have narrowed it down to choosing between the Polaris and the Phoenix. Both are made in the USA and have stainless tanks, but the Phoenix is edging ahead due to reliability and refined technology as described by a few expert plumbers I know.

One question. With a very high FHR (2-3x the existing conventional), it would seem to me that one could do with a smaller tank size. Are there any online sizing tools that would account for this?

 

George- I am not familiar with the types or brands you mentioned.


Well, once again this has been a very valuable exercise. Between here and another forum, I have narrowed it down.

Only Polaris has .5" gas piping options. Otherwise, I would have chosen the Phoenix for the previously mentioned advantages plus the 316L stainless tank as apposed to the 444 Stainless- a minor difference, but noteworthy.

Thanks!

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