If you are curious whether a gas or electric tankless water heater for your home or business is a good idea, here are some considerations:
Heating water at the rate it flows through your pipes, without a standing mass of water in a tank being heated over and over again, allows you to have hot water on demand for as long as you need it. But to accomplish this, the volume of gas or electrical load capacity must be up to the task. The usage is high for those demand times only. So your gas pipe size must be big enough to “feed” the unit without “starving” other gas units such as the furnace, stove, dryer etc. at times of simultaneous usage. So there may be unexpected plumbing or electrical upgrade costs involved.
The overall energy usage will be less, and you will free up some floor space from that old tank in favor of a unit the size of a briefcase mounted on the wall. A gas-powered tankless unit should stay roughly in the same area of the old tank-style unit so the existing exhaust vent may possibly be reused; hopefully converted to a concentric duct with intake of outside air for combustion combined with exhaust of the combustion gases within the same overall diameter piping. One advantage of the electric-style tankless water heater is it needs no venting, so the location can be more flexible.
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As with any water heater, you will gain even greater efficiency and waste less water while waiting for the hot water to get there if you insulate your pipes as much as possible. Also, the closer your usage points are to the water heater, the more money and water you will save. If necessary, you can install small electric “point of use” water heater boosters near your most used faucets, but that really cuts into your energy savings.
Maintenance is very important with tankless water heaters. The water flows through thin vanes like a miniature radiator, so the heat transfer is even and rapid. These vanes can get a buildup of mineral deposits and sludge, so you must have the unit flushed out, generally with a vinegar solution. This service is recommended every year or so, depending on the model and the specifications. Again, efficiency drops with excessive buildup. This has always been true with tank-style water heaters, but they are harder to purge of buildup in critical areas.
It is really advisable to explore these considerations with a plumbing professional before proceeding with any purchase. Certainly do your research if you are a “do-it-yourselfer” and, in any case, ask for references or contact others who may have gone through this process.
All in all, these units are a wonderful addition to your home or business if installed properly, and contribute to energy savings for everyone’s benefit.