Tankless Water Heater – Is It a Good Choice?

So you find yourself in a position of upgrading or replacing a failed water heater. Depending on your time frame it make make sense for you to consider the best tankless water heater.

The real question is, are tankless water heaters that much better than other choices? There is a lot of misinformation in the marketplace about having hot water instantaneously available. Tankless systems are supposedly much better energy savings, however, this may not be entirely accurate.

If you are considering a tankless system there are of couple of things you might want to consider.

Most people do not like to wait for hot water and most of all they do not like to run out of hot water.

Companies have jumped into and out of the tankless “on demand” market. When companies leave the market exiting customers suffer because they no longer have access to spare parts or technical support. Consumers need to be careful when purchasing tankless systems because financially inspired companies tend to inflate the actual capabilities of their units. Promises of better efficiency and greater savings definitely get buyers attention.

However, in reality home owners may realize they’ve paid considerably more money at the front end and now their utility bills are a ot higher than before. In addition, the system may require expensive service bills which if not performed voids the warranty.

Tankless systems enjoy a unique marketing advantage; there are no standards so comparing competing units is VERY tough.

One Glaring Issue

Traditional water tank heater systems allow a home owner to demand hot water use from multiple sources simultaneously. So a cloths washer, dishwasher, and shower can all pull hot water at the same time. With tankless systems, this situation is more difficult to solve. To enable hot water to multiple locations tankless systems need to be larger or in some cases, multiple units.

Bottom Line

Do your homework. Tankless systems are more complicated water heating system and may require significant plumbing alterations and in some cases multiple units.

Electric Water Heaters

Electric water heaters are the most common installed units. When you use hot water cold water enters the tank to replace any hot water that was removed. A thermostat senses the water temperature and if it has dropped below the set level it activates the heating elements. Even when not in use the water temperature drops so the heating elements are activated to bring the water back up to its set temperature.

For this reason when you’re choosing a new electric water heater is best to pick the right size needs for your household. Too small of a tank could mean you’ll run out of water when there is heavy use. Having too large of a tank means you’ll be paying each month for your tank to constantly heat the stored water. This results in a situation where you’re paying for something that you’re not actually using.

Determining your household water usage is the first order of business when choosing a new electric water heater. How many bathrooms, how much simultaneous uses will there be (showers, toilets, cloths washer, etc)? The greater simultaneous demand the larger tank you’ll need. As an example, a couple living in a large home or a large family living in a small home will not need the same capacity water heater as a large family.

If you own a house or condominium remember, most manufacturers have sizing programs that will help you determine which size tank is the your best choice.

Perhaps the more important question is, “Did the old water heater work good enough?” If your answer is no, a lot of people will think, “I have a 30-gallon, so I should get a 40 gallon” or “I have a 40 gallon, so a 50 gallon would be better.” Here’s where thinking in terms of tank size might be a mistake. A better choice is to think in terms of first-hour recovery, which is a term that determine how quickly a tank heats water.

First-hour recovery combines water tank capacity with what it can heat in one hour. Second hour performance is going to be less as the tank would not be starting full of hot water. First-hour recovery in combination with the yellow federal energy sticker is perfect way of comparing different tanks.

Gas Water Heaters

Gas and electric water heaters are the most common methods for delivering hot water in households.

In a typical home situation gas brings water temperature to the desired level about twice as fast as electrics units do. and costs less than half what it takes for an electric water heater to produce the same amount of hot water. It is speculated that gas systems are less efficient than electric, however, electricity costs are typically more expensive.

To insure the gas connection is not broken special secure installation caution should be taken for gas systems so the tank cannot be dislodged or fall over which could create a gas fire.

If your current water heater is electric and natural gas is available to your home changing could save you money. Yes, electric systems come with higher energy ratings than gas units but electric is a more expensive way to to heat water.

Many feel that if gas is available, it might make sense to switch to a gas system. Of course if electricity is your only option or where it is physically impossible to ventilate the gas fired emissions. Experts feel gas is a cheaper and much quicker way to heat water.

The Department of Energy released residential energy sources rated at average dollar cost per million BTUs of heat:

– natural gas: $12.18
– heating oil: $16.01
– propane: $20.47
– electricity: $31.21

Clearly these figures will fluctuate according to your energy charges in your area, but the bottom line as reflected in the above figures is: If gas is available and your home can accommodate a gas system it would make sense to heat your water with gas.

An alternative…

If you currently heat your water with an electric system and gas is available you might want to consider an external gas fired system such as the Gas-Fired Products company and their unit is called the Seahorse. Your electric tank remains and the electric heating units are removed which converts your water heater into a storage tank.

A gas powered system is then installed on an outside wall where venting is no longer an issue and then plumbed/attached to your “new” storage tank. Gas is not piped into your home but only to an exterior wall where the unit is located. With three times the capacity of heating water external gas fired systems make a lot of sense.

Propane Water Heaters

Considering the high cost of generating hot water every homeowner would appreciate any possible way to lower that monthly bill.

