Have you decided it’s time to replace your water heater? Or, are you looking to make your home more energy efficient? In either case, following is an overview on how tankless water heaters work and some helpful advice on why a tankless unit may (or may not) be the best option for your home.
Tankless Water Heaters 101 Also known as instantaneous or on-demand heaters, this type of water heater provides hot water only as needed, so no storage tank is required as with conventional units. Since the water isn’t continuously heated, it doesn’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional tank heaters. Both gas and electric units are available, though gas-fired heaters produce higher flow rates and are often preferred. Operationally, both units essentially function the same way. Once the hot-water tap is turned on, cold water flows into the unit and triggers the sensor to fire the gas burner or electric heating element. The water is then warmed to the desired temperature in the heat exchanger. Once the hot-water valve is closed, the flow sensor turns off the heat source, and the unit returns to standby mode.
Benefits of Going Tankless Those who have a pool house, guest suite, or other types of highly variable use patterns will benefit the most from a tankless unit. This allows you to have hot water when you want it, while avoiding the expense of keeping the water in the tank hot on a consistent basis. Almost anyone with a teenager will also enjoy having a tankless water heater. If you’re constantly knocking on the bathroom door to remind your teen or another family member not to use up all the hot water, this solution may be for you. Additionally, homeowners who frequently use their large whirlpool tub, which requires a considerable amount of water to fill up, could find value in installing a tankless heater as well.
Considerations Before You Buy Tankless water heaters are more expensive to buy than traditional models and can only deliver within a certain range of gallons per minute. One misconception about tankless water heaters is that the hot water is “unlimited”, which isn’t entirely true. Even the largest whole-house unit may not be able to deliver a high enough output to service the dishwasher, shower and bathtub simultaneously. Similarly, homeowners who have a master shower with multiple showerheads often find it necessary to install two heaters in order to meet the high demand. With respect to home maintenance, tankless heaters are more mechanically complicated, and may require additional attention. Minerals can build up on the heat exchanger requiring cleaning, and filters and fans could potentially become clogged. On a positive note, many of these models have a 20-year life span, which is five-to-ten years more than conventional units. Prior to purchasing, it’s important to also take into account additional installation costs. For gas units you will most likely have to change the exhaust venting – though many believe this is a great idea regardless, as this type of venting is much safer. Additionally, there is a chance you may have to install a larger gas line. For electric models, you may need to upgrade your service panel to accommodate the additional voltage.
While tankless water heaters may not currently be the best option for homes with moderate water usage, ongoing technology improvements could one day help these heaters surpass the performance of their conventional counterparts. Ask your design build contractor if a tankless water heater can help to improve your family’s life at home.