One of the most important decisions you'll make while shopping for a new water heater is whether to purchase a tankless or tank-style water heater. Each offers unique benefits, and although tankless heaters are gaining in popularity, tank-style water heaters are still very much in demand.
If you're unfamiliar with the pros and cons of tankless water heaters, then it's a good idea to take a look at the benefits these appliances can offer. This article will help you make an informed buying decision on which style heater best meets your household hot water needs.
What is a Tankless Water Heater?
A tank-style water heater has a tank that stores the hot water. Most whole house tankless heaters range in size from 20 to 120+ gallons, with the most common size being 50 gallons. In this system, the water heater pre-warms the water and stores it within the tank until there's a demand for hot water.
When you take a shower or wash your hands in the sink, the hot water from your water heater travels through the household plumbing to the open hot water tap. Cold water replaces the hot water used from the tank, and the cold water soon becomes hot and sits within the tank waiting for another hot water demand.
Since a tankless water heater doesn't have a tank, it has no where to store hot water. Instead, when a hot water faucet is opened within the house, cold water flows into the tankless heater and travels over a heat exchanger that heats the water in a matter of seconds. Then the hot water enters your plumbing to be delivered to the open faucet.
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Pros of Purchasing a Tankless Water Heater
Tankless water heaters have many advantages. Here are a few:
Near Endless Supply of Hot Water
A tank-style water heater can only provide you with the hot water that's already been stored within it's tank, meaning that your family is limited to how much hot water it can use at any given time.
However, tankless water heaters don't have this problem. Since they heat the water on-demand, they are capable of delivering your household an endless supply of hot water. You'll be able to take as long a shower as you want because you'll never need to worry about your hot shower turning cold. This is because your tankless water heater will keep heating water until you turn off the shower!
Longer Service Life
High quality tankless water heaters are built to last for 20+ years. Since the individual components can be replaced you'll be able to have your unit repaired whenever there's a problem. And because there isn't a tank, you won't need to worry about the tank leaking, which is the end for a tank-style heater since they can not be repaired and you'll need to purchase a whole new water heater.
With the proper care and maintenance the tankless water heater you install today will very likely still be operating when you sell your home. In fact, it'll most likely increase the value of your home.
Monthly Energy Savings
Tankless water heaters are extremely energy efficient since they're not constantly reheating the water within the tank to keep it hot and ready for use. The energy lost in this process is called standby heat loss. Since tankless water heaters only operate when there's a demand for hot water, standby heat loss isn't a problem they experience.
In fact, there are some tankless models that operate at an energy efficiency rate of 99%, which means that 99% of the energy drawn actually goes into heating the water.
Consumer Reports claims that, overall, tankless water heaters are 22% more energy efficient than tank-style models. That's money that will go back into your pocket each month. Your monthly energy savings could even be more than 22% depending on which model you purchase.
Less Space Required
Since a tankless water heater is mounted onto a wall rather than sitting on the floor, there's less space necessary. In addition to being off the ground, the average residential tank-style heater is approximately 60" tall and 24" wide, but the standard tankless is 28" tall and 20" wide and only 10" deep.
If you live in an area where an outdoor tankless water heater makes sense, you'll have even more space inside your home, plus the installation costs are significantly lower since venting won't be necessary.
Cons of Purchasing a Tankless Water Heater
Even with all the advantages of owning a tankless water heater, there are a few drawbacks. Here are a few of the cons:
Higher Initial Cost
As a general rule, you'll spend more in upfront costs when buying a tankless water heater. Electric heaters are less expensive, but gas tankless water heaters, especially a quality unit, is going to have a higher price tag than a tank-style heater.
You'll also have installation expenses, and depending upon the type of gas tankless you purchase, it could be a significant part of your initial cost. In addition, most manufacturers require professional installation in order for the warranty to be valid.
That being said, it's worth noting than many of these costs will be recuperated over the course of your tankless water heater's service life. This comes from the savings you'll see on your monthly utility bills. As the years go by, these will add up and eventually lead to overall savings on what you pay to heat water in your home.
Another thing to keep in mind is that tankless water heaters frequently last twice as long as a tank-style heater. This means that not only will you be saving on your monthly energy bills, but you also won't have to purchase a replacement water heater for years longer than would otherwise be necessary.
Proper Sizing is Critical
There's a lot more leeway when it comes to proper sizing with tank-style water heaters. A tank-style heater will be able to deliver hot water until all the hot water has been drawn from the tank. This will allow your household to use as much hot water as needed at any given time until it is all gone.
Since tankless water heater doesn't have a tank to draw from, the hot water is heated at the exact time it is needed. Although, tankless heaters come in multiple sizes, it's critical that you purchase the right size for your household or your heater simply won't be able to keep up.
Just browse a few customer reviews on tankless water heaters and you'll see plenty of comments from dissatisfied users stating that their model wasn't able to produce enough hot water. Taking the time to properly size your tankless water heater is critical to your satisfaction. You can consult with a professional plumber or work through the process yourself by reading this article.
Should You Purchase a Tankless Water Heater?
In the end, both tank-style and tankless water heaters do the same job. They both provide hot water for your home, and which is right for you really depends on what's important to you.
If energy savings is your top priority, then switching to a tankless heater is your best choice. Doing so will immediately save you money on your energy bills by reducing your home's consumption. However, if you're looking for a simple and less expensive option, then sticking with a tank-style water heater is the way to go.
Tank-style water heaters are getting more energy efficient all the time and they are easy to install, and less expensive than their tankless cousins.
If you're struggling with your decision, you may want to consult with a professional plumber. They can help determine your household hot water needs and provide you with an estimate investment for each type which will ultimately help you make the best decision.