What is a tankless water heater?
Tankless water heaters are an efficient, convenient alternative to traditional water heaters, and represent a step forward in the technology. A standard water heater holds up to 50 gallons of water in a reservoir that is constantly heated with gas or electricity, while a tankless heater warms the water on demand, straight from the source.
With a tankless model, the heating process looks like this:
- The cold intake water is routed through a series of pipes inside a heat exchanger, allowing the burner to quickly transfer heat to the water.
- The system’s control panel responds by turning on an intake fan, which brings in outside air and opens a valve to let in gas for ignition.
- The warm water tap is opened, which triggers a flow sensor built into the heater.
- The burner also switches on instantly and begins heating the water.
- All exhaust gases are safely vented outside the home.
- A mixing valve combines cold water with the superheated water to ensure hot, but not too hot, water exits the tap. The system monitors temperature in real time to make adjustments as necessary.
There are numerous advantages to this technology that make older, tank-based systems obsolete in many cases.
Why should homeowners consider converting to a tankless water heater?
A tankless system offers several benefits to homeowners, including:
- Hot water on demand – For many homeowners, this is the primary reason for switching to a tankless heater. A tankless water heater can keep producing hot water as long as it’s needed, even if that hot shower runs an hour long. The only challenge is ensuring that the tankless heater can handle the home’s hot water needs, especially during peak usage times. That’s something that a professional can help with, though homeowners can also prevent lulls in warm water by waiting to do the wash when no one is in the shower.
- Greater energy efficiency – A lot of heat put into a traditional water heater is lost because the water is heated even when it’s not being used. That’s not the case with a tankless system, so homeowners get more hot water for their money.
- Smaller footprint – Without a standard water tank taking up space, it’s easier to find room for other things, like a washer or dryer, or additional storage room in the garage. Some tankless heaters are so small that they can be installed in a closet or under the sink. They are so small, in fact, that they can be mounted on the wall, which opens up additional areas for installation.
- Safer – When a hot water tank fails, it could spill dozens of gallons of water into the home, resulting in severe damage. That’s a risk that homeowners must always be aware of, because water tanks typically only last 8 to 10 years before they require replacement.
If a tankless system fails, it will only cause as much damage as a typical plumbing leak, which is far more manageable.
- Longer lifespan – A traditional water tank will provide about a decade’s worth of hot water before replacement is needed. Some tankless systems, though, can provide 20 or more years of hot water before they need to be switched out for a new model.
- Smarter – Manufacturers are integrating smarter controls into their new tankless models, which gives homeowners additional management tools. For example, some tankless systems can alert owners when maintenance is required or when descaling is needed. Also, if a tankless system comes with a recirculation pipe, the heater can be remotely activated so that warm water is available with a few seconds of turning on the tap.
There are compelling reasons to consider a tankless system, but it is essential that homeowners consult with an expert plumber before committing to the change.
Why is it important to hire an experienced plumber when switching to a tankless water heater?
Tankless water heaters are energy efficient and ideal for families that use a lot of hot water, but here’s why you should work with an experienced plumber before selecting a model:
A tankless system must be sized correctly
The limiting factor for a tankless system is flow rate, as it must keep up with hot water demands without a reservoir to draw from. This is an easy problem to solve for plumbers that have experience installing tankless systems. In some cases, a second tankless heater may be required, and a plumber can help determine this.
A tankless system’s smart controls will need to be configured
Those smart water heater controls are only useful if they are configured for your devices properly. An experienced plumber has set up controls for many clients in the past, so they will ensure your system is also set up for maximum control.
A tankless system requires different gas and exhaust components
Even though tankless systems are more energy efficient overall, they require more energy to operate when they are switched on. You’ll need an experienced plumber to find and install the right gas lines for your tankless system. Also, tankless systems require additional ventilation to handle exhaust fumes, and it’s critical that you work with a plumber who knows tankless systems, as this exhaust includes carbon monoxide. When installed properly, a tankless heater is sealed and safe, but only a knowledgeable plumber can perform a proper installation.
A tankless system can be installed in more places
There’s an upside and downside to this. With additional installation options, plumbers can position the heater so that homeowners can get hot water to all parts of the home quickly. However, there are code requirements that plumbers must adhere to when installing the heater, which makes for a challenging balance. However, experienced plumbers are capable of striking this balance.
Tankless water heaters are the next step in water heating technology, with greater performance, efficiency, safety and control. They can also be retrofitted into any home as long as you have the right expert to do the installation.