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Introduction to Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters are quickly becoming a popular alternative to traditional storage tank water heaters in many homes. Unlike tank heaters that store hot water, tankless heaters use gas or electricity to heat water on demand as it flows through the unit. This means you only heat the water you need, eliminating the energy waste of keeping a large tank hot 24/7.

Tankless heaters provide a continuous supply of hot water, perfect for larger families that need hot water for multiple uses at once. Their compact size also frees up space compared to bulky tank heaters. Going tankless can save on monthly utility bills and reduces your home’s carbon footprint.

While tankless heaters have higher upfront costs, their impressive lifespan of up to 20 years can deliver a solid return on investment over time. However, these units also have some downsides to consider, like potential inconsistent water temperatures if using a lot of hot water at once.

This guide will explore tankless water heaters in-depth, from how they work to their pros, cons, operating costs, and key factors to weigh when deciding between tank and tankless models for your home.

How Tankless Water Heaters Work

Tankless water heaters provide hot water on demand without the need for a storage tank. Instead, cold water passes through a heating unit inside the tankless heater. When you turn on a hot water tap, a flow sensor detects the water flow and activates the heating elements.

The heating elements, powered by electricity or gas, rapidly heat the water as it flows through the unit. Once the water reaches the preset output temperature, an output sensor turns off the heating elements.

This results in a continuous supply of hot water for as long as needed, without having to heat and reheat a tank of water like a conventional storage tank water heater.

Because tankless heaters don’t need to maintain a large volume of water at a set temperature, they tend to be more energy efficient. Tankless models only fire up when hot water is required, whereas storage tank heaters run constantly regardless of demand.

Going tankless can reduce energy bills, especially for smaller households with limited hot water needs.

The instantaneous heating and compact size make tankless a good option, but flow rate limitations can lead to inconsistent water temperatures if too many taps are used at once. Overall, tankless heaters offer convenience and energy savings for the right applications.

Benefits of Tankless Water Heaters

One of the main benefits of tankless water heaters is improved energy efficiency. Unlike storage tank heaters that constantly heat and reheat water, tankless models only use energy when you need hot water. This on-demand operation helps cut energy bills by up to 50% for an average household.

Tankless water heaters also last significantly longer, with lifespans of up to 20 years compared to 10-15 years for tank heaters. The lack of a storage tank eliminates corrosion issues over time. This greater longevity offsets the higher upfront cost of tankless units.

In addition, tankless heaters take up less space than bulky tank-style models. Their compact size gives you more flexibility in installation locations, while freeing up room for other uses. Wall-mounted tankless models can be particularly space saving.

The continuous flow of hot water is another benefit, eliminating the risk of running out during long showers or filling the tub. This makes tankless a good option for larger homes with high hot water demands.

Tankless water heaters have environmental advantages. Their greater efficiency means lower carbon emissions. You’ll also avoid potential tank corrosion and leaks over time.

For homeowners wanting to save energy, space, and upfront costs, tankless water heaters offer many benefits over conventional storage tank models.

Energy Efficiency

One of the most appealing features of tankless water heaters is their outstanding energy efficiency. Tankless models only heat water on demand, so they avoid the standby heat losses associated with storage tank heaters that constantly maintain a tank of hot water.

Studies show tankless heaters can be 24%-34% more energy efficient compared to conventional tank heaters for homes that use less than 41 gallons of hot water per day. This is because tankless heaters eliminate the energy waste from reheating a tank of water that cools over time.

By going tankless, most households can reduce their energy bills while also decreasing their carbon footprint. This energy efficiency makes tankless heaters a smart, eco-friendly option for many homes.

Endless Hot Water

One of the biggest perks of switching to a tankless water heater is enjoying an endless supply of continuous hot water. Tankless heaters provide hot water on demand by heating it as it flows through the unit.

This means you’ll never run out of hot water, even for long showers, filling the bath tub, running the dishwasher and washing machine simultaneously, or when multiple household members need hot water at the same time.

