|Is a Tankless Water Heater a Worthwhile Investment?|
Is a tankless water heater a worthwhile investment? Yes and no. But there is more that goes into making the decision to replace your bulky water heater with a slim tankless model that a yes or no response.
A traditional water heater works overtime when heating up the water, especially as it is being used. Usually, two heating elements are working simultaneously to keep the water at a constant temperature. Unfortunately, the cold water entering the tank while you use the water is mixing with the hot water already inside the tank. As a result, you might find yourself turning up the heat. Not only might you turn up the heat, you will eventually run out of hot water and will be forced to wait thirty minutes or more before you get enough water to take another shower.
While not necessarily a problem in single-family households, in households with four or more people taking showers continuously while using appliances such as dishwashers, you might find yourself a little stressed at the lack of hot water.
An electric tankless water heater, or demand water heater, typically weighs about 25 pounds and can be mounted on a wall taking up about two square feet of wall space. Their versatility means that these units can fit practically anywhere. Plus, since view only heat the water when you use it, you will reap some money savings because you will no longer need to continuously heat water sitting in a tank. You will also never run out of a continuous supply of hot water.
Many newer homes have the electrical capacity to use a tankless electric water heater. Generally, any household with at least 200 A of electricity coming in at the main breaker box will be enough for a unit sized to heat water for a family of four. Homes in cooler climates or in the western parts of North Carolina may need stronger systems, with 300 W or more at the main breaker being the norm.
Of course, consumers can save even more money by lowering the hot water temperature below 120°. Water inside traditional water heaters must be maintained at 120° or higher to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause illness and death. Since there is no standing hot water in which the bacteria can breed in a tankless hot water system, the temperature can be set much lower.
It sounds too good to be true! You can free up some space, save some money and have a continuous flow of water. What's the catch?
A tankless system can be a bit pricey as an initial investment. We have seen installation costs range anywhere from $500-$1600 for a typical system, with the systems themselves ranging from $300-$1100 depending on model. Gas systems are usually slightly cheaper, but most of them require outside venting. If you do not already have an outside event, you will expect to pay more to install one unless the system is ventless. Tankless gas water heaters are also eligible for a federal tax credits for energy efficiency and save more money over their electric counterparts and even save more money over traditional gas systems. The Energy Star website estimates that a family of four can save $175 per year on water heating with a tankless gas over a standard gas system.
Why does it cost so much? Unless you are skilled at electrical and plumbing, you need someone with those skills to install the unit. In addition to piping, some of the more powerful larger family models run three or more heating elements, each of which can require 6 gauge or thicker copper wire going from the main breaker box to the unit. That's nearly 4.5 thicker than the average wire found in your home! Copper wire, especially thick copper wire, isn't cheap. The further it has to go, the more you can expect to pay. Nearly all electric tankless models draw too much current to be used with the existing water heater electrical line and breakers.
Of course, other things are needed to protect the water heater, such as a filtration system that can be installed for about $100 to filter water prior to entering the unit. Water in North Carolina traditionally has a lot of mineral content, so consumers might consider installing a water softener system to prevent scale buildup inside the unit, which can lead to premature failure of the unit. Many consumers report disappointment when their units fail due to overlooking these important steps. You can even reap double rewards by installing the water filter at the cold water inlet coming into the home in conjunction with a carbon filter. Not only are you filtering the water going to the heater, you are filtering the water for your entire house! Ten inch carbon and sediment filters can cost about $1 each and should be changed every one to three months.
As an alternative to water softening system, consumers can regularly clean the inside of the tankless unit simply by unscrewing the water connections and introducing a mineral cleaning solution, such as CLR or vinegar. These products will dissolve any mineral buildup on the heating elements, thereby extending their life. On a side note: consumers should be regularly cleaning their traditional models the same way.
While it may not be economical for you to replace your functioning unit now, consider replacing it the next time you need to replace your water heater. A tankless system can save 25 to 60% on your hot water heating bill, which can account for 25% or more of your utility bills.
In the meantime, consider installing a fiberglass insulation blanket around your existing hot water heater to help conserve energy. They cost anywhere from $10-$20 and can pay for themselves rather quickly. As it is insulation material, it may eligible for a federal tax credit.
You must weigh the pros and cons to determine if the tankless option is right for you. Do the pros, which involve saving money, having an endless supply of hot water and freeing space outweigh the cons, which are high upfront installation costs, which can draw out the return on investment, and the need for water filters?
Tankless water heaters are small and relatively light, often weighing around twenty five pounds.
Too much sediment in the water can kill any water heater and other appliances. The one micron whole house filter on the left is only one month old.
The size difference alone might be all it takes to convince you to upgrade.