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Tankless Hot Water Heaters


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Brenda's Forum Posts: 6

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By Brenda in Eustis, FL on 6/15/2002


Has anyone installed a tankless hot water heater on their house or know anyone who has? If so, do they work as well as they are advertised?
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By Bob in San Jose, CA on 10/6/2002


Hi Brenda,

I'm trying to find out on other people's experience on tankless hot water heaters as well. I've gotten two estimates on a remodel I'm thinking about managing myself. One contractor didn't like them, the other said they are great. I haven't talked with anyone who has one in their own home. I'm very interested in any info you have on them.


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By Jim in Austin, TX on 10/7/2002


Bob,

Try calling or stopping by a local plumbing supply house. Here you can ask about installation problems, maintenance issues, types and gripes, and all free of charge. The home centers are great for price, but run short on usable advice. If you show the plumbing supply your plans, they might even give some advice as to how to make your project easier for the plumber and therefore cheaper for you.

Good luck.

Jim G.


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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 10/7/2002


I have done some research on the tankless water heaters, and it seems they are actually pretty efficient. They operate by simply running the water through the pipes that are heated by flame (propane or natural gas). The efficiency comes from the fact that you are only heating exactly the water you need, and only when you need it. The flame is pretty intense (high BTUs), but again, is only activated when the call comes for hot water. The savings also comes from the fact that you don't have to waste lots of water waiting for the hot water to arrive from your hot-water tank.

I think, though, that if your bathroom is near your hot-water tank, then you'd be much better off using the tank's water since it'll be there in a jiffy. Also, I had checked into the feasibility of using a tankless heater for my radiant-heat system, and the manufacturers won't warranty their tankless heaters, since it would be a pretty hefty load on the tankless heaters to heat the whole house. Hope this helps! Compare prices and see if you can have a dealer beat your best price. Let me know if you find out more, since I haven't decided if it is worth installing these in a house I don't plan on keeping for an extended time.


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By Mike in Arkansas City, KS on 10/16/2002


We have just about completed our new home, and have been living in it for two months. I did a lot of research on the tankless hot water systems. I ended up going with the AquaStar 240FX system. The local Lowe's store had the 125fx on the shelf, approx. $475. However, it didn't recommend for use with a Jacuzzi tub, or more than one major appliance on at a time. The 240fx systems cost was about twice as much as the 125, but I calculated significant savings still. (Lasts at least three times longer than hot-water tanks.

I have only used one mcf of gas each month for the past two months and have been filling that 80-gallon tub, washing clothes, etc. I am very happy with the system so far. How many people can fill an 80-gallon tub and still have someone else taking a shower at the same time? Plus, when you're done, the gas shuts off with no reheating time. Plus, it is kind of fun to have people guess what contraption is hanging on the wall.
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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 10/17/2002


Thanks for all the helpful info, Mike. So, you have actually been able to use the one AquaStar heater for everything in your house? How does this go along with the recommendation not to use it for more than one appliance at a time? Or does this even matter, for instance, when you want to fill that large tub and take a shower (can both be done simultaneously, even with a conventional water heater?)

Did you get a better price than what you found a Lowe's? Anything you'd do differently next time around? Lastly, what would you estimate your gas usage to have been with a regular water heater instead of with the AquaStar? (You don't have a regular water heater as well, do you?) Sorry for all the questions!

Thanks for your help!

Tim


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By Mike in Arkansas City, KS on 10/17/2002


The 125FX recommends only one major appliance at a time and costs approx. $475. We went with the 240FX, which allows for two major appliances at a time. Yes, this is the only water heater in the house. It doesn't take up any real space in our mechanical room; as a matter of fact our water softener sits below it. I was visiting my sister and tried to use her whirlpool bath, but by the time it had filled, the water was already cool. In our new house, my wife had just finished taking a bath and I filled it right back up with steaming water. By the way, we opted for the in-line booster heater with the Jacuzzi tub, (when you turn on the jets, it is putting cool air into the water). This is most likely not very efficient, since it is an electric heater booster, but it actually does maintain the water temperature for quite a bit of time.

Anyway, I got off the subject. Here is a chart of energy usage: (I would imagine the savings are even greater than this. Who puts in only a 40-gallon hot-water tank?)

ENERGY GUIDE CHART
MODEL/ANNUAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION*
NATURAL GAS
AquaStar 125B $174
AquaStar 125X $149
AquaStar 125FX $153
AquaStar 240FX $148
40-gallon tank $230

PROPANE (LP)
AquaStar 125B $284
AquaStar 125X $245
AquaStar 125FX $251
AquaStar 240FX $234
40-gallon tank $377

ELECTRICITY
50-gallon tank $488
*Annual fuel usage is constant over the 20-plus-year life span of Bosch AquaStar. Storage tanks lose efficiency and fuel usage can increase by 30% within the 8-10 year life span of a tank.

