If it’s time to replace your hot water tank, you may be toying with the idea of installing a tankless water heater instead. Tankless heaters have been popular in Europe and Asia for many years, but they have only recently become fixtures on the Canadian market. They are popular because they save space and energy, although before you make any decisions, it’s worth considering their pros and cons.
Tankless heaters are often called on-demand heaters, since these units offer hot water at the turn of a tap but don’t store water on site. Instead, they extract it from the ground on demand and use a heat exchanger – electric coils or a gas burner — to warm it before it reaches the consumer.
Tankless Water Heater Pros
There are a number of benefits to tankless water heaters. Tankless heaters provide hot water whenever and wherever you need it: a faucet, the dishwasher or the washing machine. There is generally no danger of the supply running out, as is the case with a tank, since it simply continues drawing water from the ground.
They are small and compact – the size of a suitcase or smaller – and are generally mounted on the wall. The size of a tankless system can be a bonus in smaller homes, where space it at a premium. Often, too, the system can be located in a closet, closer to the kitchen and bathrooms where hot water is needed, rather than in the basement, the spot where most hot water tanks are found.
Since the water is heated on demand, the heater doesn’t need an ongoing supply of energy to keep water at a constant temperature.
They are also sturdy. Tankless heaters tend to last 20 years, on average, while standard reservoir tanks generally have a 10-year life.
Tests conducted in 2019 for Consumer Reports, the well-respected consumer magazine, indicated that tankless, gas-powered models outperformed traditional tanks in terms of both energy efficiency and energy consumption, while the electric model was more energy efficient than its traditional counterpart.
Tankless Water Heater Cons
Tankless heaters are generally more expensive to purchase than the standard reservoir tank. It also costs more to instal a tankless heater, partly because the system may require additional electrical capacity or piping and venting in your home.
Tankless models are touted as energy-efficient, but if you live in a very cold part of Canada where it takes longer for the groundwater to flow through the system and more energy to heat it, you may not save as much money as you expect on your utility bills.
If you live in an area with hard water, you’ll also need to clean your system regularly to ensure it doesn’t get clogged by mineral deposits. This can add to your annual cost.
Tankless heaters have finite flow rates; they can only produce so much hot water at once. It is important to ensure that the tank is sized properly for your house and for your family’s needs. Talk to your HVAC professional to help you gauge the proper flow rate for a suitable tankless water heater.
If you’re thinking about a tankless water heater, plan to purchase one with an Energy Star certification, which means it has been tested and meets high-efficiency standards. Energy Star models use an average of 30 per cent less energy than a reservoir tank, according to Natural Resources Canada, which offers real cost savings over time. However, your energy savings will also depend on the source of the energy you use to run your system; electricity tends to be more expensive than gas, so be sure to run the numbers before you settle on a particular system.
Tankless water heaters often are eligible for rebates, because their efficiency is considered better for the environment. Prior to purchase, check with the federal and provincial governments, your utility company and the manufacturers to see if any of them are offering a rebate.
There are great reasons – including saving on energy consumption in this age of climate change – to consider a tankless heater, but be sure to consult your HVAC professional to ensure you purchase to right system for your home.