Tankless Water Heaters: An Upgrader’s Guide

Konrad showing of water heater

Does it seem to take an eternity to get hot water to any faucet in your home? The allure of instant hot water has many homeowners ready to do away with their bulky water tanks for a more compact “instant” hot water system. Here we will give more information on these popular water heaters. We will discuss the pros and cons and debunk some of the myths associated with tankless water heaters.

Tankless vs. Traditional Water Heaters: What’s the Difference?

A traditional water heater consists of a large tank of water (typically 30-50 gallons) that stores a steady supply of hot water. For this reason, you’ll also hear traditional water heaters referred to as storage tank heaters.

With a storage water tank heater, water flows into the reservoir through what is called a dip tube. The heating element inside the tank heats the water to a preset temperature. Warm water rises to the top of the tank. The warm water at the top of the tank flows into the home anytime hot water is requested.

The downside of this approach is that the tank requires constant energy to keep the water inside the tank warm. The result is wasted energy to heat water that you aren’t using.

Types of Tankless Water Heaters And How They Work

On-demand water heaters are significantly smaller than traditional water heaters. They are typically the size of a small suitcase and are mounted to a wall. With an on-demand water tank, water flows into the unit through a pipe. Heating elements inside the unit heat the water to a preset temperature.

On-demand water heaters are categorized by the mechanism used to heat the water. A gas-fired unit uses a burner to heat the water. An electric unit, on the other hand, uses an electric element.
Another drawback to traditional water heaters is that the tank may not be able to keep up with the demand for hot water. Although traditional storage tanks hold a lot of water, depending on water usage, the tank could run out of hot water. When this happens, you will need to wait until the tank reheats the water.

A tankless water heater, on the other hand, heats water on-demand rather than storing it in a tank. As we will later discuss, this approach has many benefits over a traditional tank. Perhaps the most significant advantage that makes them so attractive is they provide a near-endless supply of hot water.

Benefits of On-Demand Water Heaters

With a tankless water heater, there is no need to waste energy to maintain hot water in a tank. As a result, on-demand water heaters can be as much as 34% more energy-efficient than their traditional counterparts.

Take Up Less Space

Tankless heaters take up significantly less space than a transitional water unit. Their small size makes them ideal where space is at a premium.

Lasts Longer

Traditional water heaters last 10-15 years. Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, can last over 20 years.


On-demand water systems aren’t prone to springing a leak that could damage your property. Also, the sealed air supply and exhaust vents prevent carbon monoxide from leaking into the house.

They are WiFi Compatible

Many tankless systems can be controlled over the internet with a smart device. You can monitor water usage and adjust the temperature using the tank’s app installed on your device.

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Downsides to Tankless Water Heaters

Given the numerous benefits, it may seem obvious that a tankless water heater is ideal. Despite the many benefits, however, there are a few downsides that can’t be ignored.

Larger Upfront Investment

The average cost to install a tankless water heater costs between $2,000 and $3,000. This is a stark contrast to the $800 to $1,500 average cost to install a traditional unit.

The installation requirements for an on-demand water heating system are different than those of storage water heaters. As such, there may be additional costs to retrofit existing infrastructure.

Not Truly Instant

A common myth about on-demand systems is that they provide instant hot water. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Tankless water heaters only switch on when a faucet requests hot water. It can take up to 15 seconds to heat the water. You will still need to wait for that hot water to make its way to the faucet.

More Maintenance

Due to their small size and many intricate parts, on-demand water heaters require more frequent maintenance. The buildup of lime and minerals can damage the internal components of the system. This problem is prevalent in homes that have hard water. Homes with a hard water problem will need to do a vinegar flush every 500 hours to prevent damage to their system.

Challenges Meeting Demand For Simultaneous Use

Tankless water heaters are limited by their flow rate. An electric on-demand tank can provide up to 5 gallons of hot water per minute. Thus, running the shower, dishwasher and clothes washer at the same time could leave you without enough hot water to meet the demand.

What’s Best For Your Home?

Given the pros and cons, how do you decide what’s best for your home? Let’s explore a few questions that can help you determine if an upgrade is worthwhile for your home.

Are You Prepared for Initial Costs?

A $3,000 on-demand water heater is a significant investment. You’ll need to be prepared to pay at least that much to get a system that meets your needs.

How Long Are You Willing to Wait to Recoup Your Investment?

Due to the significant upfront investment, you may need to wait several years before you see any return. It could take up to 27 years before you recoup your investment.

How Many People Live in The House?

If your family’s water demand is high, a tankless system may not be the best choice. These systems can only provide a limited flow of hot water per minute. You can get around this problem by installing multiple units, which will only add to the amount of money you’ll need to spend.

Are You Willing to Invest Time and Money Into More Stringent Maintenance Requirements?

Tankless water heaters are far from a set it and forget it system. These units require more maintenance than traditional water heaters. Typically these units must be flushed and cleaned at least every 500 hours.


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