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Tankless Water Heaters – Are They Right for You?

Tankless water heaters cut energy bills but aren’t the right choice for everyone. Here’s how to figure out if tankless water heaters make sense for you.

If you’re a hot water multitasker who washes clothes, dishes, and yourself at the same time, a low-capacity tankless water heater could serve you a “cold water sandwich” or leave you high and dry. But tankless water heaters, which heat water only on demand, are more energy-efficient than traditional water heaters, which warm water whether you need it or not. What’s the best way for you to get into hot water? Read on.

Traditional vs. Tankless Water Heaters

Traditional vs. Tankless Water HeatersTraditional hot water heaters typically live in your basement or garage and provide gallons of hot water at one time: an 80-gallon tank heats enough water to shower, run a dishwasher, and do a load of laundry simultaneously. But standby energy loss is significant with hot water heaters, and once you’ve exhausted the hot water supply, you’ll wait 20 to 60 minutes for the heater to cook up more hot water.

Tankless water heaters produce hot water only when you need it. When you turn on the faucet, water is heated on the spot as it flows through capillary-like pipes heated by either a powerful gas burner or electric coils. (There are no oil-fired on-demand water heaters on the market.)

Gush to a Trickle

Although tankless water heaters can pump hot water all day, they can’t produce a large amount all at once. And it can snap you out of a hot shower bliss with the “cold water sandwich effect,” a sudden splash of cold water that results from turning the hot water faucet on and off repeatedly.

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A traditional tank heater puts out 7.5 to 9.5 gallons of water per minute (GPM), enough to shower, run the dishwasher, and do a load of laundry all at the same time. Typical tankless water heaters, however, put out only 2.5 to 5 GPM, enough to handle only two uses at a time.

Be Warned: Not all flow rates are calculated the same. Energy Star measures GPM based on a 77-degree increase in water temperature for the incoming supply, while some companies list their GPM flows at 35- and 45-degree rises. The more heat the water requires to reach the desired temperature, the slower the flow rate.

High Upfront Costs

Gas-fired tankless water heaters cost around $1,500 to buy and install, nearly double the price of a conventional gas water heater, and $575 more than a high-efficiency tank model. In addition, while a conventional water heater typically uses a half-inch gas line, tankless water heaters require three-quarter-inch pipe. That plumbing change costs from $25 to $40 a foot, potentially adding many hundreds to initial costs.

Electric tankless water heaters cost as little as $400 installed. They are better suited for point-of-use applications, such as instant kitchen hot water, rather than a whole-house system.

Installing Multiple Units

One solution to the limited output problem is to install multiple on-demand units. Because it’s small — about the size of a carry-on suitcase — you can place tankless water heaters along any stretch of pipe—in the attic, basement, closet, or crawlspace. You can install two or three units to serve different parts of the house, or even dedicate a unit for a particular use, say a washing machine.

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Multiple on-demand units increase overall energy efficiency,. By bringing hot water close to where it’s needed, you reduce energy loss and increase efficiency by 50% over a conventional hot water tank system, about $165 in annual savings for an average household.

Energy and Money Savings

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, tankless water heaters are more efficient and uses less energy than a conventional water heater, providing a $25 to $107 in annual savings.

If your hot water use is low (less than 41 gallons per day), a tankless water heater will be 24% to 34% more efficient.

If your hot water usage is high (about 86 gallons per day), tankless water heaters are 8% to 14% more energy efficient.

Installing an on-demand unit at each hot water faucet gives an energy savings of 27% to 50%.

If you’re still not sure whether tankless water heaters are right for you, give us a call, (843) 497-9867. We’ll be happy to go over your home’s energy usage and determine if tankless water heaters are right for your home. Or visit our website, and be sure to grab our 20% off coupon on your next service call. and pick up our free e-book while you’re there, ““How To Make Your Home Energy and Cost Efficient”

Next week, we’ll go over the process you need to follow to prevent sediment from building up and shortening the life of your hot water heater.

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