Are Tankless Water Heaters All They’re Cracked Up To Be?

“You can eat all the food you want without ever gaining any weight! You can eat whatever you want, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn’t matter – you won’t gain any weight. In fact, you’ll actually lose weight! All you have to do is buy my magic pills.”

“Never run out of hot water again! With our tankless water heater you’ll get an endless hot water supply. You can stay in the shower for hours – all day if you like – and never run out of hot water. Not only can you have hot water all day long, you’ll also save up to 40% on your gas bill! All you have to do is buy my magic water heater.”

Folks, we all know that first paragraph is a bunch of hogwash. The problem is that a good portion of the public is falling for the equally absurd claims made in the second paragraph.

I’m about to expose tankless water heaters and reveal their hidden costs. But first, my disclaimer:

I have installed many tankless water heaters for basically one common reason.

1. We installed a commercial tankless water heater at a state of the art, prototype car wash that wanted to super heat their water for some reason I don’t understand. This was the best way to do it. They had absolutely no space for a tank type commercial water heater.

2. We installed one on a small brick ranch home where the homeowner converted two small bathrooms into one large bathroom. There was no room for a conventional water heater and this unit served the purpose very well. The couple was going to stay there for a long time, which is what it takes to recover the costs associated with installing it.

3. We installed one where two lowboy gas water heaters had to be replaced in a crawl space. Gas lowboy water heaters are no longer made and the only option was to install a tankless gas water heater or two 50-gallon lowboy electric water heaters. The client likes long showers and is going to stay in the same home forever. We were also able to satisfy this need with a tankless water heater.

The common thread in each of these three situations is no space for a conventional tank type water heater. All they’re good for is saving space, and in America, that’s typically just not a problem.

Tankless water heaters have a place in the market but they’re not the end all answer to life’s hot water problems. The way the ads run, you’d think something catastrophic would happen if you ever run low on hot water. Heaven forbid anyone have to wait 15 or 20 minutes for the water to heat up again. And when was the last time that actually happened to you anyway?

Tankless Water Heater Pros:

1. Endless hot water

2. Saves space

That’s it.

Tankless Water Heater Cons:

1. Any energy savings are realized only after the tankless water heater is paid for. This will take between 7 and 10 years. The water heater will never be paid for if the reason you’re buying it is for endless hot water.

2. After 7 to 10 years, you will realize energy savings only if you spend a reasonable amount of time in the shower. It’s like paragraph #1. If you eat 24/7, you won’t lose weight.

3. The coils in the unit have to be treated every year to keep scale from building up. (You don’t hear that in the ads.) The more scale, the more gas you’ll use and the less hot water you’ll get. Are you going to remember to do it? Even installers don’t know this and they don’t install the drain or bypass valves to enable you to do it.

4. Your gas line size has to be increased and in most cases, you’ll need a new meter with increased capacity. A good tankless water heater will use up to 199,000 BTUs of gas that will supply all your fixtures with plenty of hot water without a loss of volume. Most home’s gas meters are only enabled to supply a maximum of 250,000 BTUs of gas, so in the winter, if your furnace is running and you are using a lot of hot water at the same time, you’ll exceed your meter’s ability to supply enough gas. This will cause poor performance of all you gas appliance and in most cases void their warranties.

5. The gas company has to retrofit your meter to increase gas capacity. (Have you ever wondered why the gas company is paying you to install a tankless water heater by offering rebates? They know, in the long run, you’re going to pay them back – plus some.

6. You can have 3 tank type water heaters installed for about the same price as a tankless water heater. Let’s do some math. One tankless water heater with a 20-year warranty – that’s voided if you don’t do the yearly maintenance – versus three tank-type water heaters with 10-year warranties. Looks like you’ll get at least 10 extra years service with conventional water heaters for the same price.

7. Tankless water heaters won’t give you instant hot water. AND, if you want a circulating pump to give you instant hot water, you can’t do it with a tankless water heater. The reasons are somewhat technical. Ahh, but you can have instant hot water with a tank type, which will save up to 15 thousand gallons of water every year.

8. Tankless water heaters require electricity in order to operate. This is not necessarily a bad thing, except no one tells you until it’s time to plug it in and you have to hire an electrician.

9. Tankless water heaters require special venting which 9 times out of 10 means relocating the water heater which means relocating everything that goes with it as well, hot and cold water lines and gas line and that isn’t free.

O.K. I think you get the point. I don’t really hate tankless water heaters. I hate the hyped up advertising promoting them. In many instances the ads are outright lying to you. Most plumbers are doing a disservice by riding the huge wave of public excitement and selling them like hotcakes, not installing the valves necessary for cleaning, not increasing gas lines or gas capacity and generally disregarding all the facts.

If you are interested in a tankless water heater, we will give you ALL the facts. Seldom are they the best way to go when needing a replacement. When I replaced the water heater in my home I installed a conventional tank type water heater. I also installed a circulating pump that gives us instant hot water. It’s efficient, gives us all the hot water we need when we need it, saves us thousands of gallons of water a year and cost only 1/3 of what a tankless one would have cost. I expect it to last at least 15 years.

Schedule a Plumber

Schedule a plumber if you need assistance, we are happy to help.

Read our reviews to learn more about us or our services.