Water Heaters: Tankless vs Storage Tank
You know that big tank of hot water in your garage? What if we told you that you could get the same amount of hot water (or more) from a water heater the size of most carry-on suitcase—and save a minimum of $100 a year on your utility bill?
That’s the promise of tankless water heaters, also called on-demand water heaters, which produce hot water only when you turn on the faucet, start a cycle on the washing machine, switch on the dishwasher, or otherwise call for hot water.
While storage tank water heaters are by far the most common type, tankless water heaters are slowly gaining market share, according to Technavio, a global market research firm. That’s because of their reputation for running more efficiently, an appealing characteristic given that heating water is the average U.S. home’s second-highest utility cost after heating and cooling the house itself.
We’ve worked with all major tankless water heater brands. Below are some of the things you should consider when making a switch. We’ll talk about cost, performance, and energy use of tankless units vs the conventional storage-tank water heater.
Making The Switch
Switching to tankless from a storage-tank water heater is no easy task. Sometimes it’ll require a plumbing retrofit and possibly an upgrade to your electric service or gas lines to increase capacity. That’s why we’ll take a look at your existing setup and give you a solution that is right for you. But if your storage tank water heater is nearing the end of its useful life and you’re interested in saving space and energy, tankless water heaters are worth a look.
Our Rapid Response Team members are trained and qualified to handle all of your questions and concerns. We’ve attended training that some of the top brands in tankless water heaters put together and we also train our technicians in-house before they go out on their own. This process is extremely important to us, that’s why we make it a priority to properly train our Rapid Response Team.
Some of the problems that most homeowners experience with traditional storage-tank water heaters, especially when the unit is at the end of its lifespan, are that they can’t run the dishwasher and washing machine at the same time that someone is taking a shower. You may have to wait a second for the water to get hot, the season and outdoor temperature also affect the water heater.
How They Work
Storage Tank: Storage tank water heaters typically have a capacity of 30 to 60 gallons, but the most common size is 50 gallons. The capacity you want depends on the size of your household and how much hot water you use (we can help with the calculations). Using natural gas, electricity, fuel oil, or propane, these tanks continuously heat water to keep a full store at the ready. That means you’re paying to have hot water whether you need it or not.
Storage tanks can be 5 feet tall or taller and about 2 feet wide or wider. If your water heater is in the basement or you have a huge garage, you might not mind the space it takes. But if you don’t have a basement or garage, you may have to stash it in a closet—and that can be a tight fit. And keep in mind that because of recent federal energy regulations, a replacement storage tank may take up more space than your old one, even if it’s the same capacity because newer ones are required to have more insulation.
Tanks that hold less than 55 gallons may be an inch or two larger. But tanks of 55 gallons or more will require even more space, depending on the energy-saving technology they use.
Tankless: As their name implies, tankless, or on-demand water heaters, don’t store water in a tank. Instead, they heat water as it passes through the unit, using a heat exchanger to rapidly bring it up to temperature. (They run on electricity, natural gas, or propane.) Heating water only when you need it eliminates the standby energy losses you get with a storage tank.
Whole-house tankless units mount on a wall, saving you floor space and fitting into tight spaces. They vary in size, but average about 2 feet tall and a bit over a foot wide.
Purchase Price and Installation
Storage tank: Tank-style water heaters are less expensive than tankless. They range from $550 to upwards of $1,500. Replacing your old storage tank with a new one of the same capacity is a pretty basic plumbing job, and some homeowners do it themselves. But most manufacturers recommend using a certified plumber, and you may need one because tank water heaters have changed, as noted, to meet tighter energy standards. Installation can be $600 to $800 if the existing hookups are compatible.
Tankless: Tankless water heaters tend to cost more upfront than storage tank models. They can range from $525 to $1,150 or higher.
The installation will cost you more. Gas tankless models may have different venting and gas-supply requirements, meaning you may need to increase the diameter of the pipe from the water heater to the gas meter. And electric tankless models draw so much power—120 to 160 amps—that you may have to upgrade the electrical service to your house to 200 amps or more. Manufacturers recommend that certified electricians or plumbers install tankless water heaters. In fact, many manufacturers require installation by factory-trained professionals to maintain the warranty.
Storage tank: The gas and the electric storage tank water heaters easily deliver a steady supply of hot water that reaches a target temperature of 120° F.
Tankless: There are a few differences in performance between the gas and electric models. All of the gas units are typically able to hit the target output temperature of 120° F and have similar minimum flow rates (the amount of running water needed for the heater to kick in).
Be sure to check with our Rapid Response Team regarding rebates from some utility companies when you purchase a new or used Tankless Water Heater. This is can help with the upfront cost of the unit and installation.
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