What is a Tankless Water Heater?

The Scoop on Tankless Water Heaters

One of the truly nastier starts to your day is struggling to get ready for work, stepping into the shower, and getting a blast of cold water because someone else just used up all the available hot water in the heater’s storage tank. To add to your woes, it’s going to take a good deal of time for the tank to fill back up, turn on the burner and heat the water. By then, you probably should have been out the door and on your way.

One more thing, the water in the tank cools and is re-heated several times each day while no one is home, wasting energy and running up your utility bills.

Let’s face it, in a modern home with more than one shower and a large-capacity washing machine, the traditional hot water heater with a storage tank simply may not be large enough to keep up with the ever-increasing demands for hot water.

If you’re in the market to replace or upgrade your current hot water system, it might be just the right time to consider a tankless water heater.

What exactly is a tankless water heater?

Tankless water heaters, also known as on-demand water heaters, use high-powered burners to swiftly heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger and distributes it directly to your faucets or shower without storing it in a tank. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a continuous supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water. Tankless water heaters are usually powered with electricity or gas. According to Consumer Reports, tankless water heaters were also found to be 22 percent more energy efficient than the traditional gas-fired storage-tank models.

How are “traditional” tank storage water heaters different?

Storage tank water heaters are the most commonly installed models in today’s homes. Their components include an insulated tank, typically holding 30-50 gallons of water, to heat and store the water until it’s needed. A pipe arises from the top to transport hot water to its destination — kitchen, bathroom, or other sinks.

Typically, there are storage-tank water heaters that use either electricity or natural gas for their fuel. Natural gas storage tank water heaters use almost 50 percent less energy than the electric variety. However, they do cost a bit more than electric models. They also feature a temperature and pressure release valve that opens when either the temperature or pressure exceeds preset levels.

Bet you didn’t know: About 25 percent of the energy used in your home goes toward heating your water.

The origins of the tankless water heater

Edwin Ruud’s eyeballs would be spinning in his head if he were alive today to witness the evolution of his invention. You see, Mr. Ruud is generally credited with inventing the traditional storage-type hot water heater around 1889.

Prior to the invention of the water heater, most people heated water in a pot on the stove or over an open fire and manually poured the hot water in a tub for washing or bathing purposes. Obviously, this type of water heating process was quite time-consuming. No wonder the invention of the water heater was considered a significant breakthrough for our modern age and is still considered as one of the hardest working appliances in a home or business.

Let’s back up a bit. In 306 A.D., the Romans had large baths facilitated with heated water. Although not considered actual water heaters, many historians regard then as pioneer work for heating water.

An English painter named Benjamin Waddy Maughan patented the first water heater in 1868. His heater is the earliest residential unit and used natural gases to heat the water, but it didn’t have a flue to vent gas vapors making it unsafe to operate in households.

However, Waddy Maughan motivated Norwegian mechanical engineer Edwin Rudd, who took the design-forward when he added the safety features, which was the initial step toward the invention of the modern water heater. His water heater was highly efficient because of its thick copper design. But that also made it a bit expensive.

But what about tankless water heaters? The truth is, tankless water heater development wasn’t that much farther behind. There were some early and highly ineffective experiments with them as early as the 1890s. In 1929, the Stiebel-Elton Company invented the first electric tankless water heater, which made the system more easily obtainable. However, the gas-powered models were more efficient and became the more popular type.

Still, until the 1970s, the technology of tankless water heaters was simply not good enough to make them realistic alternatives to the standard water heater with a tank. However, as their efficiencies increased, Europeans began to purchase more and more of these space and energy-saving hot water systems. This eventually led to tankless systems making a much more significant impact on the U.S. market in the 1990s.

Bet you didn’t know: When Edwin Rudd brought his hot water heater to the U.S., he initially took his invention to Pittsburgh, which became the first American city where residents had the opportunity to purchase hot water heaters.

Tankless vs. Tank Storage

Let’s continue by taking a look at tankless versus tank storage water heaters. After all, water heaters can be a costly investment that a homeowner will be living with for anywhere from 10 to 20 years or more, depending on their use. That’s why it’s important to take into account the cost, efficiency, and longevity of your new water heater.

First, let’s consider the types of tankless systems.

There are two basic types of tankless water heaters – small units that are usually installed right at or near the point-of-use and larger models that can supply an entire house.

