Tankless water heaters: Should you make the switch?

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Tankless water heaters are relatively new to the market and have some great benefits compared to traditional...

Tankless water heaters are relatively new to the market and have some great benefits compared to traditional water heaters. However, the increased price can make the switch difficult to budget. Whether making the switch is right for your home depends on several factors.

Financial ups and downs of tankless heaters

Tankless heaters, by comparison, are more efficient, but not necessarily cheaper in the long run. While tankless heater companies claim to cut water heating costs in half, the cost of the heater itself may outweigh the energy savings. Water heating accounts for about one-third of home energy costs. For the average home, the increased efficiency of a tankless heater would net less than $100 in savings.

To make up for the increased cost, you would need to save that $100 for more than 20 years, which may be longer than the life of the tankless water heater itself.

In Atlanta, where groundwater is most often warm, tankless heaters (even electric ones) may be slightly more efficient than in colder areas. However, the savings would still take nearly two decades to recoup the price increase. Most tankless heaters cost more than $1,000, compared to $300 for tank heaters. Installation costs from a licensed plumber in Atlanta can also be higher. With the need for electrical outlets, gas pipe upgrades and ventilation systems, average installation costs also can run over $1,000, compared with $300 for tank water heaters.

Non-financial negatives

There are also a few other non-economic downsides to tankless heaters. Water temperature output from tankless heaters tends to be hot and cold. Since the heater sends cold test water through the lines to see what the temperature increase should be, you might get a splash of cold while the water is switching over to a new batch of heated water. And, if you request a small amount of heated water, you may not get the ignition to switch on, resulting in lukewarm or cold water for small heated-water tasks.

Tankless units may also require more service. With scale buildup over time, a licensed plumber should be called out for annual service. Particularly in hard water areas like Atlanta, extreme calcium buildup can severely affect efficiency and may necessitate an additional expense of the installation of a water softener.

Tankless heater buying guidelines

If you're insistent on purchasing and installing a tankless heater, in spite of the cost increase (after all, energy efficiency has more benefits than simply economics), you'll want to do some research into the type of tankless heater you want for your home.

Also called demand or instantaneous water heaters, tankless units come in gas and electric varieties.

If choosing electric, you'll need to consider the voltage and amperage as well as whether your home's circuit breaker can support the unit. In order to make these decisions, you'll want to consult a licensed electrician.

If choosing gas, you'll need to consider ventilation and gas type.

After choosing your fuel type, you need to consider the demand that you'll put on the heater unit as well as the size and location of the unit.

You'll need to consider all the water needs in your home (if the unit is intended to heat the water in your entire home) and the flow rate you'll need to support it. If you're installing the unit for a smaller application, such as an outdoor kitchen or bathroom, the flow rate requirements would be different.

The next consideration is location. In the South, the water temperature of incoming ground water is warm. So, you may need a less powerful temperature increase for your water flow than someone in Minnesota. However, you'll also want to look at simultaneous demand requirements. If your family is likely to take multiple showers at once, or run the dishwasher and the laundry at the same time, you may need a stronger heater.

Now that you've considered your needs for the tankless heater, take one more look at the pros and cons of tankless versus tank units.

Some of the benefits of tankless units include the size of the unit. It's much less bulky than the traditional units. It also uses electricity or gas on demand, while your traditional water heater will pull energy all day every day to keep water heated even when you don't need it.

According to manufacturers, the hot water supply of tankless units is unlimited, while tank units are limited to what's in the tank. If you have a big family or maybe you have a swimming pool in the back yard that requires your family to take multiple showers at once, a tankless unit may help your hot water supply.

But, of course, the biggest difference is cost. For tankless units you'll pay a relatively extremely high upfront cost with low costs over time. Your tank unit will cost you far less up front, but you'll pay more on your monthly energy bill.

Still not sure? Contact your local Atlanta licensed plumber and electrician for estimates to help in your decision.

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