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Tankless Water Heaters Might Be Worth the Change

The way most Americans heat water isn’t particularly cost effective or energy efficient. In most homes, a 40- or 50-gallon tank is filled and continuously reheated so hot water is available on demand. However, beyond wastefulness, there are other problems. Most tanks last between eight and twelve years. After this time, they develop problems, such as sediments that can reduce capacity and rob one of energy.

But that isn’t all. Tank water heaters develop leaks on a regular basis after they reach the end of their life span. They also tend to fall over in earthquakes and are incredibly difficult to winterize. This is why tankless heaters were introduced in the 90s, and why--in the scant three decades they’ve been on the market--they’ve become increasingly popular and more efficient with each generation. However, no one wants to buy what they have not examined.

What is a Tankless Water Heater?

A tankless water heater is almost exactly what it sounds like—a system for heating water without a tank. It does get a bit more complicated than that, so read on, but this is the defining feature. Basically, it generates hot water on demand for as long as it’s needed, but there’s no tank to keep reheating. It ultimately saves between 27 and 50 percent of the fuel, in spite of the fact that it requires more energy to heat the water each time.

It’s a wall unit that is relatively compact, although those that can heat shower water for two showers simultaneously will be both larger and more expensive—running up to $2,000. It heats water to the desired point either through gas or electric power, adjusting the intensity of the flame or current based on the temperature of the water through a readout. Meanwhile, a sealed intake and outtake flow make sure that no waste gasses leak into your house. There are many safety features, including a pressure valve that automatically opens if the temperature of the water is too high and a cold valve that works to also reduce scaling within the pipes.

The Benefits of a Tankless Water Heater

The savings everyone raves about do take a while to add up. A typical family might see only about $100 of savings in the first year. When they truly start to accrue is around year six, when a tank is on its last legs and starting to malfunction. Gas is better than electric, but electric models still offer savings that are appreciable.

Then, there is the fact that there is no tank to worry about. Even when it is new, there is a risk that a traditional water heater will develop a leak, spilling gallons of water everywhere and causing property damage up to and including structural considerations. As it ages, this concern may grow. However, because a tankless unit is housed in a small compartment and considerations like gas leakage or pressure excess are taken into account, the redundancy of safety features is unparalleled.

Plus, when one is preparing to install the unit, the BTUs are calculated. This stands for British Thermal Units, and is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree. Of course, no one showers in 120 degree water, so the estimate is shaved a bit. However, this guarantees that during times of peak usage, there is enough power to heat all the water needed. One can save energy by washing clothes or dishes and showering at different times, allowing the unit to maximize energy.

How Hard Are They to Install? 

This is not a project for a DIY warrior, unless that warrior happens to be a trained plumber. This requires cutting a hole in the wall, considerations of whether ½-inch pipe from the gas meter will do or ¾-inch must be installed, whether or not a heat-resistant shaft for a non-condensing unit is needed or less expensive PVC pipe may be used, and other considerations. Plus, whether one is going electric or the more-efficient gas route, there are connections to water and gas or retooling the electric breakers that must be done by a professional.

While it must be installed by a professional, there are many benefits to making the switch. Because tankless water heaters use less power over time and cost less to maintain, they do end up saving money and natural resources.