For quite a while now we have been hearing about tankless water heaters. While they are becoming more established in the marketplace there is still some confusion about what you can expect from them. We’ll dive into what to look for when you are considering a tankless water heater and how they compare to tank style water heaters.
What is it that makes a tankless water heater better than tank style water heaters? There are a few factors that make them far superior. The first factor is the life expectancy. While they haven’t been around long enough to truly know how long they will last, the industry expects a well maintained unit to last approximately 25 years or more. This is obviously far superior to the expectations for today’s tanks which are generally expected to last about 10 years.
The efficiency of tankless water heaters is where they can really shine. Tankless units are so much more efficient than tank style heaters because of 2 features:
- electronic ignition
- no tank of water to keep hot in storage
The use of electronic ignition means that there is no pilot flame constantly burning. While the pilot uses a relatively small amount of gas, it adds up over time since it is burning 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Think of it like leaving your car idling everywhere, not exactly efficient.
With respect to keeping a tank of water hot, this can also account for a lot of energy. Different tanks have different insulating properties with some being better than others, but these tanks don’t stay warm on their own. Once a tank of water is heated up it is only a matter of time before it cools off enough that it will need to warmed up again, even without any water usage. Alternatively, tankless units are only heating water when there is a demand for hot water. This can potentially save loads of gas over time which is appealing to those who are looking to save money over the long run or are trying to reduce their household’s carbon footprint.
Imagine if you were gone for a month, how many times would your water heater have to reheat your water to maintain the temperature setting over than month? In the same scenario a tankless water heater wouldn’t fire even once.
There is one feature available on some tankless units that reduces their efficiency. For those who do not want to wait for the warm water to reach a certain fixture a circulation pump can be installed which is constantly circulating warm water to that fixture. While it is nice to have instant warm water the water lines are not generally insulated which means that the heater will be running regularly to keep this line warm. This option significantly reduces the efficiency of the unit, but you’ll have hot water at the fixture whenever you want it.
Hot Water Volume
This is another space where tankless water heaters really shine. As most of us are well aware tank style water heaters can run out and then take quite a while to warm up again. With a tankless water heater gone are the days of racing to get into the shower first so you don’t run out of hot water with a head full of shampoo!
While it is true that you can get hot water tanks in larger sizes which would make running out of water unlikely, these units can get quite expensive due to size and lower production volumes when compared to standard 40 gallon tanks. There is also a larger volume of water stored which needs to be kept hot when not in use.
Something to consider when selecting a tankless water heater is that they are not sized based on volume like you would with a tank, but rather based on how much flow the unit can heat to the desired temperature. For example, a smaller unit might only be able to heat 3 gallons of water per minute while a larger unit may be able to heat up to 6. For example this might mean the difference between running a shower and kitchen faucet at the same time and noticing a temperature difference or not.
This may or may not be a contributing factor for you but tankless units are generally about the size of a mid-sized suitcase which is mounted on a wall. When compared to tank style water heaters this can free up a lot of space in your utility room.
Many people don’t realize that tank style water heaters require some routine maintenance. Generally the tank style units will continue to work fine for years without any maintenance but their lifespan will often be much shorter than it could have been ultimately ending in a failure of the tank itself.
In contrast, tankless water heaters will not generally survive for years on end without the recommended maintenance. We routinely get customers who’s tankless water heater has stopped working completely, and they were never told by the installer that the unit required any maintenance at all. What generally happens over time is the heat exchanger starts plugging up with scale and hardness which reduces the capacity of the heat exchanger and also reduces the amount of water that can flow through the exchanger. Most manufacturers recommend getting the unit serviced annually which should ensure a long life of the unit.
Make no mistake, if you are hoping that the cost to install a tankless water heater will be comparable with replacing your current tank, I have some bad news… Tankless water heaters tend to be more expensive to buy and install, but for those who see the big picture they can be more economical over the long run. Between the longevity and the efficiency of the unit it is arguably something to consider. For those of us in Alberta there may be some provincial government incentives available to you which can help ease the pain. Check out the Energy Efficiency Alberta site below for more information:
For those considering going tankless or for those who already have, your water quality is very important in ensuring a long life for your investment. Generally homes in the Edmonton area on municipal water supplies have moderately hard water. If left untreated the hardness will deposit within the heat exchanger of the unit which will essentially plug it off over time. Small particles in your water can also plug up the exchanger over time as well. The perfect solution for this problem is to soften and filter your water which will essentially stop deposits from collecting on the heat exchanger allowing it to function as intended for years to come.
The nice thing about installing a water softener and filter are the other benefits that extend far beyond your tankless water heater. But that is a topic to explore another time!
If you are thinking about going tankless, talk to one of our qualified Edmonton plumbers today! Call Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton at 780-429-3600 to request an appointment!