One possible alternative is converting a conventional water heating system to propane. Heating water with propane has been shown to reduce utilities costs by up to one third which represents a substantial savings over a year. Propane systems are more efficient in most situations as compared to electric water heaters. It’s been shown that a 50 gallon propane system can provide as much hot water as a 60 to 80 gallon electric system.

System Design

Propane systems have been shown to fill and heat water in about half the time as compared to an electric system. And considering it costs one third less to operate the appeal soon becomes apparent. Homeowners have discovered they can increase efficiency and savings with tankless propane water heaters which can return up to 60 percent lower utility bills than electric models.

Environmental Impact

Propane is a more efficient choice. Reduced electricity needs translates to electrical power plants are able to lower their production capacity which in the case of coal-fired power plants means fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

Tank Type Propane Systems

Tank propane systems have been available for quite some time and are available in most retail building supply outlets. The bottom of the tank is heated with propane which heats the water to the designated thermostat controlled setting.

Tankless Propane Systems

Gaining in popularity tankless propane systems are quickly becoming the water heating system of choice for several reasons. Primarily tankless propane systems are the most efficient use of gas. Water is only heated when a demand is placed on the system by an open hot water valve such as in a fixture anywhere in the home.

As water is circulated through “coils” in the tankless system it is heated with a by a propane burner. Hot water is them circulated to the fixture with the open hot water valve. Once the valve has been closed the system senses the water has stopped flowing and the system goes into standby.

Tankless Vs. Tank Propane Water Heaters

Water delivery is the same regardless of tank or tankless. However, upfront costs can be substantially different with tankless systems costing up to twice that of standard water heaters. Yet, operationally, the tankless system yields far great savings and can literally pay for themselves in months as apposed to years overs standard tank systems.

Homeowners have liked the fact that space requirements for tankless systems is very small as compared to a tank system. Considering it’s low space profile a tankless system can be installed on an interior wall and vented to the exterior through the wall. Some propane water heaters can be actually mounted on an exterior wall.

Solar Water Heater

Also called solar domestic hot water systems a solar water heater has been shown to be a cost-effective alternative method of generating hot water for a home. Most people are unaware that these systems can be used in any climate.

Solar systems are comprised of water storage tanks and solar collectors. Active systems have circulating pumps and passive systems do not.

Solar systems need water tanks that are much more insulated than other water heater systems. Two tank systems preheats water which then enters a standard water heater. One tank systems combine a storage tank and back-up heater into one unit.

Residential solar collectors

Flat-plate collector:
Flat plate weatherproof collectors have an absorption plate one or several layers of glass or plastic.

Integral collector-storage systems:
Referred to as batch or ICS units these systems contain one or more black tanks in a glazed box. Water is cycled through the solar collector where it’s preheated. The preheated water is then circulated into a standard backup water heater. These units are restricted to mild freeze environments because their pipes are exposed to the outdoors and will freeze.

Evacuated-tube solar collectors:
These units consist of transparent glass tubes in parallel rows. The tubes consist of an outer glass tube and a metal collection tube affixed to a fin. A solar collection material coats the fin and enables solar absorption while simultaneously slowing heat loss.

Cost effectiveness
Considering that almost 15% of the average home’s utility is used to heat water installing a solar water heater may be a good choice both financially and environmentally. A typical install averages $7-8 thousand dollars and a the investment recoup period typically is less than 5 years

On average passive systems are preferred because they are less complicated (no pump to circulate water) and have less chance of failure. Reliability, longer life, and easier to maintenance make passive systems more desirable than more complicated active systems.

While solar systems are attractive it is critical to also have a back-up system in the advent the main solar collection system is disabled. Back-up systems only need to be able to provide minimal amounts of hot water and are only needed in emergencies.

Add a Gravity-Fed Recirculation System

Add a Gravity-Fed Recirculation SystemThe facts: A family of four wastes as much as 12,000 gallons of water every year waiting for hot water to travel from the heater to the tap. The wait wastes water and energy, and puts an unnecessary burden on sewage-treatment systems.

The fix: Recirculating systems eliminate the wait by delivering instant hot water to all the fixtures in your house. Most systems use an electric pump, but even energy-efficient pumps cost money to run. You can put the pump on a switch, timer, or motion sensor for efficiency, but you sacrifice the convenience of hot water on demand.

If you really want to save energy dollars and always have hot water at the tap, ask your plumber about a gravity-fed recirculation system. If you want to reduce your water-heating bill to zero dollars, consider combining gravity fed recirculation with a solar water heater.

This is how gravity, then recirculation works: When water is heated, its molecules expand and become less dense. Gravity causes the denser, and therefore heavier, cold water molecules to sink to the lowest point in the system. All that’s needed to set up circulation between the hotter water in the top in the colder water at the bottom is a loop that returns from wherever the desire for instant hot water is located to the lower connection of the water heater. This generates a thermal circulation flow gently move hot water out to the end of the loop and back through the return. The entire loop must be well insulated to prevent wasting energy and short-cycling. With no moving parts to wear out, the system supplies instant hot water throughout the house 24 hours a day.

