Water Heaters 101


Tankless Water Heaters

There have been some major changes recently in terms of how people heat water in their homes. The vast majority of people still use a conventional tanked water heater, such as a chimney vent or power vent water heater. However, we’re seeing many people deciding that they want to move to a tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters provide unlimited hot water. They are also substantially smaller than tanked water heaters (about the size of a suitcase hanging on your wall). People are enjoying the switch to a tankless unit because of the amount of closet space they can free up.

I don’t think that there’s a downside to tankless water heaters. However, there are some important considerations about the way they operate that homeowners should understand. First of all, my father brought to my attention that he likes to wash dishes by keeping the warm water running low and slow into the sink. That’s not the way that tankless water heaters operate. When you call for a certain flow amount of hot water, the tankless water heater kicks on and starts working. If you just turn the tap on slightly, it’s not going to tell the system that there’s a call for hot water and it won’t turn on.

Next, you might have to install tankless water heaters further away from your existing water heater’s location because of venting requirements. It may take a little bit longer to get hot water because the system doesn’t have a tank for storage. Once the system is told that there’s a need for hot water, the burners will come on and the system will provide unlimited hot water. If you have two people bathing and someone doing laundry at the same time, the system will maintain providing hot water at every spigot. However, it will reduce the volume of hot water so it can keep up.

New Technologies & Lifespan Considerations

We’re also seeing the implications of the federal government’s new regulations for electric water heaters. When homeowners move to a larger tanked electric water heater, they now have to use a hybrid heat pump water heater. It uses the same principles as a heat pump that you’d use to heat your home. While it’s running and creating hot water, it’s doing the job much more efficiently than an old tanked electric system that was basically using a toaster strip to heat up the water.

In terms of average lifespan, tankless water heaters have been around for a long time. They have a fairly proven track record. Hybrid heat pump water heaters use the same type of tank as a standard water heater. The big question is how long the heat pump portion will last. We haven’t been installing these systems for long enough to know (nobody has). However, since the heat pump uses tried and true technology, we think they will probably have a lifespan as long as traditional water heaters.

One big caveat is that the quality of water can dramatically impact the lifespan of the water heater. If you’re in a situation where your water is hard, acidic, or high in iron, it can cause a problem with the water heater over the long run. If possible, you should address your water quality issue to prolong the life of your components.

You can also maximize the lifespan of your water heater by making sure it undergoes regular maintenance. Most people think that a water heater is an appliance that doesn’t require any maintenance. That’s certainly not the case. First, the water heater should be drained/flushed on a regular basis to clear any sediment buildup. Second, the water heater manufacturer suggests that you open the temperature and pressure relief valve once a year to make sure it’s functioning properly.

With all the variety of water heater technology available, there’s always a cost/benefit analysis you can do to figure out how efficient the system is and what kind of payback you’ll see in the long run. If you’re thinking about getting a new water heater, or if you want to make sure your existing water heater is properly maintained, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online.