What are the Pros and Cons of Tankless Water Heaters

Laundry room tankless water heater/courtesy of Lowe's

Are you thinking of installing a new hot water heater? Tankless water heaters supply continuous hot water on demand, while consuming less energy than conventional tank heaters. But are the higher price point and complex installation process of tankless water heaters worth it?

In this article, Gary McCoy, Lowe’s Store Manager, Charlotte, shares expert tips to help you make the best choice for your household’s hot water needs.

Basement tankless water heater/courtesy of Lowe's

What are tankless water heaters?

  • Tankless water heaters (AKA “on-demand”) warm up water only when you need it. Water is heated quickly as it passes through a series of coils in the unit. A thermostat allows you to adjust water temperature to your liking.

  • Water heating capacity is measured in terms of GPM (gallons per minute). Most models offer 3.5 GPM, more than enough for the average shower, which requires 2.5 GPM of hot water.

  • Tankless water heaters eliminate the traditional hot water storage tank, together with the costly factor of storing 40-50 gallons of hot water at a steady heat.

  • Instead of the familiar bulky 5-foot-tall cylinder, tankless water heaters come in the form of a compact rectangle, usually about 2 feet by 1 foot, though some are as small as 7”x10”.

  • Tankless hot water heaters are typically installed in a closet, in the basement, or on an exterior wall, and can be retrofitted or used in new home construction.

  • Lowe’s offers three kinds of tankless water heaters:
    1. Electric, for whole-home and point-of-use applications
    2. Natural gas, which ranges in BTU inputs to deliver a continuous flow of hot water to your home
    3. Propane, available for both indoor and outdoor applicationsPoint-of-use tankless water heater/courtesy of Lowe's

 Pros: Why consider buying a tankless water heater

  • Energy efficiency. Tankless water heaters consume less energy because they do not need to store heated water. This energy savings will, in turn, reduce your fuel bills.

  • Endless hot water. When you need a continuous supply of hot water to fill a deep, luxurious spa tub or to allow for several consecutive showers, a tankless water heater delivers.

  • Consistent water temperature. Inconsistent water temperature has been a homeowner complaint in the past. However, nowadays if the hot water demand in your home exceeds working capacity, most tankless heaters, like the Advanced Flow Control, will automatically maintain consistent temperatures by slightly reducing water flow.

  • Flexibility. You can install a separate tankless heater for each point of use in your home -- for example, one for the kids’ shower and another one for the kitchen sink.

  • Longer service life. Tankless hot water heaters normally last up to 20 years, or approximately twice as long as standard tank-style units.

  • Compact profile. When you live in a small house or a condo, you will especially appreciate the space-saving, compact size of tankless water heaters.

Closet-mounted tankless water heater/courtesy of Lowe'sCons: When to stick with a traditional water heater

  • Higher initial costs. If you're on a tight budget, a tankless option might not be for you, because the initial costs are more expensive than with a traditional tank water heater. The purchase price runs $300-$400 higher than conventional units and you will need to hire a reliable contractor to install the heater.
    • Pro tip: Homeowners report that through the energy savings, the appliance pays for itself after a few years. 
  • Gas line or electrical wiring configuration. It might be necessary to have your gas line rerouted or your electrical wiring reconfigured to accommodate a tankless water heater. This will raise the initial expense still further.

  • Limited hot water volume. The 3.5 gallons of heated water per minute provided by most tankless water heaters might be insufficient if your home demand frequently calls for hot water at more than one or two points at a time. While larger units are available, they are more expensive.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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