I couldn't find any other local stores that sold the unit. I was lucky that Lowe's had it, since after my research, that was the brand I wanted to use. It did hurt the pocketbook to spend $1,000 on a hot-water system. However, the payback is there both ways. In 8 years when you would have to replace your first tank, you would have already saved $640 + $300 for a new tank = free hot water (not really, but there will be no coming home to a flooded basement, expensive plumber costs, etc.)

My main goal of this house was to spend the money up front for low maintenance cost. Our first bid from most of the heating and cooling guys were about $4,000 less than what we finally ended up spending. We went with a 94% eff. central heat/15 SEER a/c with zone control and there were $700 worth of rebates if you purchased their PureAir filter ($1,000 for the filter = net $300). It not only has the fiber filter, but UV lights and a metal mesh filter to combat all three classes of contaminants (particles, bioaerosols, and odors/chemicals down to .3 microns) With as well sealed as homes are now, indoor-air quality is worse indoors than out, and this filter helps to combat that. Overall, our utility bills are the same in our new home which is nearly 2-1/2 time larger with vaulted and tray ceilings, and otherwise 9' min. ceilings on the main level 8' upstairs and full 8' basement ceilings. Let me know if you have any questions.
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By Thomas in Phoenix, AZ on 11/11/2002


Mike,

An O-B few doors down just used a tankless system and I would like to do the same. Is there any need for a recirculating system loop? Why is there such a difference in the amount of time, i.e. water, before hot water arrives of a tankless vs. tank system?

Tom


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By Mike in Arkansas City, KS on 11/12/2002


Tom,

There is no need for a recirculating loop, that is what gives the unit its efficiency. When you don't need hot water, it doesn't make any. (Or waste the energy to keep it hot.) As far as the amount of time it takes the hot water to get there, the unit heats up very quickly and is usually sending out steaming hot water within approx. 3-5 seconds. However, it could be in the way the house is plumbed. For example, none of our fixtures were plumbed in a series (new line from the manifold for each fixture). That way, you can be taking a shower and when someone flushes the toilet, there is no drop in pressure (no sudden burst of hot water). With the low-flow faucets, it can take some time just to get the water to the fixture (whether it is tank or tankless).


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By Angela on 1/19/2003


I have a Supreme Tankless Water Heater. It is all electric, no gas to hook up, and is about the size of a phone book hanging on the wall. I have one of the bigger models, and I am really pleased with it so far. My utility bills have gone down a lot because it only turns on when someone turns on the hot water. It may take a few seconds for the water to reach the faucet, but the water lasts forever -- I can take hour-long showers. It is only me and my boyfriend, not a large family, but we are very pleased with the ease of installation and price. Less than $300.

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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 1/19/2003


Mike,

Thanks for the thorough response. I am curious whether your plumbing-contractor labor cost was different, since you used the AquaStar heater instead of a regular water heater. Where did you place the AquaStar, anyway? We are building a two-story Colonial, and I am wondering where I would place the AquaStar heater (in the master bath? in the basement utility room? one in each place?). We have three baths on the second floor (master bath, hall bath, and another in the room over the garage), a powder room and kitchen on the first floor, and a rough-in for a future bath in the basement. What kind of hookup would you recommend?


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By Mike in Arkansas City, KS on 1/21/2003


Tim,

I'm not sure they asked what we were using, and the one we went with stuck to his original bid. It is essentially the same hookup for them though, (water in, water out, gas line and vent). So I wouldn't imagine any difference. We placed the unit on the wall in the mechanical room (in the basement), where it services the whole house.

It sounds like you are thinking of two units, I would recommend (not an expert) that you home-run all your supply lines to your fixtures to one room to a manifold (assuming you are using PEX or similar.) This way, if you do find out you have too much demand at one time, you could split the hots into two manifolds with two heaters later. The 240FX can support two major appliances at once (however when she's in the Jacuzzi tub, and I'm in the shower, it's not as warm as I'd like, but that doesn't happen often.) We have had three showers going at once and it was fine, however, it wouldn't have handled the washing machine coming on while all those showers were on. I have showered while the washing machine was running with no problem. Hope this helps. And good luck!


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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 1/21/2003


Mike,

Your answer helps a lot. Your idea of running each line to a basement manifold is smart, as it really does leave the option of adding a second heater down the line if necessary. Do you think, based on your experience, that you'd installed a point-of-use heater in your master bathroom? It doesn't sound, though, that you need it if you can actually run three showers simultaneously! Thanks again, Mike, for your help.

Tim


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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 1/21/2003


Mike,

One more question: you suggested home-running the hots with PEX. Did you find that the plumbing sub's labor and the material cost of the PEX, along with home-running the lines, cost more or the same as your traditional copper or CPVC supplies running in series?

Tim


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By Mike in Arkansas City, KS on 1/21/2003


Tim,

No, I wouldn't go with the point-of-use units. The cost for the one extra unit wouldn't be justified in my opinion. (Unless you shelled out a little extra to put the extra (larger than point-of-use) unit in the mechanical unit and split a few of the hot distribution lines, as mentioned above.) Hope this helps.


