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Remodeling University: Water heaters – To Tankless Or Not To Tankless?

By now you are undoubtedly aware of tankless water heaters. While in use for decades in eastern Europe, Russia, Japan and elsewhere, the tankless water heaters are a fairly new addition to the US remodeling landscape.

Should you care? Do you need to get one? when is a good time to get it?

Well, we should all care about how much we are spending on the energy we consume. If we can spend less of it, all the better for our pocket book, for the environment and for our dependency on shady-regimes’ oil production.

1. Savings:
The more efficient your water heater, the less it will cost you to heat your water (all else being equal). The water heater’s efficiency though is not necessarily dependent on your unit being traditional (with a tank) or tankless. There are traditional water heaters more efficient (and hence, cheaper to operate) than some tankless water heaters.
The calculation is complicated further when initial costs are taken into account. Tankless water heaters cost quite a bit more than traditional units. Even with lesser operating costs, how many years of operation are needed before the unit is at the break-even point, ROI wise?
In addition, it is highly recommended to have a water softener if a tankless is used (unless water where you live is already ‘soft’). So if your home is not equipped with one, this is yet another expense you need to consider if you want to go the ‘tankless route’.
Overall, I don’t recommend purchasing a tankless water heater if one’s principal or sole objective is to save money.

2. Daily Use:
The picture is different when you factor in the the chief benefit of a tankless water heater – you never run out of hot water. Anyone coming from a large family will appreciate this benefit.
Regular water heaters have a given capacity, or an amount of hot water they ‘hold’. Even if this is a well sized heater, there are always the ‘out of the ordinary’ scenarios in which you can find yourself showering in cold water; you have guests, someone went to the gym and is showering for the second time, it’s a cold day and everyone took to take just a while longer in the shower and so on.
With a tankless unit, the hot water just keeps coming.

3. Other considerations:
A (gas) tankless water heater requires electric power to work, i.e. you have no hot water in a power outage.
A tanked unit on the other hand takes a lot of space and is a hazard in an earthquake.
The tankless heaters are rather complex. With more parts and greater complexity there is more that can break or go wrong.
From an environmental point of view, a standard water heater works more, so as to keep a large volume of water hot all the time. It is also suffering from heat loss through it casing and its vent.
Heat loss is a none issue for a tankless water heater.
Recirculating water (so that you do not need to wait a long time for the hot water to arrive) is more of a challenge for a tankless heater, but new product on the market are addressing this problem.
Last, a tankless water heater typically requires a more robust gas supply (bigger gas line) than the traditional heater.

So when should you visit the question of which water heater to get:
1. When you undertake a kitchen remodeling project in your home (water heaters are sometimes enclosed in the kitchen or laundry cabinets).
2. When you do any sizable remodeling project.
3. When you are increasing the size of your home.
4. When hot water demands are changing significantly in your household.
5. When your existing water heater no longer works, no longer works well, is leaking or is ‘long in the tooth’.

We have installed nothing but tankless water heaters for some years now. A tankless is a wonderful product, bringing together green remodeling sensibilities with superior users’ benefits. Now, if it only cost less as well…

Happy remodeling!

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