A.O. Smith Vs. Bradford White: Which Water Heater Is Better?
As a working plumber, myself and many of my colleagues recommend Bradford White’s water heaters over A.O. Smith’s. Bradford White offers better quality control, high energy efficiency, and typically honors its warranties.
Apparently, many homeowners would agree. Better Business Bureau (BBB) closed only nine complaints about Bradford White in the last 12 months. In contrast, BBB closed 62 complaints on A.O. Smith in the past year – 112 in the last three.
That being said, it’s important to provide a fair assessment of both. In this article, we’ll review each brand’s offerings, pricing, energy consumption, and serviceability. These three factors will help you determine which brand to put in your home.
What Types of Water Heaters Does Bradford White Offer?
For residential applications, Bradford White offers four types of water heaters:
- AeroTherm® Series Heat Pump (RE): Also known as a “hybrid-electric” water heater, this option uses a heat pump to help the electric elements produce hot water. The heat pump is mounted to the top of the tank, drawing in air to heat up the refrigerant in the coil. The coil is wrapped around the tank. It’s a cool technology, and one for which many states provide installation rebates. It comes in 80-, 65-, and 50-gallon capacities.
- Upright: The Upright is a standard electric water heater. Available in 30-, 40-, and 50-gallon capacities, plumbers can install them in homes providing 120V, 208V, 240V, 277V, and 480V connections.
- Gas-Fired Models: For the sake of simplicity, we’ve grouped Bradford White’s gas-fired, tank-type water heaters under one category. They deliver standard atmospheric and power-vented models, as well as specialized products that deliver higher efficiencies. For example, the High Efficiency eF Series® uses a flue collector which distributes the combustion gases through a secondary heat exchanger. This enables heat to transfer from the flue gases to the water in the tank, optimizing the unit’s efficiency.
- Infiniti K Series Tankless (Condensing) Gas Water Heater: This is one of the wall-hung water heaters taking the industry by storm. It uses a primary copper and secondary stainless steel heat exchanger, and runs every time you use hot water. It uses a larger flame to heat the water more quickly, storing nothing, but providing virtually unlimited hot water.
This just scratches the surface of what Bradford White offers. One feature common in its tank-type water heaters is its Vitraglas® lining. It’s an “exclusively engineered enamel formula” designed to protect the tank from corrosive elements within the water.
Bradford White’s Warranties
Bradford White’s warranties come with either 6-year or 10-year factory warranties. As with any warranty program, what can be replaced at cost to the manufacturer depends on what fails: the tank or the part.
The company structures its parts and tank warranties based on the model you purchase. Bradford White organizes it into three categories: A Models, B Models, and C Models, all of which are listed on its BUILTBEST™ page.
What Types of Water Heaters Does A.O. Smith Offer?
A look on A.O. Smith’s website shows the same variety of water heaters as what Bradford White offers. You’ll find similar hybrid-electric, gas-fired, tankless, and standard electric tank-type water heaters.
- Voltex® Hybrid Electric Heat Pump: Available in 50-, 66- and 80-gallon options, the Voltex Hybrid Electric comes with a 10-year warranty, and claims to “reduce water heating cost by up to 73%.” It works the same as any heat pump: it uses the air in your basement to heat the refrigerant, and then pass that refrigerant through a coil in the tank.
- ProLine Electric Water Heater: Offered in a range of 19 to 55 gallons, the ProLine series has both 6-year and 10-year limited warranties on its products. The ProLine does contain offerings specifically for mobile homes, which gives it an edge over Bradford White with regard to variety.
- Gas-Fired Models: Sold under the Vertex™, Polaris®, and ProLine® XE Power Vent brands, A.O. Smith offers standard atmospheric-vented, power-vented, and direct-vented water heaters.
- Tankless Models: These systems typically operate in the 199,000-BTU range to deliver the “unlimited hot water” tankless models aim to produce. Like Bradford White’s option, A.O. Smith’s tankless water heater uses a series of sensors to initiate the combustion process when you use hot water.
