Is a Tankless Hot Water Heater the Best Choice for Your Home?

Tankless hot water heaters, which heat water on demand instead of pre-heating it and storing it in a tank, are increasing in popularity. While the prospect of always having hot water may sound enticing, these tanks are not necessarily the best choice for every home. In order to determine if it's worthwhile for you to switch to a tankless hot water heater, ask yourself these questions.

How much water do you use?

One of the main reasons homeowners switch to a tankless hot water heater is the savings on energy costs. While tankless hot water heaters typically are more energy-efficient than standard, tank-style units, the magnitude of your energy savings will depend on how much water you use. According to Energy Star, in homes that use 41 gallons of water or less per day, tankless systems are 24% - 34% more energy efficient than tank-style units. However, in homes with higher water use, they are only between 8% and 14% more efficient. If you use a lot of water, you might not save quite as much energy as you'd hoped with a tankless hot water heater.

Do you have more money to invest up front?

A tankless hot water heater will probably save you money in the long run, between the energy savings it allows for and its longer lifespan; a tankless unit will last 20 years or more, whereas the average tank-style heater lasts 10 or 15 years. However, tankless systems have a higher cost upfront. Tankless systems tend to run about $800 - $1150, whereas a tank-style unit generally costs between $450 and $750. If you have the money, a tankless system can be a good investment, but if you're on a tight budget, you might be better off sticking with a tank-style system. Since prices vary by region and size of your home, get estimates for both tankless and tank-style units from an HVAC contractor in your area before you make your decision.

Do you mind waiting a few minutes for hot water?

It's a common misconception that tankless hot water systems are instant. In fact, if you turn on the hot water after it has been off for some time, it will take the tankless water heater a few minutes to heat up and start heating your water. You'll have to turn the water on and wait while cold water comes through the pipes for a little while, and then the water will eventually get warm. For most people, this is not a major issue, but for some, it can be an annoyance. If you're not willing to wait a few minutes for the water to warm up in the morning, you might be better off with a tank-style system.

How many people will be using the water at once?

Tankless systems do have a maximum flow rate. They can only put out so much hot water at once. This varies by model, but most tankless units can heat between two and five gallons per minute. If you want a lot of people to be able to use the hot water at once (for instance, three people showering while the dishwasher is also running), you might have to install two tankless heaters to make this possible. You'll have to then consider whether the benefits of having on-demand hot water are worth the cost of two tankless water heaters. Of course, if only one or two people will ever be using the hot water at once, this is not an issue.

Tankless hot water heaters can help you save energy and ensure you have an endless supply of hot water. Just make sure you're willing to deal with the extra cost, delay in hot water, and limits in water volume before you commit to this style of unit. If you have any questions, contact a local HVAC specialist, such as Smedley & Associates, Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning.