On any given day, how much time do you spend thinking about your home’s water heater? Odds are, you don’t typically give it much thought at all. As long as you’re getting the hot water you need, it can be easy to forget your water heater is even there. But as soon as your water heater starts having problems or quits working altogether, it’s the kind of problem you can’t possibly ignore.
Water heaters typically last about 10-15 years and if you’ve reached the point where it’s time to replace your water heater, one option you might be considering is a tankless water heater. Traditional tank water heaters are still very popular, but tankless water heaters have become more popular in America in recent years thanks to their energy efficient nature. Since heating water is one of the most expensive parts of your home’s utility bill, it’s easy to see how finding a way to make getting hot water more efficient could be appealing.
Traditional storage tank water heaters work by storing water in a tank and heating it there so it’s ready to go when you need it to take a shower, do laundry, or wash dishes. As the name suggests, tankless water heaters don’t use a tank to store water. Instead, tankless water heaters work by heating water right on the spot with a heating element in the water heater. Since you’re only heating water when you need it, you aren’t losing money on standby energy losses that are very common with traditional storage tank water heaters.
Another big advantage of tankless water heaters is that they can produce hot water for as long as you need it. You could spend over an hour in the shower if you wanted to and you wouldn’t run out of hot water, you’d just have to wait a few seconds for water to warm up in the beginning. However, one of the biggest disadvantages of tankless water heaters is that they put out fewer gallons per minute than traditional storage tank water heaters, which could be a problem if you tend to do things like have the dishwasher and the washing machine running while you’re in the shower. In fact, tankless water heaters tend to be most efficient if you typically have rather low water consumption levels.
One of the nice things about tankless water heaters is that they take up much less space than more traditional water heaters do. They’re small enough that some people will go as far as to install multiple water heaters throughout the house so that, for example, their washing machine has its own water heater. Although this might sound like a great solution for the problem of tankless water heaters putting out less water per minute than other types of water heaters, this brings us to the biggest problem with tankless water heaters -- they’re expensive. According to Consumer Reports, tankless water heaters can cost between $800 and $1,150, while tank water heaters only cost about $300-$400.
Tankless water heaters can also require more maintenance than other types of water heaters. With a traditional storage tank style of water heater, all you really have to do is drain some of the water in the tank a couple times a year to help get rid of sediment and check the anode rod every few years. But tankless water heaters can be prone to limescale and calcium buildup and many people will recommend having it checked out annually to keep it running correctly. Depending on how hard your water is, a water softener could help prevent things like lime and calcium buildup, but that’s an added expense you’d have to account for.