Tankless water heaters have been called the modern way to have hot water, and saves energy while also cutting your utility bill. These water heaters have a relatively simple design that allows you to have hot water without storing huge amounts of water in a tank. A standard water heater will store and heat 40 gallons of hot water. In the simplest terms possible, feed water runs through tubing that gets heated by either electrical elements or gas burners. It comes in cold and goes out hot, so that as soon as you turn on a hot water faucet, you get instant hot water.
So far so good, right? Cold water in, hot water out, no bulky storage tank and very energy efficient. But before we go into the whys and wherefores of tankless water heaters, how about a bit of history first.
The first of the tankless water heaters actually came before the first water heater tanks. A painter, of all things, named Benjamin Maughan, invented tankless water heaters in 1868. Water flowed into the top of what looked like an old kerosene heater, where it was channeled downwards through numerous circular copper pipes. Below the pipes was a gas flame that heated the pipes and therefore, heated the water as it flowed through them. Coming in cold from the top, the water came out hot at the bottom, and so the tankless hot water heater was born.
Although it was a good idea in practice, it was difficult to implement. You needed a separate chimney for the exhaust gases, there was no such thing as “instant on” technology, so you had to manually light the gas flame before using the heater, and it was expensive to buy. Although it became more modernized through the years, it was still less expensive to go the route of a storage tank water heater, and tankless types didn’t really begin to catch on until computerized components, over the past 20 years, began to make them practical.
Pros and Cons
Make no mistake about it, tankless water heaters can save up to 30% off of your hot water bill, and the more hot water you use, the more you’ll save. That is a huge “pro” all by itself. However, there are a few cons that go with it.
Tankless water heaters are more expensive to purchase and they need professional installation. The best of these water heaters may cost 5 times, or more, than a storage tank type that yields the same usable water temperature. And that may be the biggest con of them all; usable water temperature.
All tankless water heaters must heat up incoming ground water to a usable temperature. The colder the ground water, like say in the northern states, the more BTU’s that are needed to heat the water up. And if you are heating up water for two or more applications, doing laundry while someone is taking a shower, you’ll need even more BTU’s to heat up all the extra water that is flowing through the piping. You’ll pay extra for that convenience.
The Bottom Line
There are no longer any federal tax credits for tankless water heaters, incentives having expired in 2013. However, always check with your state because certain states offer tax credits above and beyond the Federal level.
That said, if you live in a northern state, you probably won’t recoup your loss through energy savings because you’ll have to get a bigger unit. But those in the southern states, tankless water heaters are a viable energy saving option that should be looked into the next time you need a water heater replacement.