The winter months are coming. I can almost feel the bitter cold. (You know the kind of bone chilling cold that makes you think you’ll never feel the warm summer sun ever again.) So to avoid feeling even more cold as winter sets in, you want to make sure your water heater is working properly and everything is as warm as you need it.
Tankless water heaters have come into fashion in recent years - but are they really worth it? Here, we'll take a closer look at pros and cons:
Tankless water heaters 101
As Energy Star explains, tankless heaters work by only drawing water in from municipal sources and heating it when a hot tap in the house is activated. The process is something like this:
- A flow sensor connected to the house's water pipes trips the gas burner once a tap has been turned and cold water is drawn into the heater.
- The burner warms a component called a heat exchanger, which in turn brings the water up to a predetermined temperature. (You can adjust this at any time, whether or not the heater is currently operating.)
- The tankless heater keeps bringing water in and heating it as long as hot taps in the house are turned on, but stops on a dime once they're off.
- Unused water gets diverted back to whatever pipes it was sourced from.
- In gas-powered tankless water heaters, the combustion fuel exits through a series of sealed vents, while electric models simply power down.
Dollars and cents benefits
Because tankless heaters use less water, less energy is needed to warm it up, leading to lower recurring utility bills than those resulting from the use of a traditional tank-based heater - saving a family of four about $95 annually, according to Energy Star. You might see even greater benefits if you opt for an Energy Star-certified model: Tankless heaters that meet the strict efficiency standards of this joint Environmental Protection Agency-Department of Energy initiative can save a four-person family $20 more each year than their non-certified counterparts.
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Additionally, tankless water heaters generally have 20-year life spans - three times what you'd expect from a traditional heater, according to This Old House. Last but not least, they take up far less space than tank-type models. You can mount a tankless heater on just about any wall or install it outside, whereas an old-school water heater needs a lot of your basement's real estate to fit its tank.
Costs and other shortfalls
Initial cost is probably the biggest deterrent when it comes to a tankless water heater. This Old House notes that a gas-powered model capable of supplying enough heat for a whole household might come with a $2,000 price tag (not including installation fees), with $1,000 or so being the most common cost. Electric tankless heaters are way cheaper to buy, topping out at $900 - but if you need to rewire the house to accommodate one of those units, you'll pay up to $5,000 more, according to Angie's List.
It's also worth noting that it takes time to realize savings from a tankless heater - usually five or six years. And they often have automatic shutoff features that engage when water flow falls to 0.3 gallons per minute or less, which can accidentally trip if faucets are clogged.
Only you can make the final choice about installing a tankless water heater, so it’s important to consider it carefully.
One thing's for sure, being prepared before a water heater breakdown occurs is a smart move. Plans from HomeServe can help you manage costs of covered repairs.