Boiling Point: Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters are all the rage, but new rules might make installation more painstaking.
Boiling Point: Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters
While tankless water heaters have been all the rage and technology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be implementing changes with tank heaters in 2015.

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All service professionals, from plumbers to electricians to septic installers, face one main question on first calls — what does the customer want? Determining that is the first order of business, and recently, plumbers have faced that question more frequently when it comes to installing water heaters.

While the technology of tankless water heaters has been around for decades, consumer knowledge and interest in the high-efficiency heaters has been growing. John Baethke & Son Plumbing in Chicago installs both types of water heaters, but much of the company’s business is in tankless heaters for residential and commercial clients. 

“Probably 95 percent of the calls for tankless service were because they weren’t installed properly by another installer,” Baethke says. 

Tell me more

According to Baethke, the choice of going with tank vs. tankless all begins with questions. 

“If a customer has an interest in tankless, we start by asking why and start narrowing down if it’s appropriate — is it just about saving money?” 

Tankless water heaters cost considerably more — sometimes as much as three times as much as tank heaters, Baethke says — due to a more time-consuming and painstaking installation process.

So for some customers, the cost for tankless may be prohibitive. However, Baethke admits, space — or lack of it — can be a more important consideration. 

“I had a lady spend $6,000 to put in tankless because she wanted more room in her closet. So it depends on why they want it,” he says. With many condominiums and other commercial buildings — where space is at a premium — in the Chicago area, tankless water heaters have been on the increase, Baethke says. 

Another huge benefit to tankless, Baethke notes, is endless hot water — a prime benefit for those with a lot of people in the house. Tankless water heaters use gas or electricity to provide hot water on demand, reducing standby energy losses from storage tanks. Of course, endless hot water does come with higher water costs, which will vary based on the efficiency rating on your unit. 

In addition, tankless heaters typically last about twice as long as standard heaters, and many tankless versions qualify for significant energy rebates. 

Tanks for nothing?

But the surge in tankless doesn’t mean the end of those familiar large tank heaters. While tankless water heaters have been all the rage and technology, Baethke notes that at the beginning of 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be implementing changes with tank heaters. 

“There are going to be a ton of changes,” he says. “That’s been a big challenge, keeping the guys up on that.” 

Tank heaters can be very efficient, and they will get even more efficient, he says. 

“By next year, all tanks will have to be much more efficient,” he says. “It’s a new ruling.” There will not be a standing pilot light on most models, and the amount of insulation will also increase, making the tanks considerably bigger. The percent of efficiency change will vary by size and fuel type but all are going up. 

The choice, of course, remains with the consumer and what they value most — space, cost or copious hot water on demand. Either way, it’s time to fire up the hot tub. 

If you’ve seen an increase in tankless water heaters, what’s the reason? More space? Increased efficiency? Post a comment below.  


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