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By Mike in Arkansas City, KS on 1/21/2003


Tim,

Not only the hots, but all water lines home-running from the mechanical room; the subs didn't act like it made a difference between either approach. I would have thought it would have been cheaper for the PEX, since there are no joints, however, maybe the increased labor of pulling all those lines made up for it. By the way, I also had the lines for my outdoor faucets put in line before it ran into the soft-water unit.

With the PEX, you do not get any calcium build-up in your lines, and with the tankless water heater you don't get any deposits in it either (the number-one downfall of tank systems) We just replaced my father-in-law's tank with a tankless. That tank must have been 80% filled with sediment and about 300 lbs. He said, in the end, it didn't even have the capacity for one shower.


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By Vincent on 4/17/2003


Does anyone know how much maintenance is required for a gas-fired unit? Currently my 50-gallon tank system hasn't needed any in 18 years. So before replacing this unit with a tankless, I want to see what's involved with these units. I'm also looking for any negatives about using a tankless. Cost seems to be the only one so far.
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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 4/18/2003


Vincent, good questions! I have found the cost of the tankless to actually be less than that of a gas-powered vent heater. It doesn't cost any more to install either. I bought my tankless heater from houseneeds.com (ask for Gary at 802-583-2726). You can get a lot of your questions answered there, and they're very nice to deal with. I was able to get a reconditioned 240FX whole-house unit with the new warranty for about $800. I think it worked out well for me. My plumber was suspicious of this technology, but I think he may be won over. You can also email Gary at this address: sales@houseneeds.com. Please mention my name if you contact them. Thanks, and I wish the best for you.
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By Bob in San Jose, CA on 4/30/2003


My wife and I have had several tankless heaters. Our first was in our cabin and ran, even on a "gravity-fed water system". In this environment, it just ran slower. We currently have a 125 in our home. We are going to pull that unit out and go to a 240FX. We will take the 125 to our rental. We have changed up because if we have company and are showering (more than one at a time) or washing dishes at the same time... the 125 can't keep up.

We have had to date over 15 yrs. of trouble-free service. I highly recommend them to anyone. One precaution... go bigger if you think you need it. Our gas bill, by the way, dropped quite a bit. In addition... it's nice to not have to lug a huge tank out of the basement every time we have to change a heater. Less goes wrong with these, as you are not heating up the water, e.g. rust, etc. Great items even at the cost.
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By Troy on 7/10/2003


I'm about sold on going with a tankless, 240FX most likely, but wondered how noisy they are? I installed an American Power Vent water heater in a house one time, and it had an annoying whine when it operated. Thanks.
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By Evelyn on 7/16/2003


Is there anyone in the Bay Area who installs tankless water heaters?
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By Darlene on 7/28/2003


Will these tankless water heaters work with propane? We don't have natural gas yet where we are building. Also when we do get natural gas, can I change an orifice or something to make the tankless water heater work with natural gas?
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By David in Escondido, CA on 4/7/2004


They come in propane also, but I don't know if they are convertible. Check with one of the websites to find out.
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By Nancy in Tampa, FL on 9/2/2004


We are putting in a Tankless LP Gas Hot Water Heater in Brooksville, FL. I did a lot of research on them but found here in FL that the Elec. ones do not work as well as the LP's. We bought a Takaghi M-1 LP Gas $1,545 for our house and pool house. I'll report back on it's economy after we use it for awhile. Since it's not always on keeping the water warm it should save on the electric bill. As far as instant hot water, I think you would have it here in FL given the ground temp. I have talked with a few others who have them and they love them. Europe and the Mid East have been using them for years.
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By Brian in Lawrenceville, GA on 11/17/2004


I am glad someone else has used the Supreme Tankless Electric water heater. I plan on using two of the S220 units for my home. I went to the website and like the information. Do you have any problems with hot water and where did you put your units? I am on a slab foundation so I am thinking of putting them in the garage.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 11/18/2004


Nancy,

Its been a couple of months. How do you like your Takagi Mobius unit? I am leaning toward the Takagi TKD-20, but the price point is pretty stout. 

Do you have soft water? The reason I ask is that IIRC the calcium that builds up in a traditional tank system is a function of heating the water that drives the calcium out of solution, and in a tankless system I have heard about calcium buildup being a potential problem. I am considering a water softener to accompany the unit though, just for the water going to the hot water heater (no use in softening cold water to prevent calcium buildup as cold water never deposits calcium). Soft water has benefits for other uses (laundry, showering), but in these cases you are using hot water as well, so it will be softer than what I am used to anyway. Also if you use a remote temperature control, you can control the hot water temperature so that all shower water comes through the HWH, hence all through the softener.