Savings: At between $600 and $1400 initial cost of a recirculation system might seem like a deal breaker, but if you consider their return on investment, you’ll see the real value a recirculation system can offer. But say you’re wasting 12,000 gallons a year waiting for hot water to come through. Eliminating that waste with a gravity fed recirculation system saves you $265 in water, sewage, and water heating costs. Now, if you’re saving a total of $265 annually and the system cost $1200, the annual ROI is an attractive 22%. A hefty tax free return and no waiting for hot water-it doesn’t get better than that. A recirculation system powered by a pump will save you somewhat less.

Add a Thermal-Expansion Tank

 Thermal expansion tankThermal-Expansion Tank

As water is heated in the expands. A properly sized TXT gives the expanding volume water a place to “grow” while protecting the tank and plumbing system from thermal-expansion stresses. Water cannot be compressed, but air can. The two are separated by a rubber diaphragm inside the expansion tank.

The facts: when water is heated, it expands. Heating 40 gallons of 40°F water to 140° generates 3/4 gallons of thermal expansion. Without an expansion tank, this water leaks out of the tanks temperature and pressure (T&P) valve, ruins the water heater, or causes a leak in the piping-the weakest link in the chain. T&P relief valves discharge under three conditions: pressure that is 150 pounds per square inch or above; temperatures above 210°F; or when the valve is worn out or fouled with debris. A badly leaking relief valve can double or triple your water heating bill.

The fix: A properly sized thermal expansion tank TXT should be installed to accommodate the increase in volume as water is heated you’ll find TXTs in your home centers next to the water heaters. Installation instructions come with each tank.

Grip fittings available today have virtually eliminated the need to solder piping, so the trickiest part of installing a TXT is providing proper support. Because water weighs 8.34 pounds per gallon., good support is essential to prevent stressing newly installed joints. Provide that support with metal hanger strapping; don’t use the cheap plastic stuff. Most thermal expansion tanks for residential use come in two sizes: 2 gallon and 4.5 gallon. For an extra $15, your system will be better protected by the larger one.

The savings: adding a properly sized TXT can save money by reducing wear and tear on your home’s plumbing. The water heater will last longer; the faucets won’t wear out as quickly; and piping and fittings won’t break, split, or develop leaks caused by high pressure. It’s a wise investment.

Find and Repair Leaks and Drips

Find and Repair Leaks and Drips

The facts: Leaky plumbing that’s not causing damage-such as faucet dripping into a sink-is often ignored. But a single hot water faucet that grips once a second, 60 drips per minute, cost the homeowner with a gas-fired water heater $22 a year in wasted Btu alone.

Depending on where you live, you might also pay for water and its disposal; in some areas, that adds about $24. Not bad? If that leak is actually a dribble that fills a ounce cup of minute, it’ll cost $348 annually-plus $230 for the water and its disposal. If your water heater runs on electricity or oil, these numbers will be even higher.

The fix: Most leak repairs are manageable by any handy homeowner and can be done with little expense. Leaks in more remote areas can easily go been detected, but many can be found with a little investigation.

If you have municipal water, the meter probably has a telltale spinner; if the faucets are all shut off and it’s spinning, you’ve got a leak. If the meter doesn’t have a tattletale gauge, record the reading in the evening after your last Jews and again in the morning before you using any water. If there is a difference, then you have a leak.

Well-water systems present a different challenge for detecting leaks, in this case, a pressure gauge like the Watts|WTG can be screwed onto any available hose threaded faucet. Open the faucets, return to the well tank, and close the outlet valve. This isolates the homes piping from the well tank. Water is essentially non-compressible, so even a minute late-like a slow drip-show up on the gauge as a decrease in pressure.

Other areas to check visually for leaking hot water include the water heater’s Inlet, outlet, boiler drain, and relief valve ports, where leaks can be wicked into surrounding insulation and evaporated quickly by the heated storage tank. Other common leaky sites include pinholes in piping; joints that weep were solder has cracked or where threads are not adequately tightened; and joints between different types of piping.

Once you’ve found the leak, the first step-whether you tackle the repairs yourself were: a pro-is shutting off the water (something everyone in your household should know in case of a plumbing emergency). Next, you have to determine what you need to repair the leak.

Pipe and joint leaks can be sealed with do-it-yourself kits sold at home centers; the kits contain a wide variety of push on self sealing fittings or compression fittings that adapt to virtually any type of piping. You might want to call in a pro if soldering or special tools are required.

If a faucet or toilet is leaking and are tackling repairs yourself, it’s suggested you first search the Internet for your toilet or faucet model. You’re likely to find an exploded parts view along with details about repairs or parts to order. Armed with this information, a trip to your local big-box retailer won’t be half as frustrating as it would be if you were to stare blindly at a wall lined with thousands of parts. Once you have the parts, complete the replacement according to manufacturer’s directions.

The savings: Let’s say you discovered several drippy faucets. You check the water meter reading over an eight hour. And you find you’ve lost 4 gallons. That’s 126 trips per minute. It is worth your time and effort to fix the faucets? Repair parts might cost $5-$50 and a few hours of your time.

If the leaks or on the hot side in the heat with oil, those trips cost about $185 a year. Chances are the repairs will last for 10 years, or longer, saving you $1845 over the long run.

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