The question many people ask when they are ready to buy a new heater is whether a tankless system is as good or better than a traditional water heater. That decision usually comes down to a matter of preference, although understanding the differences will help you make a better choice when you’re looking at what water heater to get. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, safety factors, and applications.
Traditional Tank Water Heaters
For many years, water heaters with a storage tank were the only game in town. Tank sizes typically range from 30 to 50 gallons. The biggest advantage of a tank system is that you have hot water available on hand, even if there is a temporary power outage. A tank system is also less expensive initially, and if you are replacing an existing water heater you may not have to perform any piping modifications to install the new one. Installation is simple, and there is less that can go wrong with the heater. Equally appealing is the fact that when repairs are necessary, most of the components can be replaced individually and with little to know prior experience, saving hundreds of dollars and expediting the repair.
A traditional water heater has the obvious problem of having 30 to 50 gallons of water to clean up if the tank ruptures. This type of system is also more expensive to operate, since it has to maintain the temperature even when the water is not being used for hours at time. The tank is also a problem when it comes to placement, and most older homes have a dedicated closet just for the unit. And even with a large tank, families who bathe in succession or take long showers may discover that the last person in the shower ends up getting a cold surprise. Finally, the components in a tank system wear out faster than a tankless unit, so the estimated life of a new unit is only 10 to 15 years.
Tankless Water Heaters
The biggest advantage of a tankless system, also referred to as an on-demand system, is that using it can save money on water often cutting your water heating costs by as much as 34% annually. Tankless systems can be placed in more locations than a tank system, including on attic rafters, in a crawlspace or on the exterior of the dwelling. Adding a small under sink water heater to your kitchen is a great way to save both time and money. Tankless units tend to last almost twice as long, or up to about 20 years, and have fewer components that can fail. Families can all bathe in succession, since a tankless system can provide as much as 5 gallons of hot water a minute.
Cost is the most prohibitive factor for an on demand water heater. With prices generally ranging upwards of $2500, buying one on impulse can be a big blow to your budget. Additionally, a tankless system is not immediately compatible with a traditional system, and retrofitting for the new style is expensive. Larger families may also need to consider if a tankless model can keep up with the demands of simultaneous users. There’s a limit to the amount of water a tankless model can heat at one time so if two people are taking showers in two different bathrooms at the same time and the dishwasher is also running, most likely there won’t be enough hot water for everyone.