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By Carolyn in Newport News, VA on 2/24/2005


Has anyone researched tankless or point of use hot water heaters as opposed to the regular tank ones? I had heard there was a chance that it could not provide enough hot water to cover looooonnnngggg showers possibly. They refer to them as 'on demand' I believe, so I don't quite follow this line of thought. Also, what would the up-front cost comparison be due to not having to run so many PVC pipes, but the units of course are more. Also what are the monthly bill savings in the long run?
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By Stan in St. Joseph, MO on 3/3/2005


I used to work for a "tankless" water heater manufacturer and have been involved in energy efficient construction for many years. There is no question that tankless water heaters are more efficient (up to 99%) than tank heaters (+-55%).

Water heating, or rather keeping a tank of water hot, accounts for 20% to 25% of the energy usage in a home. A tankless heater doesn't have any "stand-by" heat loss, so they save between 20% and 50% in energy usage (depending on lifestyle, etc.)

Running out of hot water is not an issue with tankless heaters, as they heat the water as it is flowing. However, if the system is not designed properly, you can "over run" the heater by flowing the water faster than it can be heated.

There are natural gas, propane, and electric tankless heaters of various power ratings and many times you can install two or more in tandem to handle high flow applications like multi-headed showers, etc.

As far as point of use vs. whole house, I think it's best to centrally locate the unit(s) and use a manifold-type plumbing system to shorten travel time (the time it takes for the water to get hot after the fixture is turned on). My thinking and experience is that the fewer units you have to maintain the better and it reduces the chances of leaks and breakdowns as there are fewer units.

The Seisco by Microtherm, Inc. (seisco.com) is by far the best electric model. The Noritz is the best gas/propane.

Hope that helped.


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By Victor in El Paso, TX on 6/22/2005


This sounds like an interesting alternative. A couple of questions, though: how far should the typical run be from tank to faucet/shower head/etc.? What is the average footprint for these units? How do building codes handle these units (do they have to be isolated? max travel distance from tank? etc.)? Anyone else w/more knowledge who would care to share would be great.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/23/2005


I have one of these. The HWH feeds a PEX manifold (Vanguard Manabloc) that feeds the shower, sinks, etc. As it turns out, the bathrooms are directly next to or above the utility room with the manifold - the lines flush very quickly.

As to code inspections, my inspector didn't even blink an eye upon seeing this. Now some other people look at this real funny like, especially next to the manifold right next to it, and can't figure out what it is.

As to footprint, about the size of a large carry-on for commercial airlines. I mounted mine on the wall and it vents directly through the wall, similar to a 90+ furnace (two-pipe system).


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By Corben in Champaign, IL on 6/23/2005


I like the tankless technology as well. It is important to note that with these tankless heaters though, there is maximum flow rate that the heater can manage. It would probably be necessary to get more than one for the whole house. The energy savings probably would eventually pay back the capital costs. The propane/gas heaters have higher flow rates in general then the electric, but require venting where the electric does not.

cr


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By Victor in El Paso, TX on 6/23/2005


So the electrics don't require venting, huh? Interesting, how big are the manifolds for these units? And what is the average price of an electric unit assuming you're going to run your normal bathroom setup off of it (shower, jetted tub, two sinks)? Finally a regular plumber should be able to install these, right? If I were to pursue this option, could you get rid of the hot-water-heater space in your house and mount these units inside the rooms they intend to serve? Thanks for all the replies...
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/23/2005


I would never use a tankless electric for a whole-house installation. I wouldn't use them for anything larger than supplemental heating unit for, say, a wash sink. An electric will never keep up with even a shower with a low-flow head.

As to energy savings paying for the capital cost - not going to happen. My Takagi was considerably more than a tank heater, I will never recover the increased cost from this unit through energy savings alone. It will keep up almost 7 gpm though, and this is more than enough for most households (easily two showers at once, endless hot water).


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By John in Erie, CO on 6/23/2005


I installed a tankless, but it came as a built-in into the boiler that supplies my radiant heat. When a call for hot water comes, the boiler automatically switches the heated fluid from the boiler into a small heat exchanger mounted inside the boiler that heats hot water. It is 200,000 BTU, and is in the range of 6-8 GPM, depending on input temperature. It runs both our showers and the dishwasher at the same time without problems.

Since it came as part of the boiler, the added cost was minimal, and the venting was already in place. however, should I have the boiler fail, then I'd be looking at my hot water going out too... A mixed bag, but it works well, and the cost recovery is advantageous, since most of the infastructure was paid for for heating the radiant heat.

The boiler is made by NTI. Endless hot water is great.

Thanks,

J


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By Stan in St. Joseph, MO on 6/23/2005


I beg to differ with the statement that an electric tankless can't supply enough hot water for a whole house. As with most products there are good and bad. The thing you have to look at is the technology that is used and the BTU rating. There are a couple on the market that go up to 98,000 BTU's, the Seisco for example.

A general rule of thumb is that you can run two fixtures (showers, sinks, etc.) at the same time for as long as you want to run them. Studies by the NAHB and Microtherm (Seisco) have shown that the average hot water flow in a home is around 2.5 to 3 gallons per minute (gpm).

When I was was employed by Microtherm we sold tens of thousands of units to single family homes as the only hot water source. The only complaints we had were related to manufacturing issues that have long since been solved.

