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What are Tankless Water Heaters?

Developed before the standard storage water heater in 1886, the tankless water heater was invented in London, Europe by a decorative painter named Benjamin Waddy Maughan. Nicknamed “the geyser,” the first tankless water heaters were rudimentary and even dangerous due to gases that were released during the heating process. But in 1889, a young American immigrate by the name of Edwin Ruud invented the electric water heater in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania which helped kick start the acceptance and use of European water heater technology. Today, tankless water heaters have become very popular in the United States as the technology involved continues to be improved and refined.   

Standard Water Heaters vs. Tankless Water Heaters

A standard water heater tank constantly heats water in a large tank via gas, propane, or electric coils to provide your home with hot water in an efficient manner. Heating your water, even when it is not in use, depletes a significant amount of energy. Experts call this exhaustion of energy “standby heat loss.”

On the other hand, tankless water heaters completely eliminate standby heat loss due to the fact that it only heats incoming water. This earned the tankless water heater the name “on demand” water heaters. When flow sensors are activated within the water heating device, water circulates through copper heat exchangers which are warmed by gas or electrical heating. No water is held within the water heating device making tankless water heaters small and lightweight.

Benefits of a Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters are great for reliability, energy efficiency, and the environment. Here are the following benefits that tankless water heaters provide: 

  • Small and Lightweight

Tankless water heaters are small enough and light enough to be installed on walls, under cabinets, and in closets. Versatility in installation locations allows you to save up to 16 feet of space and place the water heating device closer to the point of use.

  • Convenience

Because tankless water heaters do not store and heat a given amount of water, your home will never run out of hot water. Unlike standard water heaters which no longer provide hot water once their tank is depleted of heated water. Hot showers for everyone!

  • Durability

Tankless water heaters are extremely tough, reliable, and proven to last 5 to 10 years longer than the average water heater with a tank.

  • Energy Efficient

Because tankless water heaters do away with standby heat loss and only need enough energy to heat the amount of water necessary at any given moment, you can save energy and reduce your water heating bill by nearly 20%.

  • Environmentally Friendly

Tankless water heaters that are heated by electric coils eliminate the emission of greenhouse gases.

  • Federal Tax Rebate

Most tankless water heater units come with a federal tax rebate worth $300.

  • Safety

Tankless water heaters eliminate the possible risk of a ruptured water heater tank, preventing damage and potential injury.

  • Operation Preferences

Most tankless water heaters are operated by remote control and offer up to four separate settings to accommodate your personal preference.

Disadvantages of a Tankless Water Heater

While tankless water heaters offer many helpful benefits they may not be a practical purchase for every homeowner.

  • Higher Upfront Costs

Tankless water heaters can run up to three times the cost of a standard water heater with a tank, without including installation costs. The average tankless water heater costing $800 - $1,150 compared to the average tank water heater costing $300 - $500. 

  • Hot Water Lag Time

Tankless water heaters tend to increase the time which it takes for a given water fixture to produce hot water, increasing water waste. This is due to a couple factors:

  • Water is not preheated thus it takes a couple minutes for hot water to consistently flow through a given fixture.
  • Tankless water heaters force you to split your hot water output among all your household fixtures making it difficult to deliver instant hot water.
  • Required Minimum Flow Rate

In order for your home to use a tankless water heater, your home needs a minimum flow rate of .5 GPM in order to activate the heat exchanger.

  • Electric Models = Reduced Energy Efficiency

While tankless water heaters promote energy efficiency by not requiring the constant heating of water, the electrical energy necessary to heat your water at a moment’s notice is rather large. Thus, purchasing a tankless water heater powered by electricity can reduce energy efficiency.

  • Gas Models = Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Choosing a gas model for your tankless water heater results in the release of greenhouse gases which damage the environment and your home if not vented properly.

  • Additional Cost

In order for your tankless water heater to operate in a safe and efficient manner, other equipment and home additions may be required. Such as:

  • A larger gas line
  • Stainless steel venting pipes
  • An additional electric circuit
  • And annual servicing for gas models

Deciding whether to purchase a tankless water heater is completely up to the consumer based on their needs and desired benefits. Tankless water heaters offer great benefits in the long run, but present high costs and some disadvantages in the early stages of use. It is left to the consumer to determine what solution works for them in their everyday home and life.