Your fancy multi-head shower without a water heater is nothing but a sadistic torture device.

©istockphoto.com/Tammy Bryngelson

It's the dead of winter, freezing cold outside, and you seek comfort in the piping hot confines of your morning shower. With the lights dimmed, the water hits your face and rolls over your shoulders. Your muscles relax one by one as the warmness of the water finds its way down your legs to your chilly, restless feet. Lathered with soap and shampoo, you slump against the warming tile, eyes closed. You consider falling back asleep standing fully upright when it happens -- a sudden burst of ice cold water hits your chest like acid rain. You crank the cold water down to zero with no result. The water temperature has turned against you, refusing heat in a stubborn show of determination. The cruel reality hits you -- your water heater has just bought the farm.

­A visit to your local big-box home-improvement store is overwhelming, to say the least. You're faced with too many brands and too many sizes to choose from. Different fuel sources and energy ratings confuse you. And what's the deal with these heaters that don't even have a tank? How on earth can they meet your needs? Unfortunately, your big-box home-improvement employee helps you none -- you're going to have to figure this one out on your own.

Fear not, consumer -- your trusted friends at HowStuffWorks are here for you. In this article, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about purchasing a new water heater. From gas to electric, tankless to conventional, we'll lay it out for you in simple terms so you can live to shower again.