I notice that you are from Independence, MO. I recently sold a Seisco RA28 electric tankless to a guy in Jefferson City. His comment was that he loved it and the flow exceeded his expectations. Plus he didn't have to wait for an hour after his teenage daughter showered to shower himself.

In some cases like multi-headed showers or other obscenely high flow fixtures you may have to install two Seisco's. We installed 2 RA28's in a 15,000 sq. ft. house 10 years ago and have never had a complaint. It's all in the design.


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By Randy in Dunlap, TN on 3/8/2006


Stan and others,

I want to revive this thread with a quick question. Researching tankless, and I'm sold, but there is a nagging question that I can't find info on in previous posts. Nobody has addressed the issue of noise. Are these tankless units noisy? Anyone who has one installed care to wade in?

Randy


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/8/2006


Certainly not noisy. You could put one in the bathroom or kitchen with you, and the noise wouldn't be an issue. You hear the burners, just like a furnace. You also hear a fan to power vent though the wall. That is it.
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By Stan in St. Joseph, MO on 3/9/2006


Randy,

People have different noise tolerance levels, I can sleep through thunderstorms, explosions, and just about anything else. My wife, on the other hand, wakes up when the cat jumps off the couch in the next room.

All tankless water heaters make noise, some more than others. The SETS, Eemax and other cheap electric heaters make a lot of noise. The Seisco has a couple of electronic relays that click from time to time, but are generally pretty quiet. Gas units do sound like a furnace when they burn and the fan sounds like a fan.

The bottom line is, if you want to use a tankless for a point-of-use water heater, either use a good-quality electric (Seisco) under a counter or in a closet or (depending on what part of the country you live in), a gas unit installed outside the house (Noritz). The best place to install one is in a mechanical or utility room.

Never install a gas unit in a small room like a bath due to the required combustion air.

Stan

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By J C in Chardon, OH on 3/29/2006


How to heat hot water 103.

 

Hydro-Temp.com


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By Brett in Cincinnati, OH on 9/7/2006


Long-term cost savings with these units were said to be unlikely by Consumer Reports. They claim in their studies that an occasional user who stays in a hot shower for a long time (read teenager) can wipe out your energy savings. This is not possible with tank heater becasue you run out of hot water sooner.


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By John in Erie, CO on 9/7/2006


You have to ignore the teenager and compare like-use models. What about the other 22 hours a day when no teenagers are showering? Both units will use nearly identical amounts of energy to heat the water, that's given in the laws of thermodynamics. The tanked unit will keep using energy to keep that water warm. It's a bit like choosing wind-powered batteries vs. the utility grid for electricity because you can't leave your lights on as long before they go dark. :)

I think it requires comparing apples to apples. If you have two regular hot-water heaters (common in many homes), you'll use a lot more energy and hot water too. You have to compare similar/like use models. (Although relying on the tank heater to close down the shower could be handy). It seems that most O-B homes I've seen either have a huge tankless, or multiple 50-60 gallon tanked units ganged in parallel - the culprit - the Jacuzzi tubs; a single 50-gallon tank won't be able to fill most of the 'modern' Jacuzzi tubs going into custom homes.

For a family of four, each taking a 15-minute shower that uses say, 1.5 gpm of hot water (quite possibly reasonable). A 50-gal tank unit with decent recovery would meet this need, but so would a tankless.

Our 200K BTU on-demand unit came built into our radiant boiler. I spent $10-$12 on propane heating domestic hot water from April through today this summer. My last house, with an "energy efficient" but standing pilot light, never had a gas bill for less than $30/month. Heating water when you don't use it won't ever be efficient. I'd guess that I'm saving a minimum of $150 during each 6 "summer" months (Just noting the summer months because the only propane draws are the grill and the hot water). So I'd guess $300 per year.  Part of this "differential" is that I'm now on propane (more expensive per BTU) but I don't pay a minimum-monthly gas-company surcharge.

Pricing the boiler without the on-demand, I recall it was ~ $600 cheaper, although the radiant vendor shipped all their boilers with it. You will be hard pressed to find an energy-saving upgrade that will cover itself in two years.

Now, if you are comparing a good power-vented, quick recovery, Energy Star tanked unit (Around $1,000 when I looked), versus an on-demand (I have no idea what the Rinnai et al standalone units are running now, I wouldn't be surprised to see a $2,500 price tag, time to recovery is going to depend on the service life of the equipment.

As I did my calculations for geothermal, I wasn't willing to gamble the equipment lasting more than 10 years, although it is very likely that it will; for me, 10 years is too long of investment-recovery time; if the equipment fails before I've recovered my extra investment, I get nothing and lose the time value of the extra upfront cost. For my house, the monthly cost savings of geothermal (since I was using less energy upfront) took nearly 25 years to recover; I can recover solar hot water in 7-8 years (close, but a decent gamble given energy prices) and my ICF walls will cover themselves here near the end of my second year.

