Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters

Changing an American paradigm is tough. We’ve all experienced (and likely adopted)“disruptive innovations” — inventions that create a new market and eventually revolutionize an industry. Common examples include the mass-produced automobile (so long, Ol’ Paint!), indoor plumbing, the Internet, Spotify, the Drudge Report, ebay and so on.

In the world of plumbing, disruptive inventions are fairly uncommon, and the jury is still out on whether a tankless water heater is a disrupter or a flash-in-the-pan. It is, however, an up-and-comer worth exploring. Since entering the market a few years ago, tankless technology has come a long way.

Tankless: Then and Now
In 2008, our friends at Consumer Reports reviewed tankless water heaters and rendered this blunt opinion: “They’re efficient but not necessarily economical.” At that time, the break-even timeframe was over 20 years, the cost was double that of a tank water heater, installation / maintenance was tricky, and uneven delivery of hot water were tangible problems.

Since then, tankless manufacturers have been working hard to turn a “promising” product and turning into “mainstream”. And the folks at Consumer Reports took the opportunity to give tankless water heaters another look. According to a recent issue (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/02/have-the-new-tankless-water-heaters-improved/index.htm), “Manufacturers haven’t given up on the technology, however. And their commitment might just be starting to pay off.” Their report focuses on the how manufacturers are aggressively tackling the top 4 struggles with tankless water heaters:

Easier/Less Costly Installation – When new products hit the market, it can be difficult to locate skilled installers. Manufacturers have worked aggressively to streamline the installation process. Improved designs that simplify connections to existing water pipes makes it easier to retrofit tankless heaters into existing piping and ductwork configurations. Easier installation reduces the cost of installation.

Consistent Water Temperatures – When Americans want hot water, we want it now. Improved engineering in tankless designs include recirculating pumps and “buffer tanks” that ensure water is hot from beginning to end.

Easier Maintenance – Let’s be honest – performing maintenance on any hot water heater is low on most homeowner priority lists. Tankless heater manufacturers have addressed this by “developing isolation valves that make routine maintenance and descaling the unit easier.”

Is Tankless for You?
It depends. Even as the tankless industry matures and improves, the approach might not meet your needs. For those with electric (vs. gas) water heaters, tankless requires a tremendous amount of energy to operate – think back to that “efficient does not equal economical” statement earlier. If you have an electric water heater, you may want to consult an electrician to determine whether your current circuitry is up to the demand. Also, tankless heaters work best when the incoming water is not exceptionally cold (which may be a challenge during frigid Ohio winters).

Water You Waiting For? If your water heater is getting on in years and you’d like to free up some space in your utility area, tankless may be an option worth looking into (especially if you are replacing a gas water heater). Call Ray to learn his thoughts on the tank-vs-tankless conversation. (513) 396-5300.