Do you find yourself frequently running out of hot water at home? If you’re sick of this problem, a tankless water heater is one solution. Here’s all you need to know about how tankless water heaters work and how to install them for ultimate efficiency.
Before selecting a tankless water heater for your home, consider the following:
- Size needed for your home
- Fuel type & availability
- Energy use
- Cost of operation
How Does a Tankless Water Heater Work?
Tankless water heaters, also known as on-demand water heaters, work by pushing cold water through a heating element to provide hot water instantaneously. The heat exchanger in a tankless water heater can be either a natural gas burner or an electric element heater.
Types of Tankless Water Heaters
Depending on your household and what you’d like to use your tankless water heater for, there are several types of units you can choose from, including:
- Gas – Propane or natural gas tankless water heaters can cost more to install but heat water more quickly than electric tankless water heaters.
- Electric – Electric tankless water heaters usually cost less to install than gas-powered versions. They don’t require a ventilation system, which means it’s not necessary to place them in an area with existing ventilation.
- Indoor – Some tankless water heaters are designed to be installed indoors to avoid exposure to the elements, and they require ventilation to direct airflow, which can increase installation costs. This type of tankless water heater is best for homes that experience extreme climates.
- Outdoor – Placing a tankless water heater outdoors works well in mild climates like Florida. Although outdoor water heaters are designed to withstand rain, snow, and wind, they’ll likely require more maintenance than their indoor counterparts.
- Condensing – A condensing tankless water heater extracts heat from the exhaust before moving it to the venting system. This eliminates the need for expensive ventilation. They can also use this extracted heat to warm up the water.
- Non-condensing – Heat exchangers heat water and vent the exhaust outdoors with non-condensing water heaters. Generally, non-condensing tankless water heaters are less expensive to purchase than their condensing counterparts but more expensive to install.
Comparing Tankless Water Heaters Vs. Tank
It can get confusing when considering upgrading your current tank water heater to a tankless on-demand version. Before making a final decision, here are some pros and cons of tankless water heaters.
Many older homes have tank water heaters. These models tend to be much less efficient than newer tankless models. Tank water heaters usually hold 40 to 50 gallons of water which continually draw energy to heat day in and day out.
Compared to tank water heaters, tankless models can be anywhere from 24%-34% more energy efficient in homes that use up to 41 gallons of hot water a day or less.
While tankless water heaters may cost more upfront, the price evens out over the appliance’s lifespan. Storage tank water heaters have an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years, while most tankless water heaters have a life expectancy of 20 years or more.
Cost of Operation
Tankless water heaters are designed to avoid the standby heat energy loss commonly associated with storage water heaters.
However, whether these costs are eliminated depends on if your tankless water heater is gas-fired (requiring a pilot light) or electric. If they have a pilot light, they can also waste energy.
It’s vital to look at the tankless water heater model to determine how much it will cost to operate if it has a pilot light. You’ll want to look for models with an intermittent ignition device (IID) versus a standing pilot light.
Overall, the total cost of a tankless water heater will depend on the fuel type and size. Most gas-powered tankless water heaters range from $1,000 to $1,500, and electric-powered tankless water heater units run anywhere from $500 to $1,500.
Installing your new appliance is an additional cost that can run anywhere from $2,500 to $4,500, depending on the company, their experience level, and if your new tankless water heater requires ventilation.
Rate of Hot Water Flow
Most tankless water heaters provide two to five gallons of hot water per minute. Gas tankless water heaters produce a higher flow rate than electric.
It’s important to consider if you’ll be running appliances that use hot water simultaneously or multiple times throughout the day. For example, taking a hot shower while running a hot clothes washer load can stretch some tankless water heaters to their max.
However, it’s possible to install more than one tankless water heater and dedicate them to specific appliances. But adding more water tanks is more expensive and may not be as cost-efficient over time.
How to Choose the Right Size Tankless Water Heater for Your Home
The right size tankless water heater for your home largely depends on the number of people in your home, which can help determine the amount of hot water needed regularly.
If you end up with a tankless water heater that’s too small for your home, it could mean less hot water to go around, while having one that’s too large could end up costing you more to run.
So, it’s time to do a little math! Take the number of appliances you’d like to run simultaneously and roughly how much water they require. Added together, this is the desired capacity of your new tankless water heater.
A good rule of thumb is to estimate about 60 gallons of water per person per day.
Installing a Tankless Water Heater: Is It Worth It?
Looking at all sides of the argument, here are tankless water heater pros and cons to consider.
- Access to instant hot water as needed
- Save 27% to 50% on fuel costs over tank water heaters
- No possibly catastrophic leaks
- Smart options available with wireless connectivity that sends maintenance notices to your phone.
- Lifespan of 20 years
- Can cost more upfront
- May need more than one tankless water heater depending on your household needs
- Can require more regular maintenance than tank water heaters
Another thing to consider is that tankless water heaters often require professional installation. It’s possible to install one on your own but not recommended. Always read your specific tankless water heater model documentation for further installation advice.