While the smaller point-of-use units can reduce or eliminate heat losses through piping, multiple units are required to serve an entire house. They can be handy for supplementing a traditional water heater for a bathroom or other point-of-use located far from the central water heater.

Larger “whole house” tankless water heaters can provide hot water for multiple point-of-use in the home. With these units, you eliminate the heat losses from a storage tank. There can, however, still be some losses through the hot water piping unless it is insulated.

Next, we’re going to examine the chief reasons why you should consider a tankless system.

  • Tankless water heaters are compact in size, freeing up space that a bulky conventional water heater occupies. Some point-of-use water heaters remind you of a small suitcase, and you can mount one on the wall, in a crawl space or even under a sink.
  • Tankless units save money. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates gas-fired tankless heaters save an average of $108 in energy costs per year over their conventional tank counterparts, while electric tankless heaters save $44 per year.
  • You never run out of hot water. No doubt, the biggest disadvantage of traditional tank models is that you’re limited by the amount of hot water the tank will hold. While it may not pose a problem if only one or two people live at home, it can become rather challenging for families. Sure, you can install a larger water tank, but the price goes up exponentially once you’ve gone past the standard 50- to 60-gallon models. With a whole-house tankless model, you can have numerous persons take successive showers and still have enough hot water to fill up a large soaking tub.
  • Longer life. Purchasing a tankless water heater will cost you a bit more upfront than a traditional water storage tank heater. Still, tankless models keep going longer than conventional tank models, which translates into an 18 to 20-year useful life. This compares to storage tank units that last only 10 to 13 years before self-destructing, potentially flooding your basement or home, depending on their location. Note: Be aware that “hard water” areas may lessen the useful life of both types of water heaters.

Bet you didn’t know: In the early 1900s, more than 150 manufacturers competed in the water heater industry. Today, there are only a handful.

Okay, as you are aware, J&A South Park is in the business of selling appliances such as tankless hot water heaters. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not sensitive to the fact that not every household is suited for a tankless unit. Here are some of the reasons you might want to consider a more traditional tank heater.

  • Tankless water heaters have a higher purchase cost than storage tank heaters. However, you’ll want to figure in the energy cost savings over the lifespan of a tankless unit.
  • Tankless water heater installation can be costly if you’re replacing a conventional storage-tank water heater. When you choose to retrofit a tankless water heater in place of a storage tank unit, the installer will take more time, increasing the installed cost, because of the intricacy of relocating existing pipe.
  • Simultaneously taking showers and doing laundry can cause a tankless water heater to fail to keep up with the hot water demand.
  • Storage tank water heaters operate simpler than tankless varieties, resulting in less costly maintenance and repairs.

Let’s say you’ve reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of a tankless system and decided it’s probably going to fit your specific needs.

There are, however, some additional things to take into consideration before making the final decision to go tankless.

  • Demand: Do you want a unit to heat water in one bathroom or the entire house? As mentioned above, tankless water heaters come in two principle designs: point-of-use and whole-house versions. In each category, there are both electric and natural gas models. Some tankless units are sized to heat a cup of tea, while others to provide enough hot water for two or more bathrooms.
  • Type: Consider the requirements. An electric model will need the proper voltage, amperage, and circuit breaker. Gas-fired units need to be properly vented.
  • Location: They must be within roughly 50 feet from a power source and can be mounted on an interior or exterior wall.
  • Life expectancy: Most last more than 20 years – about twice the lifespan of storage water heater.
  • Installation: You need to hire a certified plumber or HVAC contractor to install it. Often, the installation is included when you purchase a unit from a dealer such as J&A South Park.

Bet you didn’t know: In some densely populated areas of countries like Finland, homeowners receive their hot water through district heating which distributes heat generated in a central location.

In summary

If your bank account can manage the higher initial cost of a tankless water heater, you’ll save more money over time by choosing tankless. But, if you’re on a fixed modest income, a storage-tank water heater might make more sense for you.

Discuss the two types of water heaters with the pros at J&A South Park to weigh your options.

When you want help navigating the somewhat confusing chore of making the best choice of water heater for your home, you’ll be pleased you contacted J&A South Park. Why wait? J&A South Park plumbing professionals will give you the objective information you need to make the right choice for you and your family.

Limited Time Tankless Water Heater Promotion

You also want to keep in mind that during the month of January 2020, J&A South Park is running a promotion wherein you can take $250 off a Noritz tankless water heater. Go to our Noritz Tankless Water Heater Promotional page.

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