Tankless water heaters are popular upgrades for the modern home. Touted as green and energy efficient, tankless heaters conserve energy by not constantly re-heating water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Instead, they heat water as-needed, and while there may be a short wait time before the water heats, tankless heaters provide a continuous stream of hot water.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Tankless Water Heater
If you need to replace your old water heater and are considering making the jump to a tankless unit, there are things you need to know before deciding which model to purchase. In a standard tank water heater, you have a large tank that holds and heats your water, either through a copper coil or by burning natural gas. These models will continually heat your water in order to provide you with the hot water you need at the faucet. In this set up, the energy that’s used to keep your water hot, even if you aren’t using it, is called standby heat loss. Tankless water heaters reduce this standby loss by heating your water “on demand,” making the tankless system more energy efficient than standard tank heaters.
There are two types of tankless heaters – whole-house and point-of-use – which, as you might expect, are fairly self-explanatory. Whole-house tankless systems are larger than most point-of-use heaters, and are usually powered by propane or natural gas. These systems are typically the more expensive option, as they can operate more than one faucet at a time. Point-of-use heaters, on the other hand, are significantly smaller, as they only provide hot water to one or two faucets in your home. However, these heaters are designed to fit beneath a sink, making their installation much easier.
Before you decide whether or not to go with a tankless water heater, here are some of the benefits to keep in mind:
- Tankless water heaters never run out of water. As they have come to be known as “on demand” heaters, you aren’t limited to the amount of hot water in a tank. When you turn your faucet handle, your heater powers on automatically.
- Many of today’s tankless systems are built to last up to 10 years longer than a tank water heater system.
- If you’re tight on space, tankless heaters can be installed on interior walls, under cabinets, in closets, or outdoors, provided you use it with an anti-freezing kit.
- Tankless water heaters can save you up to 20% from your current water heating bill.
- Electric systems don’t produce any greenhouse gases, and gas models are more eco-friendly than their tank counterparts, as they significantly reduce gas emissions by only powering on when you need it.
- You’ll never have to worry about flooding like you would with a tank rupturing.
With all of this in mind, there are some negatives when it comes to these tankless systems. Some of these include:
- Tankless systems are significantly more expensive than tank heaters, costing up to three times that of a heater tank.
- If your home isn’t equipped with a large enough gas line to supply your heater, you may need to install a larger line.
- In order to properly vent propane and natural gas, you will need to purchase expensive steel tubing in order to ensure your family’s safety. Electric units, on the other hand, may require the installation of an additional circuit to meet the heater’s needs.
- If you go with a gas tankless system, you will need to have it serviced at least once every 12 months, and as these units produce greenhouse gases, they are not perfect in environmental efficiency.
If you’re in the market for a new water heater and care about your impact on the environment, the tankless water heater is definitely an option worth pursuing. While the initial cost will be greater than a tank water heater system, you will save money in the long run on your utility costs to heat your water that will make up for the additional up-front costs. All you have to decide is whether an electric or a gas model is best for your home.
Installing a Tankless Water Heater
Installing a tankless water heater is not as easy as swapping units. Tankless heaters can require special considerations and adjustments.When approaching a tankless water heater upgrade, as yourself the following questions:
- Do I know the load requirements for the home or business?
- Can I easily connect the heater to a fuel or electrical source?
- Can I provide proper venting?
- If the heater is electric, can the current electrical system handle the increased energy load?
- Will it be handling hard water?
Tankless heaters typically have a low flow rate and are not “one size fits all.” Just like normal water heaters, tankless heaters come in different sizes to accommodate different needs. They are also more efficient the closer they are placed to where the hot water is routing. Large homes may need a heater on both ends of the house. A house with high water demands, such as a family of four or larger, may find that a single tankless heater cannot keep up with their needs.
The three main types of tankless water heaters are electrical, natural gas, and propane. A natural gas or propane heater will need a supply of fuel. Consider available energy sources and the cost to run a new source, such as natural gas.
Tankless heaters also need to be vented, either horizontally or vertically, through a roof or sidewall. The heater should be mounted to provide the shortest venting distance possible. Tankless heaters can be installed outside to bypass the need to vent altogether or in a garage to save space inside and shorten the vent distance. However, installing outdoors may require extra energy to keep the unit from freezing in extreme conditions.
Electric, tankless heaters can require the most work to install not because of the heater itself but because of its electrical requirements. A standard, tank water heater uses an average of 4.5 kilowatts of electricity. A tankless model, depending on its size, and use anywhere from 12 to 28 kilowatts. The home or business’s electrical system may need to be upgraded to accommodate the increased load.
The electrical demands go beyond the home. The neighborhood electricity grid may also have to be altered to fit the new load. If not, damage to electrical devices and flickering of the lights in neighboring houses is possible. Any damages will be billed to the customer.
Hard water is a bigger concern for tankless heaters than it is for conventional. Sediment can collect in the bottom of the heater, causing failures and even a meltdown of the bottom of the heater. If you need to install a tankless heater in a location that gets hard water, be sure to install a water softener as well.