Most water heaters perform the same job, just in a different manner. Cold water is pulled from the well or city water supply and heated by electric or gas-powered coils. In a traditional water heater, the water sits in a tank and is warmed (heated) by two or more coils where it sits, ready for consumption. In an on-demand water heater, fresh water is passed through high power coils which heat the water instantly, when needed, on its way to the fixture or appliance in demand. With this method, the water could, in theory, flow indefinitely. With a traditional water heater, capacity is limited to the size of the tank, and after that is expelled, you have to wait for a half-hour or more for the water to be re-heated.
Call them what you will; tank-less, instant, on-demand, infinite supply (just not “hot water heater,” but more on that in another blog). These water heaters are the next great thing for homeowners, but are they worth the cost when replacing that worn-out, tank-style heater? Maybe they should be limited to new construction. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a tankless water heater compared to a traditional model.
Tankless water heaters are known to last longer, sometimes twice as long as the ten-year average of a conventional model. When installed by a local professional, this means that you will only have to go through the trouble of replacing a water heater half as often. Sure this isn’t a money thing, but it is worth mentioning a little bit less stress in life, right?
Lower energy bills. Since you are only paying for the heated water that you need, when you need it, you are going to save a considerable amount on water heating costs. With a conventional system, you are keeping 40-80 gallons of water hot for hours, if not days at a time, continuously reheating the same water as it sits unused. The higher upfront costs of a tankless water heater can be offset by this advantage alone.
Precious space. Who couldn’t use a few extra square feet in the garage, crawl space, or basement? On-demand water heaters take up far less space because all they house is the control electronics and the heater grid and not that bulky insulated tank like traditional systems. Also, they do not have to be mounted close to the floor, meaning they save a few square feet overall and add a little extra room on the floor below for extra storage.
Ok, if instant water heaters are so great, why doesn’t everyone have one?
Installation costs. Retrofitting a tankless water heater can be expensive. Electric variations require separate high-amperage electric service even if they are replacing an electric water heater. Gas variations require re-routed gas lines and an expansion tank, and most require a water softener to function correctly, which adds bulk, as well as an additional cost to a new installation.
It might take a while for that tankless water heater to pay you back. On-demand water heaters cost 2-4 times as much as traditional models, and installation can easily cost as much as the heater itself. If you compare that to what the US department of energy estimates to be $100 per year or more in savings, it could take the entire service life of the water heater to make up the added expense when compared to a traditional model.
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Be sure to contact the experts at LaVergne's Plumbing and Heating with any questions.