Are You Ready for a Tankless Water Heater?

Posted on by Lisa Barton to Green Home

Tankless water heaters are growing in popularity for many reasons, including space-saving benefits and better energy efficiency. Since we often do not have basements in the Ponte Vedra Beach area, storing a traditional water tank can be a nuisance. The tankless systems are more flexible since they take up less of a footprint and can be placed inside or out, including in the attic.

We sat down with local Sawgrass Players Club resident, Bill B., to discuss his tankless water heater experience.

Is the tank system inside or outside of the home?

When we bought the house in Ponte Vedra Beach, it already had two Rinai tankless water units running on propane.  (Interviewer’s note: Electric tankless water heaters are also available.) These units are in the attic, which makes waterless a particularly interesting solution, as there is far less chance of water damage than having a tank. Also, access was a major issue. Reinstalling a regular system is not feasible.  

Upfront costs appear to be larger than traditional systems, with the savings coming after installation. Was this your experience? Why or why not?

You are definitely correct in that the units have a heavier upfront cost, perhaps as much as double the cost of a standard water heater. Choosing a tankless water heater limited the range of plumbers, because there are fewer who are trained to install and maintain, which can be a cost factor as well. Offsetting that is a federal tax credit if the units purchased meet certain energy efficiency standards (not all do) which does bring the cost down a bit.

The greatest savings come from only heating the water when you need to use it, be it in the kitchen, laundry room or bathrooms. Some high-end units now come with recirculates so you can have instant heat, but to me that defeats some of the purpose because then you are running the units more frequently just to keep water warm. I’m not sure this is necessary. As is, with our two units, we have hot water within 15 to 20 seconds at any place in the house.

What are the pros of tankless water heaters?

Pros of the system are that they are much smaller, can be installed inside or outside, and of course are the most energy efficient way (at present) to heat water.  They also have a much lower carbon footprint than traditional heaters, either gas or electric. 

Best applications seem to be in year-round housing. It’s often not as cost effective in seasonal homes, such as summer cottages, because the seasonal nature of houses means that the payback period is quite long.  

Do you have any recommendations for those considering tankless water heaters?

What would be useful in my estimation is for homeowners to conduct an energy audit that prioritizes possible steps to lower energy dependence where the cost/benefit is rank ordered for prioritization.  This would include solar as an option, insulation and window upgrades, water heaters, air conditioning etc. Financing is also a consideration as some markets, particularly solar, appear to offer a range of options that make installation attractive and less burdensome on the front-end.

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