Heating Water Can Be a Tankless Job
By Gina Dostler
As Americans we are so lucky to have water run straight into our home. It’s modern convenience that is rarely discussed until a pipe bursts , whoops, no more water. Going a day without running water sounds like no problem, but try it sometime. No showers, no dishwasher, no washing machine, and oh boy, no toilets.
But what makes the water in our home even more special is we get our choice of hot or cold. Every morning a hot shower pours out with its lovely steam swirling around the bathroom only made possible by a water heater. There are basically two types of water heaters: the traditional storage tanks and then the tankless. The tankless water heater was invented in the 1890s but was pushed aside when the steel industry was at its height in the 1950s and steel storage tanks took prominence in the new houses being built in post-war America.
Now, tankless water heaters are making a comeback and there has been a lot of heated debate. Scott Harrison is a believer. With 27 years experience as a plumber, Scott truly believes in the efficiency and functioning of using a tankless in the home. So much so, he actually has 30 of them up and running in his shop to learn the ins and outs of the box.
He believes in its heavenly ability to bring peace and harmony in the household with its endless supply of hot water. Scott provided some FAQs about both tanks and tankless and why he definitely wants to keep you in hot water (‘cause you want to be.)
Q: Why chose a tankless water heater?
A: There are four reasons most people choose a tankless water heater. 1) Right now with all the environmental issues surrounding us, some people make the decision to go green with their water heating by installing a tankless. 2) Running out of hot water due to too many users or running a car wash in their shower with added fixtures or deep soaking tubs. 3) A leaking hot water heater inside the home that requires major cleanup provides the opportunity to sink the cleanup money into a tankless. 4) A storage tank water heater takes up space and with real estate the price it is here in the southland, every inch of square footage is valuable. The space that a water tank takes up could readily be used for storage or an additional part of the house and increase the value of the home. A tankless water heater takes up 0 square feet.
Q: There is a lot of negative talk about putting in a tankless. What is your take on that?
A: The cause for that is usually improper installation. There is a big difference in going from a tank to a tankless. The venting is different material than the regular storage tank. Also the gas line needs to be increased or a new electric meter installed to take on the increased amperage. And recirculation needs to be addressed. The type of plumbing system installed in the home makes a huge difference on which model and brand of tankless to install. These are just some of the factors that need to be considered and worked through with a professional. You can’t just take out a tank and swap it for a tankless. And that’s what happens to many customers. I run across about a 25-30 percent improper installation rate.
Q: How does it work?
A: Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. Standby heat losses with standard tanks are avoided with the tankless. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. The flow sensor fires the burner. It is heated either by an electric element or a gas burner. Water lines around the heat exchanger warm the water to the desired temperature. When the hot water valve is closed, the flow sensor turns off the burner. In this way a constant supply of hot water is delivered to the home while conserving energy.
A: Gas fired or electric pilots have to feed constant heat into the cylinder at all times. When a hot water faucet is turned on, cold water comes into the storage tank to push the hot water out thus cooling the water in the tank and requiring more energy to heat the tank back up. With the constant cooling and heat dissipation, this makes the storage tank about 60% efficient. Tankless’s rate about 82-99 percent efficiency, and that includes the worst scenario.
Also another way storage tanks are inefficient is with the buildup of sediment. The corrosion inside the steel tank produces sediment that draws heat away from the water and forces the tank to work harder to heat the water. An anode can be put inside the tank to delay the corrosion. Unfortunately most people don’t maintain their tank by flushing it out once a year and checking to see if the anode needs replacement.
Think about it. Tanks are really a pot with a fire under it. They use a lot of space, are thermally inefficient and you pay big bucks to get hot water out of it just to turnaround and have cold water pushed back into it. Granted tanks are less expensive to purchase, but they suck up a lot more money to operate than a tankless.
Q: How can a tankless be at its most efficient?
A: Water quality. These days that means placing a filter in your water system that applies a scale prevention to your pipes, appliances, and of course the tankless. Also installing a water softener protects your whole house and its fixtures. It not only keeps the corrosive factors down, it cuts the soap amount in your dishwasher, washing machine and in the shower by two-thirds. And I can’t stress enough the importance of water delivery in your home. You need to be very careful how the water is circulated. Simply adding a circulation pump will only add more working hours to the tankless and this might run it too hard and void the warranty. Instead I like to understand what the goals are for the water heater in the household so the tankless runs efficiently and to your expectations. Efficiency needs the right solution for the right product.
Scott Harrison, Owner
Scott Harrison Plumbing