The other way to compare these is that it always takes a finite amount of energy to raise a given mass of water by one degree in temperature. It doesn't matter if you are heating the water right before use, or in a tank, given similar burner efficiencies, it will take pretty much the same energy to heat, plus energy to maintain.

All of this is difficult, because it's easy to know what you are paying now for energy, and how much you are using, but it can be more difficult to know how those factors will change in your new house. The calculations, and recovery times, will vary by owner-builder, so ultimately, the decision needs to be made on your specific house.

Good luck,
J

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By Mancong in Seattle, WA on 3/28/2007


Great site. We have been following the discussions here for a while, and this is my first post (more to follow).
 
We're finalizing the design of our weekend house. The house has two stories, two bedrooms and two baths. The baths stack and kitchen sink is about 10' away from the bath (plumbing). After reading some posts here, we decided to install an electrical tankless water heater. The plumbing fixtures are: one kitchen sink, two lavatories, two showers and one soaking tub. No dishwasher or laundry planned. The heating unit will be located on the other side of the bath plumbing wall, in a closet with an electrical panel. My questions are:
  • Can we use one unit to serve the whole house?
  • What brand and model do you recommend?
  • Anything we should be aware of?
Another question we have is about heating. Since the house is only occupied occasionally, we plan to have electrical in-wall or in-floor heater as main heating source, plus a wood-burning stove. The total heated area is 1,500 sf (1,000 sf on first floor and 500 sf on second floor). How to decide what size and how many heaters we need?
 
We recently toured an open house in our neighborhood. It has an Eemax tankless heater for two baths. It is just a small box under the stairs. Not sure about the kitchen, but the Realtor said dishwasher and washer have built-in heaters (both are European brands). The house also has in-wall heaters, but I can't figure out what brand they are. 
 
We also plan to do a lot of the work ourselves to save money, including plumbing and pulling wires. Anyone else done that? We'd like to hear from you. 
 
Thanks in advance.

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By Laura in Spring Creek, NV on 7/27/2007


I have some questions about tankless hot-water heaters that our plumber/HVAC person brought up. We are building at an elevation of 5,518 ft. and were told that at a high elevation, tankless hot water heaters don't work very well. This guy also said that with the hard water out where we are, we would have to acid wash it and the tankless would have to be replaced at the same time a regular tank would have to be replaced, which would negate the energy savings. 

He also mentioned that propane tankless heaters (which we would have to use) don't heat as fast.

Is any of this true? Are there ways around it, or are we going to have to go with a 50-gallon tank?

Laura

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By Jon in Perrysburg, OH on 7/28/2007


How about a tankless heater with a timer on the shower? :)
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By Chad in Tallahassee, FL on 2/25/2008


This is a great thread on the tankless water heaters.

Thought I would pose another question that I didn't see answered.

How do these things hold up if installed outside?

I'm going to be building in Tallahassee, and was curious. It would save on the venting and control any potential indoor-air-quality issues. But how would it operate when it's 40 degrees outside?


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By Dustin in Enoch, UT on 4/1/2008


Some units are made for outside installation. You have to check with the manufacturer to see if they make those models. I do know that sometimes tankless units have issues with hard water. You want to make sure at the very least you have one or two large filters on your incoming water to keep the sediments and junk out, or it will kill your heater. I am planning on installing a smallish tankless propane unit as a backup to my solar hot-water tank setup. The advantage to this is that it will not even turn on during the summer and it will only operate when it senses the temperature needs a boost. You also don't have the issues of "slugs" of cold water since it's tempered already. You need to make sure that the tankless unit is one that can work with solar (i.e. it's modulating and has temperature sensors).

The three manufacturers that make units like these are Takagi, Rheem, and Rinnai. I'm going with Rinnai because there's a local dealer for them and not for the other two, and I am also buying Rinnai monitor heaters. This site has an excellent article about tankless hot-water heaters and solar tanks. They also had an interesting idea about creating a very small radiant loop for the master bath as a way of using up the extra BTU's the solar tank may generate: chandlerdesignbuild.com That website has some other articles of interest to the owner-builder, so check it out.

Nice thing is, this year you can get some substantial tax rebates on solar hot-water heating systems, so it may be worth it to you. I am trying to reduce my propane use as much as possible, so solar is the way to go. It should supply as much as 65%-75% of my hot water. Since I am going off-grid, my only "utility" bill will be propane, so if I can reduce it significantly, I will.
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By Bob in New Florence, PA on 4/8/2008


We went with the tankless unit in our house, and so far after two months, I don't have any complaints with it. I remember the days of the tank and when two or three people would shower and the wife would wash clothes, you'd have to wait a few hours before someone else could shower. Those days are long gone. We have not noticed that the water takes any longer to get hot with the tankless than it did with a tank; I think it is actually faster. Not too mention, it is a heck of a lot neater and takes up far less space.
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By Thomas in Center Point, IN on 4/22/2008


Bob,

Did you use gas or electric tankless heaters? I was looking at the electric and it seems that we would need a whole additonal panel box to handle the electrical service we would need for them. We don't have natural gas, but  I am thinking of bringing in propane for this.

