The way most American households heat water is far from eco-friendly. Tank water heaters continuously use energy to keep stored water hot, even when not in use. And when the tank runs out, it can take a long time for it to reheat — especially after someone takes a hot shower in the dead of winter and leaves it cold for someone else.
Tankless water heaters have become an increasingly popular way for homeowners to cut down on energy use and improve heater performance, but it’s an expensive investment. Tankless water heater installation can cost $1,200 to $3,500, but will save you around $100 a year on reduced energy bills.
A tankless water heater heats up cold water using gas or electricity as it flows through a tankless unit. It provides an instantaneous hot water supply on demand that lasts until you turn off the tap. As such, they take up far less space than traditional water heaters, use far less energy, and take much less time to heat up.
Tankless water heaters are either gas-powered or electric-powered and may come in three different types.
While you could certainly try to install a tankless water heater yourself, it’s not advisable unless you’ve done it before or have extensive plumbing and electrical experience.
Installation involves making leak-free water, vent, and gas connections for gas or propane units, or upgrading wiring and circuit-breaker panels for electric units. Not to mention, you’ll need to test the water, set up filters, and potentially remove an old water heater. There are likely local permits, codes, and ordinances you’d need to be aware of to complete installation, too.
Installation runs from $1,200 to $3,500, with gas models generally being more expensive to install. (Although most tankless water heaters qualify for a 10% federal tax credit, allowing you to offset some of the cost.)
After installation, you should sign up to have the installer provide annual service, including cleaning or changing water and air filters, checking the burner, and more.
You can also provide general maintenance yourself by performing a vinegar flush at least twice a year. The routine maintenance takes about twenty minutes and is essential to keep minerals from building up too much inside the water heater. (Most warranties don’t cover mineral buildup.)
Other routine things you can do to save money include cleaning the air and water filters. Your instruction manual will tell you how often to clean them, but it’s generally every four to six months. Always remember to check for leaks, rust, or any other damage. If you find significant damage, contact a plumber immediately.
With proper maintenance and care, tankless water heaters can last 20 years or more. That’s much longer than a typical storage water heater, which lasts anywhere from eight to 15 years. The longer you keep your home, the more you’re likely to reap cost benefits from a tankless water heater.
We’ve touched on some of the primary reasons why people get tankless water heaters, but let’s focus on the pros and cons.
If you’re in an area with high energy costs or that’s prone to electric outages, a tankless water heater may not be worth the hassle. If you want hot water for a very large household, you’ll need multiple tankless water heaters, which may not be worth the price. If you’re planning on living in your home for fewer than five years, you may not reap any real cost benefits.
That said, if you use an average amount of water and expect to be in your home for the long haul, a tankless water heater is a great way to secure meaningful energy (and cost) savings over time.
Installing a tankless water heater can be a big switch for homeowners. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about this eco-friendly home improvement:
Yes, installing a tankless water heater often requires some modifications to your plumbing system. The unit may need its own dedicated gas line or upgraded electrical supply, depending on the type of heater. Additionally, the water lines and connections may need adjustments to accommodate the different water flow demands and ensure proper installation. That’s why it’s recommended to have a professional plumber assess your existing plumbing and make the necessary adjustments for a successful tankless water heater installation.
Avoid installing a tankless water heater in areas prone to freezing temperatures unless the unit is designed for outdoor use or appropriately insulated. Additionally, avoid installing it in locations with poor ventilation or limited access for maintenance, yareas or anywhere the unit's exhaust or venting could pose a safety hazard or interfere with other structures.
Installing a tankless water heater inside is generally preferred due to protection from the elements, reduced energy loss from shorter water lines, and easier access for maintenance. However, if indoor space is limited or venting is challenging, an outdoor installation can be a viable option, provided the unit is designed for outdoor use and protected against freezing temperatures. Consulting a professional plumber can help determine the best placement based on your specific circumstances.
To size a tankless water heater for your home, calculate your maximum hot water demand by estimating the number of fixtures that could run simultaneously. Determine the required flow rate in gallons per minute (GPM) for those fixtures and consider your incoming water temperature. Choose a tankless unit with a flow rate and temperature rise that matches or slightly exceeds your calculated demand for optimal performance, andconsult a professional to ensure accurate sizing.
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