Tankless water heaters continue to be marketed as the next step in home water heating technology. They are touted to deliver instantaneous heating and save fuel costs. All of this one-sided back-patting begs the question, is it really time to throw away the old heater to get a new tankless system? That’s exactly what we are going to find out. We take an unbiased route to unveil the pros and cons of a typical tankless water heating system.
How Tankless Water Heaters Work?
A conventional heater stores water in a tank and it monitors and maintains the temperature of the water 24X7. The system’s internal thermostat works in tandem with the heating element to keep the stored water at a certain degree. This means a tanked system will spend energy keeping the water inside its tank warm even when no one is using it.
This is where tankless water heating systems come into play. Promising a much more efficient way of heating water, these water heaters work by passing the water through its heated internal piping. These pipes are heated by gas burners or electric elements and they and raise the temperature of the passing water.
Tankless water heaters Pros and Cons
- Unlimited heated water: Tankless water heaters heats the water passing through its internal burner system. Therefore, as long as the water is flowing you will get warm water.
- Much more energy efficient: Without the constant need to heat stored water, tankless systems are much more efficient. It turns on when you need warm water and shuts off immediately after usage.
- Less space used: Without the bulk of the storage tank, tankless water heaters take up much less space. These units can even be fitted outside your home.
- Longer Lasting: When it comes to durability, a tankless water heater would typically outlast a tank-type heater by a great margin. Most tank water heaters come with a warranty of 7 years, which is dwarfed by the standard 15-year warranty period of most tankless water heaters.
- Prone to Calcification: The internal piping of a tankless water heater is prone to accumulate calcium deposits. This is especially true for people living in areas that get supplied with hard water. To counter this effect, customers are forced to install a small water treatment unit to soften the water flowing into the heater. As a part of regular maintenance, customers would also need to pump in a special solution that would flush out the built-up calcium deposits.
- High Installation Cost: Everything from changing the gas lines to installing a water treatment system, installing a tankless water heater comes at a high cost. Installing a tank-type system can cost you around $600 whereas a tankless water heater installation bill can be as much as $2500.
- Needs Electricity to Operate: All tankless water heaters need electricity to operate its internal circuitry. This means if the power is off, no warm water.
- It’s Not Instantaneous: If you imagined getting warm water every time you turn on the tap, then you need to set your expectations straight. Before the warm water can start flowing, you would have to wait for the cold water already in the pipe to drain out. Depending on the distance between the heater and the faucet this can be a good 15 to 20 seconds.
Reasons for switching from conventional water heaters to Tankless Heaters
- High Water Usage: Energy bills are predicted to go up in the future. If you have a big family and spend a lot of money on heating water, then the tankless system makes sense for you. This only applies to families which spend a lot of money on fuel or electricity to heat water. An individual who needs one shower a day will not be able offset the cost of installation of a tankless system by merely saving on energy bills.
- No Risk of Flooding: With no storage tank there is little chance of uncontrollable leakages flooding your property.
- Saving Space: If your current tank water heater is taking up too much space in your garage or basement, then a tankless unit can be a great solution. You can even install an anti-freeze kit to fit the unit outside your home.
Reasons Not to Switch From Tank to Tankless
- The Upfront Cost: The steep installation cost can be a deal breaker if you are already getting hot water out of the tap and your current heating system is working flawlessly.
- You Might Need to Change the Gas Lines: There is a good chance that you would need to change your existing gas lines with more expensive stainless steel lines. This not only increases the overall cost, but also prolongs the installation time.
- Living in an Area that has Frequent Power Cutoffs: All tankless systems need electricity to operate. This means if you live in an area that witnesses a lot of power outages, the tankless
heating system might not be a good fit. If you happen to be a survivalist looking to see through a zombie apocalypse then an electricity-dependent system is not what you want.
- The Unreliability of Tankless Heater Companies: There have been instances where tankless heater companies have sold their products in bulk and then suddenly vanished into thin air. This means, even if a company gives you a 15-year warranty, there is no guarantee that the company itself long enough to provide the service.
A Bit of Maths
Even if a tankless system saves you $100 per year, it’s sometimes hard to justify the steep price and installation cost of these units. It’s simple math. Say you buy and install a tankless system for $2000. Consider, that it’s going to run smoothly for next 15 years before the entire system needs to be replaced. Now, compare it with a conventional heater, which can cost you around $1000 with installation charges. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say the conventional tank-type system will last 7 years 6 months before it needs replacement. Therefore, in a period of 15 years, you would need to buy two conventional systems compared to the one tankless system that lasts you that entire time span. So, in 15 years you would need to spend $2000 to buy two tank water heaters or $2000 buying a single tankless system. Till now, the conventional water heater seems equally cheaper in the 15 year period. But, what about the energy savings of $100? If you factor the savings of $100 per year, it works up to a total savings of $1500 in 15 years. You see where we are getting at? That’s right, considering these parameters you end up spending far less for a tankless system. Therefore, one may say the hype of saving money is true (given all of the above).