Hybrid water heaters could save the average family hundreds -- possibly even thousands -- in energy costs each year.

iStockphoto/Georgios Alexandris

­Unless you've had the unfortunate incidence of a broken water heater, you probably haven't given much thought to that large structure in the closet or basement. Until it stops working and you're stuck with cold showers, water heaters don't occupy most people's daily thoughts.

In fact, until recently, water heaters weren't even on the radar of Energy Star, a government program that certifies energy-efficient appliances. Even though water heaters generally use the most energy of any home appliance, Energy Star didn't start regulating their energy usage until 2008 [source: Green].

Now there's a movement to make water heaters more energy efficient. This can mean huge energy savings, as about 17 percent of a home's energy usage stems from its water heater [source: Green]. These savings are good not only for the environment and your future, but also your wallet. It's estimated that hybrid water heaters could save the average family hundreds -- possibly even thousands -- in energy costs each year.

­Sound like a dream? Well, on one hand, it is. There are only a few hybrid water heaters on the market, but there are several more in the pipeline for the next couple of years. And hybrid heaters are more expensive than your average water heater  - about $2,000 to $3,000 a pop for the ones on the market righ­t now. This article will help you get a jump on the latest developments in hybrid water heater technology, so when a model that meets your needs hits the stores, you'll be ready to buy.

When you hear the word "hybrid," you might imagine a tank that gets charged with a battery and then can also run off gas, like a hybrid car. Read on to discover the technology behind hybrid water heaters and find out if your imagination is correct.