The holidays are here. They bring with them all the things we look forward to all year: fun, good cheer and way too much food. Then there are the houseguests. Your Mother-in-law, Father-in-law and your 2nd cousin-twice removed now take over what was once your peaceful abode. If ever you needed a nice hot shower to soothe your fragile nerves it is now. But you find yourself waiting in line behind family members you decided you couldn't live with year ago and of course your 2nd cousin. When you finally get to the shower you find nothing but a floor filled with wet towels and noting but ice-cold water. I have a solution to the hot water situation but for your houseguests and the pile of wet towels you are on your own. How? Good question. There can be a constant flow of hot water available from any faucet of your home, no matter how large or small, by simply investing in a tankless water heater, also known as demand water heaters or instantaneous heaters.
You may ask how that is possible and I can tell you but in order to understand how a tankless water heater works it is important to know how a standard water storage tank heater operates. In a traditional storage heater system, there is a large tank that continually holds and heats usually 50 gallons of water. In order to give you hot water when you need it, the tank has to continually heat that water to maintain a constant temperature. As you use it the system refills the tank and has to start the cycle again therefore using a high energy load as it fills and then holds the contents of the tank at a constant temperature. The energy used to keep the water hot even when it's not being used is called Standby Heat Loss. Tankless systems are able to avoid the "standby heat loss" by only heating water as you need it. This is why they are referred to as demand or instantaneous heaters. This elimination of the "standby heat loss" is what makes a tankless system more efficient and where the majority of your savings will come from month after month.
A tankless water heater uses a heat exchanger to raise the temperature. A heat exchanger is a device that conveys heat from one component of the system to another. In this case, it conveys heat generated by electric coils or a gas-fired burner to the water that travels through the coils and eventually comes out of your faucet. Unlike standard storage tank water heaters the exchanger is activated by the incoming flow of water and is dormant using zero energy when not in use. When you turn on your hot water tap, the incoming water circulates through the activated exchanger, which heats the cold water to your preset temperature. Then all you need is some soap, shampoo and a good lock and you're ready to wash, rinse and repeat.
There are two types of tankless systems: Point-Of-Use heaters and Whole-House heaters. Point-Of-Use systems are smaller units only heating water for one or two faucets or fixtures such as your kitchen sink. They are generally electric and due to their size, can fit under a cabinet or in a closet. They're beneficial because they can be installed closer to your fixture. Whole House heaters are gas fired or electric and designed to serve an entire house, apartment, condo, or cabin, where multiple points of water use will exist.
The installation of a tankless water heater requires a licensed, qualified plumber or technician to do the job for several reasons. First, in order to make sure that the manufacturer's warranty remains valid, the plumber or technician must install the water heater according to the manufacturer's specifications or the warranty may be void. Secondly, installation may also require a permit and must meet building code requirements. Lastly, if you don't buy the right size or type of water heater system, it will not work correctly. This is not a do-it-yourself project please let your licensed plumbing contractor handle the job.
Tankless water heaters are a viable and easy way to save thousands of dollars over their lifetimes. Besides the energy savings we mentioned earlier they are designed to last 20- 30 years compared to the 15-20 years from the conventional water storage units. Like the conventional units, maintenance is suggested to optimize your unit's lifespan and efficiency. Maintenance is easy but should be done by a qualified and licensed plumber. Without maintaining your tankless water heater you may only get half it's expected lifespan and your efficiency returns may not give you the return on your investment as expected. So be sure to protect your investment by having a plumber thoroughly flush the tank and give your equipment general maintenance once per year.
Enjoy your holidays and treat yourself to a gift that will continue to save you money month after month and year after year.
Michael Taggert, Licensed Master Plumber and Owner of Plumb Magic LLC. has over 20 years experience in the plumbing industry. Mr. Taggert is a Certified Rinnai Tankless Water Heater Installer and Dealer. http://www.PlumbMagicllc.com