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Tankless Water Heater: Is It Right For You?


A tankless water heater (also known as an on-demand water heater) is a high capacity water heater that heater water instantly only when you need it. These units are ideal for situations where space it limited and the need for hot water is either sporadic (i.e., a vacation or weekend home like a lake house) or you need a lot of hot water over a short period of time (such as when filling a whirlpool or soaking tub). Tankless water heaters are very well suited to homes where many people need to bathe or shower within an hour or two of each other as well as in restaurants, hotels, and laundromats.


Tankless water heaters have several key benefits:

  • High Efficiency Operation.

    Tankless water heaters are extremely energy efficient with energy factors of up to 0.96 — meaning that for every dollar you spend on fuel, you get 96 cents of hot water out of the tap on your faucet. Comparing this to a conventional gas water heater with an energy factory of 0.62 ($1.00 in fuel = $0.62 of hot water), you can see how the savings can add up quickly.

    The savings are even more pronounced in situations where there are days (or even weeks) at a time when no hot water is used. Since a traditional water heater keeps the tank hot all the time, all of that energy goes to waste. A tankless unit, however, only heats water when it is being used — leading to significant energy savings where the owners travel during the week or in vacation/weekend homes.

  • Extended Availability.

    A typical 50 gallon gas or electric water heater can deliver about 72-88 gallons of hot water in the first hour of operation — that is to say when the tank is completely full of hot water. I’m sure we’ve all had to take a luke-warm (or even cold) shower if we’re unlucky enough to wake up late in a home with 4 or more people. Since a tankless water heater heats water (nearly) instantaneously as it passes through the unit, it can deliver up to 396 gallons of water each hour!

  • Space-Saving Design.

    Tankless water heaters are ideal for situations where space is limited. Where a conventional water heater takes up about 8-10 square feet of floor space, a tankless is about the size of a medium-sized suitcase and usually hangs on the wall.


  • Tankless Water Heaters Require More Maintenance.

    While manufacturer’s of conventional water heaters recommend it for maximum life span, you’ll typically get 6-10 years of life out of one even if you neglect routine maintenance. Not so with tankless units. Because of the narrow internal waterways, tankless water heaters are quite susceptible to hardness and scale in the water. A tankless water heater will need to be flushed one or more times per year to maintain efficiency. Neglecting to have routine maintenance performed can also void the manufacturer’s warranty.

  • Added Complexity = More Expensive Repairs.

    While a well-maintained tankless water heater will last you for years without breaking down, it is still a machine. When it does have a problem, repairs will tend to be more expensive than on a conventional water heater. Because of this, we highly suggest purchasing an extended warranty to guard against future repair costs.

  • Higher Up-Front Cost.

    Tankless water heaters tend to be more expensive to install compared to their conventional counterparts — especially when converting for the first time. Because of their on-demand nature, tankless units require a tremendous amount of gas when they are operating — up to 200,000 BTUs on larger residential models (compared to 40,000 BTUs on a typical 40 gallon tank-style model). This could mean that you need to increase the size of gas lines to accommodate a tankless water heater in your home. And that is in addition to the cost of modifying water and vent piping.

Tankless water heaters definitely deliver on their promises of high efficiency and high availability of hot water, but they aren’t necessarily right for every situation. Weigh the pros and cons to see if one is right for your situation, or call Church Plumbing & Heating at 574-295-6844 for a free consultation.

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