Some Thoughts on Tankless Water Heaters

At Plumbing Services one of the most frequent requests we get is for information about tankless water heaters.  Since we are a dedicated green company, we thought tankless water heaters would make a good topic for our first blog post.  The installation of a tankless water heater can potentially increase the value of your home and enhance the quality of your life.  Because there is likely to be a decrease in fossil fuel consumption, a tankless water heater should also contribute to a greener planet.

While all of the aforementioned attributes of tankless water heaters are certainly true, the first question most customers ask is “If I install a tankless water heater how much money will I save?”  Those with an agenda or an inability to see all sides of the issue often focus purely on the energy savings, while ignoring all of the other factors that go into making an informed decision.   In other words, in most cases they are simply ignoring the whole picture when they tell customers that they will save money with a tankless water heater.  Although there are limited cases where installing a tankless water heater makes sense from a purely financial analysis, chances are it will not save you money and Consumer Reports agrees with us.

The primary reason for this is that replacing a conventional water heater with a tankless water heater generally requires expensive upgrades to the gas line or electric supply along with retrofitting the plumbing and exhaust.  Therefore, it can be as much as five times more expensive to install a tankless water heater versus simply replacing an old standard water heater with a new one.  Even in new construction, it is not unusual for a tankless water heater to cost three times more than a conventional water heater.  This is due to factors such as, higher unit cost and more expensive venting materials required for tankless water heaters.  The higher initial outlay of cash for the tankless water heater takes a long time to recover.  We have found that at current energy prices it can easily take 20 years to recover the cost of the installation and maintenance of a tankless water heater.

Moreover, there are other negatives to consider besides the initial cost.  Some appliances (certain models of dishwashers) do not function properly with a tankless water heater.  This problem is most prevalent with older appliances but it needs to be kept in mind when retrofitting a tankless water heater.  Another problem occurs during power failures.  If you currently have city water and a gas fired conventional water heater, then you are accustomed to having a supply of hot water even during a power outage.  This will no longer be the case if you switch to a tankless water heater.  These units have electronic controls which do not function without electricity.  Of course, this problem can be solved with the installation of a backup generator.

After all of that you are probably beginning to think that we don’t like tankless water heaters – nothing could be further from the truth.  There are many situations where a tankless water heater is by far the smarter choice.  For example, in remote locations where a conventional water heater has to be located at a considerable distance for the tap, it often makes more sense to install a small electric tankless water heater.  The same is often true in situations where hot water is seldom used.   We also have many customers who simply feel that the investment in a tankless water heater is an investment in a greener planet and America’s energy security and we are proud to play a role in that as well.

The bottom line is that each situation is unique and there is no way to know if a tankless water heater is the best option for your home or business without having a professional plumber give you a cost analysis of your project.  At Plumbing Services we welcome the opportunity to discuss your hot water needs.  Please don’t hesitate to call or send us an email.


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