A.O. Smith’s Warranties
As noted earlier, A.O. Smith offers a range of 6- to 10-year warranties on its tank-type models. Its tankless offerings, however, have 15-year warranties on the copper heat exchangers.
Keep that in mind: if the heat exchanger fails within 15 years of installation, they’ll replace it free of charge. However, if any other components break – the gas valve, flame sensors, etc. – the cost of the parts won’t be covered in the warranty agreement.
Pricing: A.O. Smith Vs Bradford White
An important note on pricing: how much you pay depends on the installer’s overhead costs and hourly rate, where you live, local codes, and other factors. We can compare apples-to-apples, but the prices reflected in this article will likely differ from what you actually pay.
To provide an even assessment, we’ll use supplyhouse.com’s prices on A.O. Smith’s and Bradford White’s hybrid-electric, electric, gas-fired (atmospheric vented), and tankless products. For tank-type water heaters, we’ll review 50-gallon models.
The only one-to-one comparison we have is the gas-fired model: Bradford White’s tank is over $400 dollar cheaper than A.O. Smith’s.
Now, you have to ask yourself “what is it am I paying for?” If something is listed cheaper, does that mean you’re compromising on materials? Let’s look inside each brand’s offerings.
Quality Control: A.O. Smith vs. Bradford White
This is where a matter of opinion comes into play. However, a survey conducted in 2012 named Bradford White as the most popular brand among contractors. Participants cited “product quality” as the most important factor contractors consider when purchasing a specific brand.
As a plumber, I can attest to this: Bradford White typically produces better standard tank-type water heaters than A.O. Smith. I can’t speak about their tankless models, as I’ve never installed them. (With regard to tankless units, I’d recommend Rinnai, Bosch, or Navien).
For example, the water tappings on the A.O. Smiths can come crooked out of the box. A part of being a good plumber is installing plumb, straight, and level work. All too often, I feel I can’t do that with A.O. Smith.
That isn’t to say Bradford White is without its problems, but I find greater consistency in their overall quality. Even its commitment to producing a better tank lining through Vitraglas® is encouraging.
This all translates to how serviceable each brand really is. If I need to fight something out of the box to make it look good (to avoid damaging the water heater, I never do anyway), then I know it’s going to be difficult to service when the time comes.
Energy Consumption: A.O. Smith vs. Bradford White
Browse either brand’s website, and you’ll see a range of ENERGY STAR and LEED certified products. That’s common among most manufacturers. To assess each brand, we’ll use the Uniform Energy Factor (UEF), which measures a water heater’s efficiency when operating under certain conditions over a 24-hour period.
The Department of Energy outlined a simulated use test for determining a water heater’s overall UEF rating. The higher the UEF, the less energy needed to heat the water. Let’s take a look at the UEF ratings on Bradford White’s and A.O. Smith’s standard tank-type water heaters:
|A.O. Smith UEF Rating
|Bradford White UEF Rating
One area Bradford White seems to have the edge is in its gas-fired, power-vented water heaters. Its UEF rating is a full .15 points higher than A.O. Smith’s. There’s a modest .6 advantage in the atmospheric category. A.O. Smith does have a slightly higher UEF rating for its hybrid-electric models, though.
If you do have natural gas or propane running through your home, gas-fired units may be the more convenient option. Better yet, if you have a boiler running a hydronic heating system, better to put in an indirect-heated water heater. HTP sells these, and they have a lifetime warranty.
Always Trust Your Plumber
Again, much of this comes down to a matter of opinion. Other plumbers may have had better luck with A.O. Smith than I have, so ask around. If you have a go-to service plumber, pick their brains. They may not recommend either brand!
Should I Choose A Rheem Over An A.O. Smith?
Rheem’s products are everywhere. Go to your local Home Depot and you’ll probably see one on display. Locally, I don’t see many plumbing supply houses stocking them, but that could be due to procurement agreements.Rheems generally get good reviews online, with cost being one of the few pain points. Consult your plumber about them. They’ll give you an honest opinion. If they like Rheem’s products, they may be able to find one at a lower price through a supply house (assuming the latter stocks them).
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