Should I go Tankless?
Over the years you’ve heard a lot about buying a tankless water heater aka on-demand water heater aka instantaneous water heater (there are subtle differences between some of these names). The hype surrounding them is massive. Don’t get me wrong; these units absolutely have their place. In some cases they are nothing short of necessary. If space is of the utmost concern, this is the way to go. Tanks are big, clunky, and require a lot of space. In other cases, a tankless system used in tandem with a storage tank can actually cost less to install than a high efficiency hot water tank. But these situations aren’t common. In most cases, in the Ottawa region, it’s more economical to go with a tank. Here’s why:
In the standard home most of us live in, where we don’t have mile-long tubs, we don’t need that much hot water. Our 50 gallon power-vented tank will supply what we need , when we need it. Our typical power-vented hot water tank installation costs around $1350 plus tax. Guess how much the condensing tankless will cost to install? You’re likely going to come up around $3500 plus tax. Why? If you’re going to do it, I highly recommend a unit with a stainless steel heat exchanger, buffer tank, and if you’re truly going to get efficiency from it, you had better get something 90% efficient and up. Next your gas line may not be big enough to accommodate the needs of a tankless water heater. That thing has to burn fast to produce enough heat to heat your water. An on-demand system burns almost 4 times as much gas while it’s running in comparison to a tank. Next we’ve got to find somewhere to put the thing! Since it's a wall-mounted appliance, we need a wall to mount it to safely and sometimes that’s not close by, or has to be built. You can see how this all quickly begins to add up.
Your hot water tank has very few components that can break. With an on-demand system, things need to happen very quickly so you don’t get tired of waiting for that hot water to show up at the faucet. Since there are more components included to make sure it will run safely and quickly, there’s a higher chance that something will break. These components can get to be very expensive should something go wrong with it outside of the warranty. Speaking of which, that brings us to our next point.
Even without any maintenance, a hot water tank can work without problems for a long time. Buried deep in the warranty paperwork of a lot of hvac equipment is a clause that regular maintenance must be done for the warranty to stay valid. I’ve yet to encounter a maintenance issue with a furnace, air conditioner, fireplace or hot water tank where a manufacturer has asked for proof of maintenance. The last company I worked for installed a number of instantaneous systems. When some warranty issues came up, the manufacturer asked for the customer’s maintenance records. Annual maintenance had not been done, and problems occurred with several customers. Needless to say, these warranty items didn’t go through. It is imperative that maintenance
be done annually if for no other reason than to keep the warranty going. This means a good portion of the money you save from the unit now goes to its maintenance.
Again, there are times when an on-demand system is better suited to a home. It’s just not the economical saviour that it's at times promoted to be.