Property owners in the Greater Seattle Area, as well as around the country, sometimes face an important decision: selecting a new water heater. Should you purchase a conventional water heater with a large tank, or a newer “tankless” brand? This brief article will discuss some of the pros and cons associated with the installation of this technology.
The Development of Tankless Water Heaters
Today, it startles most people to realize the concept of hot water on demand remains comparatively modern. An Englishman named Benjamin Waddy Maughan reportedly patented the first rudimentary water heater in 1868.
Known as the “Geyser,” this Victorian Era device heated water immediately before it entered a bathtub.(1) The invention served as one inspiration for the modern tankless water heater.
During the Twentieth Century, the concept of using a big tank to supply a steady stream of warm water directly to a residential plumbing system gained popularity. The public welcomed this innovation. Obtaining a dependable flow of warm water by simply turning on a faucet became a popular residential amenity during the 1890s and early 1900s.(2)
For decades, most homes in the United States relied upon large tanks to heat water for use in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.
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Electric Tankless Hot Water Heaters
Although experimentation with tankless water heating systems occurred during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, this innovation did not become commercially available for several decades. During the late 1920s, a German firm named Stiebel Eltron began manufacturing small electric tankless water heating systems.
However, the technology did not really become competitive commercially for widespread residential use in the United States until the 1970s.(2) Today, consumers frequently opt to install tankless water heaters instead of conventional units with large tanks. Tankless designs operate using either gas or electricity. They fall into two categories.
Most frequently, an individual tankless system heats water immediately before use (at the tap level). A few companies also market “whole house” tankless systems designed to accommodate multiple faucets in a single residence.(3)
Some Important Tankless Water Heater Advantages
Tankless hot water heaters have gained popularity recently as a result of some important advantages. First, these units typically operate with greater energy efficiency because they heat water immediately before use. A homeowner does not spend money to heat 40 or 50 unused gallons of hot water at one time.
Second, tankless models tend to enjoy a considerably longer anticipated lifespan than units relying upon large tanks. The cost of this technology pro rated over the entire lifespan of the equipment usually proves less expensive. Additionally, gas-powered units often allow property owners to obtain federal or state tax rebates based upon the use of energy-efficient products.(4)
Third, tankless water heaters installed at the tap level frequently attach directly to a wall underneath a sink. The compactness of many modern tankless water heaters helps make them an ideal choice for use in some motels, hotels, and rental apartments. This technology does not monopolize valuable floor space.
Fourth, the absence of a water tank offers another important practical benefit. Although infrequent, leaks sometimes do occur in home water heating tanks. When they install tankless water heating systems, property owners don’t need to worry about ruptures in the tank soaking floors or causing water to spill onto nearby furnishings.(3)
Fifth, tankless systems permit the precise temperature regulation of hot water. This capability reduces safety problems associated with sudden spikes in hot water temperature. Many experts consider the new tankless units less apt to cause accidental hot water burns than conventional units.(5)
The Cons of Tankless Water Heaters
Of course, like every item of equipment, a tankless hot water heater also holds some drawbacks. These units don’t suit every residential property. Equipment with large tanks sometimes remains the best choice for several reasons:
First, the initial cost of acquiring a tankless system sometimes poses a practical barrier to the use of this technology. These innovative systems tend to cost between two and four times as much as conventional water heating equipment. Some buyers consider the initial outlay of funds prohibitively expensive.(5)
Second, property owners frequently must spend money on infrastructure improvements in order to use energy-efficient gas or electric tankless hot water heaters.
For example, it may become necessary to upgrade a home’s electrical system or expand the size of the residential natural gas line. These costs sometimes make the adoption of a tankless system quite expensive.(3)
Third, some rooms in residential properties simply cannot accommodate gas-powered tankless hot water heating equipment. These units require venting to an outside wall. This safety consideration makes this technology impractical for some homeowners.(4)
Fourth, tankless hot water heaters generate brief transient temperature fluctuations which sometimes create discomfort for people desiring immediate access to hot water.
This technology heats water shortly before it leaves the tap. However, bathers must wait a few seconds for the faucet to expel unheated cold water already in the line before they experience a reliable stream of hot water on demand. This problem proves most acute during the use of whole-house tankless heating units serving multiple faucets.(5)
So while a tankless system eliminates safety concerns associated with the use of overly hot water, it sometimes contributes to complaints from users that they must wait for water to warm up.
Fifth, the complexity of tankless hot water heaters means most customers must obtain experienced installation services. Since the use of this equipment often necessitates an infrastructure upgrade, it generally makes sense to depend upon an experienced, licensed HVAC or plumbing professional for assistance. The technology does not lend itself to DIY installation.(4)
Selecting A New Hot Water Heater
Both conventional and tankless hot water heaters supply pros and cons. Consider speaking with an experienced plumber or HVAC contractor about your situation before selecting the best equipment for your home. Not every tankless system suits every property. On the other hand, this technology sometimes produces significant long term savings!
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About the Author
Jessica Kane writes for PlumbersStock, the top choice of do-it-yourselfers and professional plumbers alike for all of their plumbing supply needs.