What is the Downside to a Tankless Water Heater? What About Positives?

tankless water heater

Tankless water heaters are a hot new option for creating an energy-efficient home. Unlike traditional water heaters that continuously heat and reheat water as they store them in their tanks, keeping them always hot, tankless water heaters instead focus on warming just the water that’s being used. Sounds great right? It is if that’s all you’re after. But when it comes to installing a water heater system, it’s important to understand all facets of it. This time on the Economy Plumbing Services blog, we’re asking what is the downside to a tankless water heater, what are the benefits?

Tankless Water Heaters

As we started to discuss, tankless water heaters heat just the water that’s being used, rather than keeping an entire 55gallon tank warm and at the ready. It does this by using electric coils or high-powered gas burners to superheat the water instantly as it’s needed. At that moment the unit sure uses more power but because it’s only doing it once that used power isn’t lost while the water sits and cools waiting for reheating, meaning the tankless water heater will use less energy overall, making it more energy-efficient…in the right situation. Some units might in fact use more energy, it depends. So with that laid out let’s dive into the pros and cons of these systems.

The Upsides of Tankless Water Heaters

Instant Hot Water

On the most basic level, tankless water heaters deliver what you want – instant hot water. After the initial cold water is flushed of course, all without a storage tank filling up your basement, closet, or laundry room.

Longer Lifespan

A huge benefit to going with a tankless unit is that it’ll still be there for you years down the road! While a standard water heater can last a decade or more, a tankless one can live double that! Just stay on top of your regular maintenance and this investment will be paying off for a long time to come.

Lower Month-to-Month Costs and No Standby Loss

While these systems are expensive to install initially (more on that later) they are also leagues more energy efficient. Some consumer reports put them at being 22% more efficient than standard units. This means every month your bill will be lower and you’ll save potentially hundreds of dollars a year. The key way that tankless water heaters keep usage low is by eliminating standby loss. Traditional units reheat water repeatedly, using energy (and raising your bill) every time it does so. More often than not that water isn’t being warmed because it’s new and needs to be, but because the tank has sat for a bit and cooled down. Tankless systems don’t have to reheat anything.

Save Space

Tankless water heaters are much smaller than their traditional cousins and can be installed in inconspicuous places. If your home is smaller, that saved space will be huge!

Speaking of Smaller Homes…

In addition to the space-saving wonder, tankless water heaters are great if you don’t have a huge demand for hot water. If your household is made up of just two or even three people, these more efficient units will put out enough hot water without the need for a tank (and the standby loss that comes with it). 

Never Run Out of Hot Water

Perhaps the biggest pro of them all, you’ll never run out of hot water! Some people experience a loss of hot water, say after two or three really long showers in a row. This is because the tank is drained empty and needs time to refill and reheat.  Not so when it comes to tankless heaters! Since they don’t rely on a storage unit of reserved hot water, the tankless heater will keep pumping out equally hot water as it’s needed so those three showers are no issue (so long as they are taken one at a time of course).

Options Available

Tankless water heaters are often powered by natural gas, but electric models are also available. Depending on what your home is set up with in regards to electricity and gas, there’s a tankless water heater option for you. 

The Downsides of Tankless Water Heaters

Inconsistent Temperatures, Limited Water

One of the more common complaints about tankless water heaters is inconsistent heating. Some heaters don’t turn on when a faucet is only slightly opened meaning the hot water that comes out is never actually heated, making for seemingly ‘spotty’ heating performance. Another reason for it is that and it has to do with the ability for a heater to instantly heat and send water to multiple different fixtures or outlets at the same time.

That brings up their limited supply. Tankless water heaters can supply a steady stream of hot water as needed, but it won’t last forever. If one person is taking a shower, or doing the dishes it’ll do just fine. But if another person in the home jumps into the shower while another runs a load of laundry the tankless water heater will struggle to keep up.

These are downsides of usage really, so long as everything is done in a certain manner, for example, the faucet all the way opened when in use, only one person showering at a time, etc. you should be able to avoid this downside.

Higher Installation Cost and Potential Extra Equipment

No getting around this one, tankless water heaters cost more to install than traditional heaters. Just the way of it. For the time being. In addition to the higher cost of just the water heater, there is often more equipment needed to make sure the heater works as it should. A water softener is usually necessary for instance. Of course, all this extra equipment adds to the initial installation price tag.

One of the hidden costs that many don’t realize is the need to reroute gas lines (if it’s a gas water heater). Tankless water heaters require a non-traditional setup and a contractor might have to reroute lines or add venting to make sure it works safely.

Recouping That Price Tage Takes Time

While month-to-month water heating costs are cheaper with a tankless unit, it takes time for that savings to make up the cost of the initial installation. Depending on usage of course. Over time you’ll end up ahead but it can take a few years to get there. 

There are Other Options Out There

Tankless water heaters are not the only efficient option; solar water heating is a huge potential area, especially here in Arizona (thanks 350+ days of sunshine!) 

New Energy Star certified traditional storage water heaters are also available and these are energy efficient as well. If your goal is to be as energy-efficient as possible, it might make more sense to go with one of those for the time being. Chances are your home is already set up with the right gas lines and or electrical needed for it operate making it an easy purchase.

Changing Water Usage Habits

A tankless water heater is not the only way to make your home water use more efficient.  home’s water system more efficient. By changing your showering habits your family could lower your water use (and bill) drastically. Installing low-flow plumbing fixtures will save you more every day. And in Arizona, we know about water conservation – we rely on it!

So, What’ll It Be?

You know the positive and the negatives of this new energy-efficient appliance, which way you going to go with it? Need to talk to a professional? Give us a call and we’ll talk you through the models and options we have available and what will be the best option for you! 

If Water Goes Through It Or To It, We Do It!

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