Thanks,

Thomas E.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 4/23/2008


I don't know what you pay for propane, but I would recommend you run some numbers to make sure this is the right solution. Here is how I would go about doing this:

1) Propane has about 92K BTUs/gallon. IIRC (a couple of years back), you could expect about 86% efficiency out of a tankless HWH to net 79K BTUs/gallon.

2) Electricity has about 3.4K BTUs/KWH, and this will be 100% efficient at the point of use (no venting required on electric tankless units).

So if one gallon of propane costs you the same as 23 KWH of electricity the cost is a wash. This also means if one gallon of propane costs you less than 23 KWH of electricity then propane saves money and if one gallon of propane costs more than 23 KWH of electricity then electricity saves you money. Given the cost and volatility of crude oil, and that propane costs almost directly correlate to crude oil prices, you may wish to include a factor of uncertainty (and yes, electricity costs vary as well).

This gets you fuel costs only and doesn't include factors for the cost of the HWH itself, the cost of copper wiring and increased service size, the cost of installing a propane tank and associated underground piping, the cost of that fancy double-wall stainless steel venting needed for tankless conbustion HWHs, the convenience of electricity always being there, service life you might expect for each piece of equipment, maintenance costs, etc. When you run your own numbers you get a custom solution for your specific needs and are not reliant on a one-size-fits-some solution based on someone else's needs that do not mimic your own.

Good luck...


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By Dana in Wilmington, NC on 7/30/2008


This is a great thread. Lots of very helpful info....

Regarding the operation of an outside unit - We live in coastal NC and have an outside propane unit. My husband installed it, and it is not insulated, so the water does not get as hot in the winter, and gets very hot in the summer. I think if the lines were insulated it would help. Also, our water coming from our well changes temp a lot with the seasons, so I suspect it's not run totally right either, and the heater is trying to heat very cold water in the winter.

Another thing is when I am doing the dishes, I can't turn the water off and on and still have it be hot, because the heater has to fire up and that takes a few seconds. I've gotten used to it.

We will put one on our new house.


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By Jamie in Cedar Park, TX on 8/19/2008


Does anyone know what the best-rated brands are for gas tankless water heaters?

Thanks,

Jamie


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By Jon in Perrysburg, OH on 8/22/2008


One of the better ones that I know of is the brand Rinnai. 

Go to foreverhotwater.com

Make sure to look for a tankless that can supply more than a couple of large appliances at the same time. Many brands cannot do this, and I can guarantee you will not be happy with the purchase unless it can heat enough gpm's. It has been a while since I researched these, but you should plan each large fixture to supply 2-4 gpm.


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 8/25/2008


Make sure you get a tankless with enough capacity for your needs, beyond that is just wasted capacity. Large is good, but an industrial-sized unit (large is good, so larger must be better, right?) probably won't work so well either.

Tankless unit are rated by a maximum number of gallons/minute at a specific temperature rise. However, they also have a minimum that needs to run through them or they don't turn on to start with. Get hot water, reduce your draw below the minimum, your unit turns off, you are going to get a cold surprise in a couple of seconds, you might not be pleased. Or let's look at your dishwasher as another example, these fill fairly slowly and mine doesn't draw enough water to actually turn my tankless on - this isn't a problem with smaller-sized units.

Understand both parameters when making your decision. I have a unit sized for seven gallons/minute with 190K BTUs because I thought I might like to run the laundry and two showers. For everyday use, this is simply more capacity than I need.


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By Jamie in Cedar Park, TX on 8/25/2008


Well, we needed them ASAP, so we bought two large Rheem water heaters from Home Depot. They were 7.4 gpm and 199,900 BTUs, and we bought a smaller one for our in-law apartment. We probably could have gotten away w/two small and one large, but I left this up to my husband, and they are already installed.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/3/2010


Technically not a "tankless" design, but how many of you were paying attention to the Olympics? Did you see that GE commercial with that funky water heater? If you were watching over 30 minutes, you couldn't miss it. Anyway what the heck was that thing, its pretty much unlike any water heater I have seen?

That is a tank unit with a compressor on top, basically a mini heat pump exhausting waste heat into the water tank. 700W electric, compared to a resistance electric HWH of how much? IIRC a typical electric tank unit has two heating elements, each one at 4,500-5,500 watts, but please correct me if I am wrong.

I will wait and see on the maintenance costs. I have my HVAC tech come out once/year to check my HVAC equipment. It probably wouldn't be too much more for him to check out the compressor on that HWH. OTOH, how often do you get your refrigerator serviced, and these work for decades (coming from someone who had a compressor fail on two-year old refrigerator). Granted, if your "normal" electric unit fails you can get replacement heating elements at every Big Orange/Green.

As to the price of that fancy "new" technology, I don't have a clue there either. And then my third question; how fast is the recovery rate?

This is perhaps another option for those of you looking for efficiency. If you heat water with electricity, I imagine this could be a very viable solution.


