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Since earliest times, humans have heated water for bathing, cooking, washing and other uses. Before technology provided the means to automatically warm water and deliver it to homes and businesses, mankind depended on the age-old method of hauling water from a well or river and warming it in large pots over a wood or, in later times, gas or coal-fueled fire.

All that changed in 1889 when Edwin Ruud, a Norwegian immigrant in Pittsburgh, invented the first automatic storage water heater. Ruud's water heater utilized a gas burner to heat the water and a tank to store it until needed, a basic concept that still applies to many modern water heaters.

Advances in technology have transformed Ruud's simple design in ways that make heating water more convenient and more energy and time efficient than ever before. Today instantaneous (tankless) water heaters can improve efficiency by eliminating the tank of storage models and preventing the heat losses that occur when hot water is stored for long periods. Indirect water heaters and tankless coil water heaters are just two types of combo system wherein one unit–either a water heater or a space heating appliance– provides both water and space heating. Some commercial enterprises put boilers to work providing not only space heating but also service water heating and sterilization as well. Heat pump water heaters and solar water heating systems are relatively uncommon options and largely suited to very specific conditions or locales, but they can offer extremely high-efficient operation in some applications.

Water heaters can produce gallons of hot water at regulated temperatures instantaneously using innovative energy-saving technologies and a wide range of energy sources from natural gas to electricity to less conventional sources such as solar energy.