Over the past 10 years the plumbing industry has been abuzz over Tankless Water Heaters. From their introduction into the market place there have been many wild claims about the efficiency and return on the investment made, or pay back in gas savings, the owner will receive upon its installation compared to a traditional gas fueled tank type water heater.
After 10 plus years in the market place, undeniable data is now available on the performance of these units. Surprisingly all of this data proves tankless water heaters are NOT the most economical or GREEN type of water heater to install, nor are they any where near cost effective to own and operate.
Many people have been drawn into the installation of tankless heaters through the “GREEN” movement and or very savvy advertising. All Tankless manufacturers rate their units according to how many gallons per minute it will produce to the home owner or business. These claims only can be substantiated by having the EXACT service parameters laid out in the manufactures specifications.
No One Talks About Incoming Water Temperature
The largest mitigating factor to whether or not a unit claiming it can produce 8 gallons a minute is the incoming water temperature, or the temperature of the water coming into your home, whether it is from a private well, or municipal water department. The manufacturer will market and sell their heater by determining how many gallons per minute it will produce hot water with an incoming water temperature, most times this “test” temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If the incoming water temperature is lower that what was tested, the amount of gallons per minute that the unit will deliver will drop rather rapidly for every degree of temperature drop. For instance, any town or city that provides water from any of the Great Lakes will supply water from the lake to the homeowner at an average of 54 degrees. It’s a bit warmer in the summer, and a bit colder in the winter, but 54 is a general average. This temperature difference, 16 degrees in this case, will cause the Tankless Heater that is manufacture rated at 9 gallons per minute down to 3.5 to 4 gallons per minute.
The manufactures know this, they even include the loss table for incoming water temperature in their installation manuals. What they don’t tell you is that if
Incoming water temperature is key.
you buy a 9 gallon a minute unit and your incoming water temperature is only 54 degrees the unit will only produce 3.5 gallons per minute. This leaves the homeowner wondering why the hot water pressure drops to a trickle when more than on faucet is turned on at the same time, because this is what the tankless water does! If the demand, or draw on the heater exceeds what the unit can heat the units are designed to restrict the water flow passing through the heater so it can heat it. Your 9 gallon a minute tankless heater now can really only heat 3 or 4 gallons a minute while the home is asking for 12 gallons per minute. What results is “starvation”. Each fixture “starves” for water. That means if you are in the shower, the water slows to a trickle, if you are doing laundry, the water slows to a trickle, resulting in long fill times for the machine and lack of water during rinse cycles, if your using your dishwasher, the water slows to a trickle resulting in extended fill times and prolonged washing times. Hand washing results in the need to rinse in cold water possibly resulting in unsanitary dishes and cookware in the home.
The Cost Savings Fail
Beyond all of the “inconveniences” of living with a tankless heater, there is the dollar and sense aspect of installing it. Tankless water heaters utilize a very large burner to heat a small amount of water, some as much as 190,000 BTU’s, in comparison a standard tank type natural gas fueled water heater found in the vast majority of homes today burns 30 to 40,000 BTU’s. The savings purportedly comes from the fact that the tankless only turns on when a fixture is opened. Thus saving money compared to a traditional tank type heater that keeps the water at service temperature whether or not there is a demand for it.
That sounds great! Doesn’t it? Until you factor the following items into the mix…..
The cost of the average tankless heater installation…. $1800.00, Oh, but that does not include the exhaust vent piping….add….$500.00, Oh, but that does not include the Deliming manifold that should be on the heater, but many people don’t install due to the cost…add…$250 dollars, Oh…but that does not include new gas piping to feed the very large draw of fuel that is needed to run the unit, most times requiring a new gas line run independently to the unit…add…$400 to 1500.00 depending on how far the pipe has to go. So you initial cost for JUST the mechanical components is around $3000 dollars just for the equipment. Labor rates vary across the country, so figure anywhere from $800 to $2000.00 to install the unit. Picking a mid range installation cost of $1400.00 to cover installation, the total cost for sake of this article is $4400.00.
Wait….the cost is not complete. All tankless manufacturers require that the heating tank be de limed, or cleaned once annually, costs range from $300.00 to $500.00 again depending upon where you live in the country To recoup the cost of the heter and installation, and the cost of the annual maintenance the ANNUAL savings in fuel cost would have to be along the lines of $1130.00…… PER YEAR!
Utilizing the fuel cost usage and analysis for a tank type water heater that estimates an annual cost of $350.00 per year to operate, The net loss per year, just on the return of investment would be in the range of $830.00 per year….Think about that….$830.00 per year lost over the life of the unit utilizing an average 7 year life span, IF the annual maintenance is performed! There is no savings or return or payoff on the system.
The tankless unit may be “Green Technology” but the only green it seems to like is the stuff that is kept in your wallet!
It’s a green plumbing shake down
So…. Where does the average home owner go or do if he is looking for a water heater that is “energy efficient” as well as truly cost saving? To start, lets look at standard tank type natural gas fuel water heaters. This is the type that is found most commonly in the average person’s home.
All tank type water heaters today have to meet the Federal Governments standard of efficiency that is expresses in percentages. The Federal minimum that water heaters HAVE to meet to be able to be sold is 87%. In other words, 87cents of every dollar you spend on gas to heat the water is realized in hot water….the rest goes up the Chimney or flue pipe as lost heat. Most all tank type water heaters are created equally, steel tank with a glass interior lining to inhibit corrosion , a gas valve to control incoming gas to the burner that is operated by an integral thermostat, and a safety device known as a Temperature and pressure relief valve. This device protects the heater and acts like a safety valve in the even the burner was to malfunction and stay lit causing the tank to over heat and explode. The valve acts as a relief and relieves the pressure through the discharge pipe to the floor. Until Now…..
Bradford White is an American manufacturer of tank type water heaters. The have been making heaters for over 30 years. Yes, they make the same type of water heater described above….. BUT….they do not offer tankless heaters. What they do offer is an intriguing tremendous energy efficient Tank type water heater. It starts with the everyday standard 87% efficient tank type water heater, but it ends there. Bradford White understood that if their water heater was to go beyond the energy efficiency of a tankless type water heater, they would have to start with the question, “what are we trying to save?” The answer to that question was GAS. Obviously, their answer to the dilemma was NOT to put in a giant engine…like the 190,000 BTU one that runs the tankless. Their answer was to start with the valve that controls the fuel or gas to be burned to heat the water….not a smaller engine than is standard….just a smarter one….WAY smarter as a matter of fact.
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