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By Jon in Perrysburg, OH on 3/4/2010


I did not see the product, but it spurred another thought as well. Instead of a tankless option, one might consider another alternative. If installing a boiler system for radiant or baseboard heat, installing a super-efficient water tank hooked up to the boiler is a good option. I have been leaning towards this as of late. My current house has a boiler system, and I wish that we did this when the last water tank pooped out. There will be a next time, though.
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By Michael on 10/11/2010


Also, besides saving you up to 25% on energy costs, ENERGY STAR gas tankless water heaters are one of the qualifying energy-efficiency improvements that are eligible for a tax credit (in the U.S.) IF you make the change January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2010. If you're a U.S. resident, you should read over the tax credit info for 2009-2010 before you choose products.

There (thetanklessheaters.com) is also a calculator that allows you to calculate various parameters of the water heater.

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By David in Ocoee, FL on 10/17/2010


I installed a gas-fired, high-efficiency commercial tankless water heater in my restaurant, because of what they do best; supply an endless amount of hot water. Whether they save on energy costs or not cannot be disputed. However, the amount they save in terms of energy costs has to be determined on a case by case basis. There are many factors that would go into determining the comparative energy savings over another system. In fact, so many factors that I would not care to list them all here, because we would all fall asleep before we reached the end. And don't even get me started on ROI (return on investment). It's not as cut and dried as you think when deciding whether to install a tankless water heater or not based on energy usage alone. In fact, if the only determining factor you are considering is energy usage and you live in the southern states, you would be installing a heat pump water heater instead of a tankless water heater.

Forgive me if I am just repeating what someone else has already said here. I have not read all the posts in this thread, as there are so many.

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By David in Escondido, CA on 7/12/2011


I followed this thread with a great deal of interest. In my case, I looked into radiant floor hot water heating and found it to be too expensive. I had already planned to use on-demand water heaters, one main one and one smaller one at the kitchen. What I ended up doing was installing an on-demand combi-boiler that provided the hot water for baseboard and hot water for domestic and plumbing in a circulator pump to the kitchen. This was much more cost effective than buying separate on-demand water heaters and a boiler.

A hydronic floor heating system can be run by an on-demand water heater, but it must be plumbed in indirectly using a water tank to store the hot water. I found a combi-boiler on line for $1,800 and it works great. The domestic portion of the heater is small, meant for apartment-size applications, but I hooked up the domestic output indirectly and have tons of hot water.

In addition, to save more money, I built two solar collector units in the back of the house, one 80-gallon and one 30-gallon capacity and plumbed them into the indirect storage tank. Setting up the circulation pumps and indirect storage tank is way too detailed and technical to describe here, but all the information can be found online and via instructions provided by the various product vendors. I ended up installing a hot water and heating system for way less than a forced air furnace would have cost me without the dust and pollution.
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By Maria in Cincinnati, OH on 7/16/2011


Vincent, most of Europe runs on tankless, so I don't think you will regret the purchase.
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By Maria in Cincinnati, OH on 7/16/2011


Tim, how thoughtful of you to give the web address and contact person. 5 out of 5! Thanks a million!
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By Daniel in Price, UT on 5/21/2015


I have been told that the US is the only country in the world wasteful enough to use tanked heaters. Tankless are standard in Mexico, Japan and Europe from what I have heard specifically of friends who have lived there, not sure of others. I have researched this extensively and this is what I have learned:


1. Most people who speak negatively about them have almost never used them, those who have them absolutely love them. For multiple showers at once or a big tub or two sets of laundry machines there is no comparison.
2. The only unbiased negative I can find is that you don't have all of that water sitting in a tank in case of an emergency
3. Stick with the good brands being Noritz, Rheem, Rinnai and Bosch; there may be others.
4. I get a $350 rebate from the gas company.
5. Two plumbers have told me how they are a pain because they require a 1.5" gas line and require 2 lbs of pressure and therefore you have to have a pressure reducer at every other gas appliance, which is not true at least when referring to the condensing units.
6. The stainless two wall pipe that the less efficient ones use is very expensive, so being by an outside wall to vent cuts costs or better yet get a condensing unit and they use PVC instead becoming much cheaper and easier to work with.
7. Just in looking at Amazon all of the units with bad reviews are the much smaller units that were most likely undersized for their intended use, once you get into the 8gpm units they all seem to love them.
8. You have the option to clean them out rather than just wait for the bottom to blow a hole and run up your gas bill or ruin your carpet as happens with traditional units. Most come with the valves below the unit specifically for rinsing them out using a vinegar and a little pump to pump it through, YouTube has many how to videos on this.
9. There is definitely a delay in getting the water all dependent upon your plumbing, but it doesn't take any longer than at my parent's house to the bathroom located about 15' of pipe away with old copper plumbing and a tanked unit.
10. There definitely is some noise, but it is all relative, not louder than my furnace.
11. No need for a flue in our plans as our furnace will be a high efficiency heat pump, so both will have PVC venting outside.

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