A tankless heater can produce an endless supply of hot water as long as you have sufficient flow rate and heating capacity. Gas tankless models generally have higher flow rates and output temperatures than electric models.

As long as your chosen tankless unit is properly sized for your home’s peak hot water demand, you’ll be able to enjoy continuous hot water whenever you need it.

Going tankless is ideal for larger families with high water usage. With a traditional tank heater, running out of hot water during showers is common when multiple people are bathing in sequence. The unlimited hot water from a tankless system eliminates this headache.

Space Savings

One of the biggest advantages of tankless water heaters is that they take up far less space than conventional tank-style models. Tankless heaters are compact and can be installed on walls, in closets, or other small spaces with limited square footage. This gives homeowners much more flexibility when it comes to optimal positioning.

While tank heaters are bulky and consume a large footprint, tankless units are about the size of a carry-on suitcase. While tank heaters are bulky and consume a large footprint, tankless units are about the size of a carry-on suitcase.

Their small size allows them to fit unobtrusively in unused spaces like under staircases or in attics.

When replacing an existing tank heater, going tankless can open up significant space in your utility area. The ability to mount tankless heaters on walls is also convenient for cramped basements or garages with limited floor area. Visually, a wall-mounted unit appears much less imposing.

For those with smaller homes, tankless water heaters are an excellent space-saving solution. You’ll gain back precious square footage while still enjoying the comfort and convenience of instant hot water whenever you need it.

Drawbacks of Tankless Water Heaters

While tankless water heaters provide many benefits, they also come with some downsides to consider before switching from a conventional storage tank model.

The main drawback is the significantly higher upfront cost. Purchasing and installing a tankless unit costs roughly 2-3 times more than a new storage tank heater. This higher initial investment means it can take several years to recoup the costs through energy savings.

Tankless heaters can also provide inconsistent water temperatures when high demands are placed on the system simultaneously. For example, multiple showers running hot may result in lukewarm water. Proper sizing of the tankless unit for your household’s peak usage can prevent this.

Installing a tankless system may require special upgrades like electric wiring, gas lines, or installing a flue. This can add on extra costs versus a simpler swap-out of an existing tank unit. Carefully evaluating your system requirements is key.

Weighing these downsides against the long-term benefits can help determine if a tankless water heater makes sense for your home.

Higher Upfront Costs

One significant drawback of tankless water heaters is their higher upfront cost compared to traditional storage tank heaters. Purchasing a tankless unit can cost 2-3 times more than a conventional system. This is due to the advanced technology and durable components needed for on-demand heating.

Installation also tends to be more expensive for tankless systems, especially if electrical or gas line upgrades are required. Any system modifications to accommodate a tankless unit will drive up the initial price tag.

While energy bill savings can offset some of these costs over time, it’s important to factor in the higher initial investment when budgeting for a switch to tankless. Careful calculations taking into account local energy rates and expected energy savings are recommended.

Inconsistent Water Temperature

One downside of tankless water heaters is that they can struggle to deliver a steady stream of hot water when high demands are placed on the system. For example, if multiple showers or taps are running hot water simultaneously, the tankless heater may not be able to keep up.

This is because each tankless unit has a maximum flow rate, measured in gallons per minute (GPM), that it can heat continuously. Exceeding this flow rate, such as when multiple sinks and showers are running, can result in a dip in output temperature.

For larger homes with peak usage times where several hot water needs occur at once, a tankless system may result in lukewarm showers or longer wait times for hot water. Carefully evaluating your household’s hot water requirements can determine if a tankless heater is adequately sized.

Adding a small buffer tank or going with a higher capacity tankless model can help alleviate inconsistent temperature issues. But for some households, the unpredictability may outweigh the energy savings of tankless.

Flow Rate Limitations

Tankless water heaters have a maximum flow rate, measured in gallons per minute (GPM), that determines the volume of hot water they can produce continuously. Understanding these flow rate limitations is crucial when selecting a tankless model to meet your household’s peak hot water demand.

