For homeowners looking to increase the energy efficiency of their house, the tankless water heater is a good choice. Unlike traditional hot water heaters that continuously heat the water whether you are at home or not, the relatively small “tankless” units work as a mini-boiler, heating water rapidly and only on demand, typically providing a significant reduction of monthly utility bills.
“The initial cost is often the biggest obstacle when homeowners are considering their options,” explains Michael Gibbons, owner of Tulsa’s Action Plumbing & Drain. Despite current tax incentives and manufacturer rebates, it is still more expensive to install the tankless model, especially if it is being retrofitted into an existing house.
While both gas and electric units are available, most installations in this region are run on gas. Some older homes might have an insufficient-sized gas line that must be increased, and there are unique venting requirements with components often available only through the tankless water heater manufacturers.
Edmond’s Magic Plumbing, Heating & Air owner Rod Price sees more installations in new construction, especially if it is a “smart house.”
“Many of these new units are up to 98 percent efficient,” says Price. In addition, the estimated lifespan of a tankless water heater is more than 20 years, nearly double that of the traditional unit. They also have easily replaceable parts, extending the life even longer. “However, water hardness plays a part in the overall life expectancy,” Price warns.
Suppliers might recommend a water softener system or a yearly maintenance appointment to clean the unit and remove any calcification.
Typically, tankless water heaters provide hot water at a rate of two to five gallons per minute. “Units need to be properly sized for the number of occupants and the overall hot water needs of each household,” says Gibbons. For instance, some units might not be able to supply enough hot water for simultaneous, multiple uses, such as taking a shower and running the dishwasher, at the same time. Separate units are often installed as a single point application for appliances that use a lot of hot water, such as a washing machine, dishwasher or even a whirlpool bath.
According to the industry, for homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, tankless water heaters can be 24 to 34 percent more energy efficient than traditional water heaters and energy savings of 27 to 50 percent are possible by installing a tankless unit at each hot water outlet.
The industry also recommends a qualified, licensed plumbing and heating contractor to install a new tankless water heater since proper installation depends on various factors including climate and local building code requirements. When selecting a contractor always request the cost estimates in writing, ask for references and confirm that the company will obtain the proper permits, if necessary.
“It is not as easy as just hanging the tankless unit on the wall,” says Price. And Gibbons agrees. “We do as much business by going back and fixing homeowners’ attempts to do it themselves.”