Five Aspects of Tankless Hot Water Heaters

shower with flowing water and steam
You’ve discovered a pool of water under your hot water tank or worse, the entire area is flooded with gallons of water. If the tank on your hot water heater is leaking, then it may be time to replace it. Choosing a replacement may feel overwhelming when faced with all the decisions you have to make. Besides choosing what type of power to use to run your hot water heater, you’ll also need to determine the appropriate size for your household and what style best fits your needs.
If you currently utilize a traditional hot water heater, you may want to consider a tankless hot water heater. Also known as demand-type or on-demand hot water heaters, they supply a continuous amount of hot water. There are some advantages of converting to a tankless hot water heater. While the initial cost is higher, it includes professional installation. If you’re unsure about installing a tankless hot water heater, consider these 5 points before making your decision.
Electric vs. Gas
The first aspect to consider is whether you want a gas or an electric tankless hot water heater. If you’re replacing an existing hot water tank, your current power source can be the deciding factor. Switching from your current source greatly increases your installation cost, so the unit price, energy savings or other factors need to justify the added expense. If installation is for new construction or a complete remodel, then you may have more flexibility on the power source. When comparing electric versus gas, your decision should include these factors:
Price – Electric models are considerably cheaper than gas models.
Efficiency – Tankless gas models are more efficient than traditional models, but tankless electric models can be more efficient than gas models.
Operating Costs – Gas models generally cost less to operate than electric, except in areas where gas prices are extremely high.
Installation – Gas models require complex venting and combustion air supply, especially in confined spaces.
Installation – Electric models are much smaller, about one-third the size of a gas unit, and don’t require ventilation, which allows you to put them in tighter spaces, closer to the point-of-use.
Installation Cost – Electric models usually have a lower installation cost, unless you need to upgrade your electric system or electric service to have adequate power.
Maintenance – Electric models require much less maintenance and have a longer expected life span.
Water Usage Needs – Smaller models, both gas and electric, may not effectively produce enough hot water for the entire household.
Water Usage Needs – Larger models, both gas and electric, typically deliver enough hot water for most families.
Water Usage Needs – Some gas models are capable of delivering higher water demands than electric models.
Potential Savings
One of the biggest benefits of choosing a tankless hot water heater is the potential savings on your utility bills. Both types of tankless heaters can provide varying amounts of annual savings. Consumer Reports noted that based on energy costs in 2008, a gas model could save an average of $70-80 annually while the U.S. Department of Energy stated that Energy Star qualified tankless hot water heater models could typically save a family $100 or more annually. You should weigh these savings and energy efficiency against the higher initial cost.
Besides saving money, a tankless hot water heater can also save you time. Since hot water is delivered instantaneously, you eliminate the usual wait for new water to be heated in a traditional hot water tank.
Additional Costs
Installing a tankless hot water heater doesn’t only involve the price of the unit, but also installation fees and other potential costs. The final cost will greatly depend on whether any modifications or upgrades are required to your home. Electric powered units may require you to upgrade your home’s wiring to provide ample power to run the unit. Existing gas lines and ventilation ducts may not be adequate for gas powered units that require more complex systems for higher gas consumption.
Besides potential upgrades, you should also factor in any maintenance costs. To ensure your unit functions correctly, you’ll want to pay for annual servicing by a professional technician. This may include steps to prevent scale buildup and the installation of a water softener, if you have above average hard water.
Space Considerations
Your desired installation location factors into the unit size. Again, traditional hot water heaters tend to be bulky and require a large amount of space, which makes some locations difficult. Traditional models are typically freestanding while tankless models are usually wall-mounted. This requires much less space and makes them more ideal for smaller homes and apartments. Even larger homes benefit from tankless models that free up floor space in utility rooms and basements where your current unit may be housed.
Although both gas and electric tankless models are smaller than traditional units, electric models are considerably smaller than their gas counterparts. Electric tankless heaters are typically about one-third the size of a gas model, which makes them even more ideal for small spaces. This allows you to install them under sinks, in small closets, unused crawl spaces or a wide range of tight places that both a traditional or gas-powered tankless hot water heater could never fit.
Typical Life Span
Hot water heaters with storage tanks have a varied lifespan that ranges between 10 and 15 years depending on the model, water usage, water quality and other factors. Whereas tankless models, based on the same factors, can last 20 years or more when properly maintained. While electric models require very little maintenance above the prevention of scale buildup, you should have your gas model professionally inspected yearly to ensure safe operation. Electric models are simpler in design, thus often have less repair issues and a longer life span. Gas units are more complex and difficult to service in the field, however, they still typically have a much longer life span than traditional models.
Besides these important aspects of tankless hot water heaters, you’ll want to consider other issues such as any possible permits required and hot water tank disposal. Southern Plumbing also provides more information about factors that affect hot water heater replacement costs.

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