Tankless Vs. The Same Old Thing

We are nearing the grand finale of The Plumbers Without Cracks series “This Old Water Heater.” In this installment, G&C Plumbing experts, Brandon and Greg Sheck, get down and dirty about when it’s worth investing in a tankless, on demand, water heater and when it’s best to replace your dying or busted traditional storage heater with a newer model. Yes, tankless is the rage, but it’s not always worth it.

The facts

There are two major types of water heaters: traditional storage tanks that hold 20 to 80 gallons of water and tankless heaters that heat water, on demand, as it passes through the unit. Both can be used with gas, propane, electricity and even solar power with an electric or gas backup.

“Listen, tankless water heaters are great, but they also cost three times as much as a traditional water heater and the piping is different, so they take more time to install,” said Greg. On average, a traditional water heater costs a few hundred bucks, whereas a tankless system can be a few thousand.

But what about all the energy savings? That will makeup the difference of the price and installation in no time, right?

“Depends,” says Greg.

“On average, you will save 20 to 30% on your fuel bill, but ONLY on what you use to heat water, not your heat, that is the mistake some people make.” The Sheck boys suggest basing your fuel bill on what it is in the summer to get a good estimate on what you would actually save with a tankless system.

“If you’re a single guy, with one bathroom, taking one shower a day, spending $30 bucks a month to heat your water, it’s going to take you about 20 years of ‘fuel savings’ to recap the expense and installation of a tankless system,” said Brandon. “On the flip side, if you have four bathrooms with four kids and you want to make sure you never get stuck in a cold shower, tankless is the way to go.”

If we follow the storyline of this water heater series, most people don’t get a chance to do that much research when their rusted-out water heater dumps 60 gallons of water in their finished basement. So, it’s good to know your options ahead of time and have an idea of how much options will cost in the short and long term. Gas storage water heaters last about 10 years, electric about 15 years, so if you’re in that age range and haven’t experienced the water dumping yet, you should investigate your options now.

Keep with the old

The Sheck boys suggest that the most economical option is to replace your busted water heater with an updated model of the kind you have and keep the same fuel source. Traditional storage water heaters have new technologies that make them significantly more energy efficient, they are not as up to snuff as a tankless system, but they are working on it.

Heat-pump technology in electric storage heaters now draw heat from the surrounding air to increase efficiency, and newer gas storage water heaters use condensing technology to keep warm air from escaping. So, a new model of your traditional storage tank would be a serious upgrade from the dead thing laying on your basement floor that you bought 15 years ago.

“If your busted water heater was meeting your water needs before its demise, your best bet is to replace it with the same thing,” says Brandon.

Get with the times

“If you’re sick of taking cold showers just because you like to catch a few extra z’s in the morning and end up last in line for the bathroom, a tankless system is what you need.”

According to the Department of Energy: “For homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, demand water heaters can be 24%–34% more energy efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters. They can be 8%–14% more energy efficient for homes that use a lot of hot water — around 86 gallons per day. You can achieve even greater energy savings of 27%–50% if you install a demand water heater at each hot water outlet. ENERGY STAR® estimates that a typical family can save $100 or more per year with an ENERGY STAR qualified tankless water heater.”

So, if cool factor, limitless hot water, and efficiency is what you’re after, there is no doubt that tankless is the way to go.

Extra costs to consider