If you’re like most people, you only think about hot water when you want it and don’t have it. On-demand hot water has only been around for about 120 years. Before that, people didn’t shower much; they bathed – and they didn’t bathe often. When they did, they brought heated water to the tub and then added cold water to get the right temperature.
During the 20th century, domestic hot water became a standard, and that’s pretty much where we are. Today, debates about hot water ask the question, “Tank or tankless?” The vast majority of domestic hot water today comes from a tank storage system, but the earliest water heaters were invariably tankless. (In fact, some were even portable!) So we’ve come full-circle on domestic hot water, and we’re still asking, “Tank or tankless?”
Storage tank water heaters are relatively cheap, easy to find and relatively easy to install or fix. Compared to other water heating techniques (like electricity), gas water heaters are also reasonably efficient. The design of a water tank hasn’t changed much, but newer tanks have more insulation and safety features like pressure relief valves. Storage tank water heaters can discharge about 7-10 gallons per minute of hot water, so you can shower, launder and wash your dishes simultaneously.
On the minus side, water tank storage systems use a lot of energy, and their efficiency is limited by design. Once the tank is empty, you’ll need to wait as long as an hour for more hot water.
Worse, the tanks themselves are pretty much designed to fail every 6-10 years. Some early storage water heaters had replaceable tanks. Others were made of non-corroding alloys. (75 years later, a few of these tanks are still in service.) If you’re on Team Tank you’ll be buying a new one about once every decade.
Tankless water heaters have more recently made their grand return to the market. They eliminate many of the storage water tank’s faults. Some gas models are up to 98% efficient, and they’re designed to last for about 25 years. You can take advantage of tax credits and rebates that storage tank water systems don’t qualify for, and a tankless hot water system may even help sell your home!
As long as you are scrupulously honest with yourself about your hot water needs, you can have “endless” hot water. Good tankless water heaters can crank out about 4-5 gallons per minute of hot water. That’s enough for a shower, but you won’t also be able to do the dishes and the laundry at the same time. You may have to choose how and when you use hot water. (The prospect of a cold shower should make the choice easy.)
On Team Tankless, your hot water can be “endless” as long as the electricity stays on. The cold truth about tankless hot water systems is that even the gas-fired ones use some electricity. When your power goes out, your hot water goes out with it. You’ll also pay more up front for a tankless system.
So again, which is it – tank or tankless? If you need an instant solution because your tank is broken, Team Tank is calling. They’re fast, relatively cheap and you can have them in a couple of hours.
If you can replace your hot water system on your schedule and you can afford to get a system that’s large enough to accommodate your hot water demands, you should at least consider a tankless system. They’re more energy-efficient, last 2-3 times longer than a tank, take up less room, and cost less to operate over their lifetimes. In the long run, the additional money you spend up front on a tankless system (and then some) will come back to you in the form of lower energy bills.
If you’d like more information about water heaters or tankless hot water systems, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can help you figure out which option is best for you!
Photo Credit: Svilen Milev, via FreeImages.com