Many homeowners are looking for ways to conserve energy and reduce their “carbon footprint.” One idea that has been gaining traction is the tankless water heater. Boston homeowners who are considering the move to a tankless hot water system should consider the move carefully before they make the decision to throw out the old hot water tank.
The first question most homeowners have about tankless systems is the cost. A tankless system does cost more than a conventional hot water heater, but the tradeoff is that the system lasts longer. A conventional residential hot water heating system will last between 6 and 12 years. Tankless hot water systems last about twice as long. Even so, the up-front cost of a tankless water heating system may leave you with a case of sticker shock! Generally, the system (with installation) will run between about $2,000 and $5,000, depending upon the system you choose.
If you have natural gas or propane in your home already, you’re in good shape for a tankless water heating system. If you need to bring gas or propane in, you’ll need to factor this additional cost into your calculations.
You can find electric tankless water heating systems. They’re generally less expensive to purchase and install, and their efficiency is higher, too. The problem is one of cost. Natural gas costs less per BTU than electricity does. In areas where both energy sources are readily available, you’ll spend 10%-15% less on a gas-fired tankless water system.
Here’s another consideration for electric tankless water systems; your house will likely require a 200-amp, 220V electrical service. Some electric tankless systems operate on smaller services, but you may incur additional expense if you have to upgrade your household electrical system to accommodate a tankless electric water heater.
With a conventional system, you’ll pay your equipment costs over time, in the form of tank replacement and tank maintenance, whereas with a tankless system, you’ll pay all system costs up front. The big question for most homeowners is (and will continue to be): “Can I recover the cost of the system?” Depending upon your hot water usage, you may not be able to recover the cost through normal operation, but your house may command a better price on the market if you have a tankless system installed.
Don’t fall for the myth that the tankless hot water system provides an infinite supply of hot water. Depending upon the size of the system you buy, a tankless system may be able to handle 1-2 showers simultaneously or a combination of a shower and a hot-water appliance, like a dishwasher or washing machine. Also, don’t plan on having “instant” hot water. The system will still require a little time to heat the water and deliver it to your tap.
Finally, if you use a significant amount of hot water (in other words, you have a 60-80 gallon tank), you may come out ahead on a tankless water heating system. I’ll show you why next week. If you get by just fine with a 40- or 50-gallon tank, I’ll show you why going the tankless route may come down to a coin toss.
If you have questions about water heaters, Boston Standard Plumbing has the answers. We offer 24-hour emergency service for all plumbing, heating and cooling systems. Contact us at (617) 288-2911.