Getting a tankless water heater almost seems like a no-brainer. They heat water only when it’s needed, eliminating the need for a storage tank, and have a life expectancy of around 20 years, which is much more than a conventional tank-type water heater. They also reduce the risk of tank leaks and water damage – and because water is only heated when you need it, they’re better for the environment. On paper, tankless water heaters win on almost every point. But before you rush out and throw money at a new water heater, note that they are not flawless!

Hot Button Issues

There are several main reasons why you might want to wait before going tankless. First up, you can’t skimp: low quality is more noticeable in this style of water heater, so you’ll have to pay a great deal up front to make sure you get the best possible equipment. Muddying the waters somewhat is the fact that new, unestablished brands are a bit of a danger when you buy them; if your supposedly long-lasting heater develops a fault, that brand may be out of business when you go to submit a warranty repair.

The biggest selling point with this model type, is that they’re better for the environment. While this is undeniably true, getting a higher quality storage tank water heater with thicker insulation can go a long way to reduce some of the gap in the environmental/operational cost savings boasted about. Further, these cost savings tend to be higher with a small 1–2 person household, so if yours is any bigger than that it might start to look like a less attractive prospect. Finally, tankless heaters tend to be rather poor at multitasking for larger households, whereas storage tank water heaters excel at allowing several appliances to be used at once (dishes, shower, etc.).

In Hot Water

When you have a storage water heater, the water is heated up and sitting where whenever you need it. But with a tankless heater, it has to use a flow sensor to detect whether the water is currently hot, and then start heating the water – for a gas-fired tankless heater, it can take 10–15 seconds before hot water starts flowing your way. Once it’s going it’s great though, and your hot water won’t run out like it will with a storage heater.

Also, tankless heaters require a lot of servicing to keep them operating at peak efficiency, and that takes extra money and time. Make sure you check the fine print and make sure that a qualified technician services your unit frequently – or you might just void the warranty. They also have intricate controls and lots of moving parts. Because they are more complicated, the number of things that can go wrong is higher than it is for a storage tank water heater. In colder climates, the heaters have to be completely drained if they’re out of use or they will be damaged by freezing; and in hard water areas, their efficiency can be lowered by liming up. Sediment in the bottom of a tankless heater can also lower efficiency, whereas this isn’t so much the case with tank heaters.

The Cost of Going Tankless

There are definitely some operational cost savings compared with storage tank water heaters. However, a recent study showed that most tankless water heaters will fall apart from old age long before they save enough energy to justify their high initial cost. Installation costs are also high, costing on average of over twice what it costs to install a storage tank water heater. So their overall efficiency might not be as high as you’ve been led to believe.

Don’t let this completely turn you off though! If you’ve considered all the issues with this style, and especially if money is less of a problem, there are still a lot of good reasons to get one – not least because of their performance specifications and compact size. And they are, after all, better for the environment. So consider “taking one for the team”, and get this eco-friendly piece of plumbing.