Most residential tankless heaters have flow rates between 5-10 GPM. Larger families with multiple bathrooms may require a unit with 9-11 GPM flow rate to supply adequate hot water for simultaneous showers. Going too small can result in lukewarm water when exceeded.

Check the manufacturer specs to ensure the tankless unit’s max GPM meets your highest anticipated simultaneous hot water needs. Also factor in expanding family size if choosing a heater that just meets current demand. Proper sizing prevents disappointing drops in water temperature.

Higher flow rates are available but usually cost more. Balance flow rate against typical usage patterns to avoid overspending. Understanding tankless water heater flow rates ensures your new system comfortably meets your family’s hot water needs.

Gas vs Electric Tankless Models

When choosing between gas and electric tankless water heaters, gas-fired models generally offer higher flow rates - up to 11 GPM for residential units. This makes gas a better option for larger homes with high demand.

Gas tankless heaters also heat water faster than electric models. However, gas units come with venting requirements that add complexity to installation.

On the other hand, electric tankless heaters plug into existing electrical outlets or wiring, making installation simpler in most cases. But they may require electrical upgrades for optimal performance.

Operating costs vary depending on local energy rates. Gas prices are often lower, but not always. Evaluate both energy types when deciding between gas vs electric tankless.

From an environmental standpoint, gas tankless models have higher emissions. But electric models are only as clean as your local electric grid.

Carefully weigh your home’s needs, installation requirements, operating costs, and sustainability concerns when choosing gas or electric tankless water heaters.

Installing a Tankless Water Heater

Installing a tankless water heater takes careful planning and should be performed by a licenced professional to ensure optimal performance, safety, and compliance with local building codes.

There are several factors that influence tankless installation complexity. Larger gas-fired units often require upgraded gas lines to deliver sufficient fuel for on-demand heating. Electric tankless heaters may also need wiring upgrades to support optimal kilowatt load.

Proper sizing is crucial - an undersized unit will limit your hot water supply. Check the manufacturer specs for the required breaker, wire gauge, gas line diameter, and other necessities your specific model requires.

Venting and condensation drainage must also be accommodated. Make sure to position wall-mounted units appropriately to allow for venting requirements.

While swapping an existing tank heater for a new tankless model is possible, you may encounter compatibility issues or the need for moderate system upgrades. Beginning with a professional assessment helps develop the best installation plan.

Maintenance Tips for Tankless Models

Proper maintenance is key to extending the life and efficiency of your tankless water heater. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Flush and descale the system annually, especially if you have hard water. Scale buildup reduces efficiency. Use a commercial descaling solution and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Inspect the air intake and exhaust vents annually and clear any debris or blockages. Proper ventilation is important.
  • Check and replace the water filter periodically as recommended. Dirty filters lower flow rate.
  • Test the water temperature annually and adjust it if needed. Lower temperatures extend the unit’s lifespan.
  • Have a technician service the system every 2-3 years to check components like heat exchangers, sensors, and igniters.
  • Keep the area around the heater clean and free of flammable materials. This is especially important for gas models.

By performing regular maintenance, you can keep your tankless water heater running efficiently for years to come.

Are Tankless Water Heaters Right for You?

Deciding between a tankless or traditional storage tank water heater for your home comes down to weighing several key factors:

- Upfront Costs: Tankless heaters have a higher initial price, so you need to evaluate projected energy savings and lifespan to determine cost effectiveness.

- Hot Water Needs: Tankless models excel at providing endless hot water but may falter meeting high simultaneous demand. Assess your peak usage.

- Space Constraints: Tankless units save room over bulky tanks. This can be beneficial if space is limited.

- Environmental Impact: Tankless scores higher in energy efficiency but evaluate your electric grid’s generation mix.

- Maintenance: More descaling and care is needed for tankless to maximise performance.

Tankless water heaters make sense for eco-conscious homeowners with moderate hot water needs and limited space. Contact Erkine Park Plumbing to discuss your family’s needs and whether tank or tankless best fits your lifestyle and budget.

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