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Should I Buy a Tankless Hot Water Heater?

Updated on August 25, 2012
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Tankless hot water heaters are increasing in both availability and popularity. They are also called demand water heaters, or instant water heaters because they provide hot water only as it is needed in the amount that it is needed. This saves you money because it only heats the amount of water you need rather than an entire tank.

Conventional water heaters heat an entire tank full of water. When it begins to cool off the heat cycles back on and heats the water back up to the optimum temperature. The cost to heat that much water and then maintain the temperature is a large part of your energy bill. If you typically use less than forty gallons of water a day a tankless hot water heater can save you up to 34 percent.

If that was the entire reason for getting a tankless water heater it would be an excellent one but the truth is it isn't the only reason to buy one. An on demand heater is good for the environment and it saves space in your home. These water heaters are especially suitable for vintage homes that did not have an area provided for various types of modern technology. Often a closet or part of another room will be transformed into a storage area for various types of modern technology but then you lose space.

With the tiny tankless heater there is no need to compromise storage space or room size. It can be installed under a kitchen cabinet, along the back wall of a closet or in other out of the way places.

How to Choose a Tankless Hot Water Heater

The first choice that you have to make when you decide on an on demand heater makes all the other choices much easier. Should you choose gas or electric?

Often that choice is made for you, especially if you already own a home. Which you choose will depend largely on what you all ready have installed. If your house is not piped for gas then an electric heater is the best choice. If it is piped for gas then what you choose will depend on the size of the pipes and your budget.

Choosing an Electric Tankless Water Heater

You need to find out the electrical requirements of the heater and match it against what your house can provide. When you live in a vintage home it is important to have the wiring checked and make sure that your home and the electric tankless water heater that you have chosen are compatible in these three areas:

  • Voltage
  • Amperage
  • Circuit breaker

Talk to a licensed electrician about your plans and discuss your choices with him. It could save you a lot of money in the long run.

Choosing Gas

Do you have natural gas or propane? It will make a difference in the water heater that you purchase. Again, it is important that you consult with a specialist before you buy.

Talk to the gas company about your existing lines. Ask if they will support your water heater. Also, have a plumber come out and check the pipes inside the house. They have to be a certain width to support the on demand heater and some older homes have pipes that are simply too narrow. It can be costly to have them changed. Where ever you choose to put your water heater you'll have to have it vented as well.

It is much easier to plan for these things before you buy!

How to Calculate Water Hot Usage

Whichever type you choose you will need to have an idea of how much hot water you will be using at any one time. Each activity uses a different amount of hot water.

Here are some examples of the number of gallons it takes to do various everyday chores:

  • Washing hands and face 2
  • Showering 20
  • Bathing 20
  • Shaving 2
  • Preparing food 5
  • Washing machine 32
  • Hand dishwashing 4
  • Dishwasher 10

So if you plan to shower while the dishwasher is being run then you will need your water heater to be able to handle 30 gallons in an hour. Different types of water heaters have different capabilities. You should figure what your largest hot water use might be and install a water heater that can handle that much hot water.

This is an easy to use online caluclator to compare the capabilites of different tankless hot water heaters.

The Top Rated Tankless Hot Water Heaters

The top five rated tankless water heaters, rated by consumer reports are:

  • Kenmore Power Saver 40 gallon
  • Kenmore Power Saver 50 gallon gas

  • Kenmore Power Saver 40 Gallon electric

  • Takagi Flash Series T -K 2

  • Bosch Power Star AE 125

The Kenmores are all under $500.00 while the Bosch and Takagi are in the $600 to $1,000 range, USD. Interestingly, the Kenmores all have better ratings as well as better warranties.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Like anything else tankless water heaters have good things and bad things about them. The good stuff includes:

  • Better energy usage
  • Doesn't take a lot of roomG
  • Great for the environment
  • Lasts twice as long as a conventional water heater

You need to think about the bad stuff, too.

  • Tankless hot water heaters typically have trouble heating cold water. If you live in the north and your ground water gets very cold in the winter the tankless heater may not be able to handle the load the way you want.
  • Tankless heaters cost more
  • Tankless heaters cost more to install
  • It is difficult to retrofit a home for a tankless

So, which should you choose? That is something only you can decide. For a small family, building a new home in a mild climate a tankless is probably the perfect choice. For a large family in an old house in a cold climate the conventional tank heater may be the better choice.

Consult with your plumber and power company to find the best fit for your family.


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Tank-less water heaters are definitely for me. I have always wanted one because we've always had small water heaters everywhere I have lived and you barely get a 15 min shower in. I hope to have one of these some day, I really do.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Heaterman...perhaps. However, I live in a 100 year old home. OUr plumber told me that while tankless would be awesome it would cost me thousands to redo the piping for the gas and vent it through three stories, two of them having 12 foot ceilings.

      It is always important to weight and balance.HAving it cost more that 5,000 to install would make it take a long to to recoupa t even a 50 percent savings.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Your comments on tankless heaters I found to be a little off the mark. The tankless heater may cost more to purchase and install but over time they pay for themselves with low running costs.

    • talford profile image


      10 years ago from U.S.A.

      Great info I have been kicking around the idea for quite a while.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      10 years ago from New Zealand

      LOL- youmean they are a new idea in the US? We had a gas calafonte when I was a kid the pre-runner of the modern gas units- which generally locatd outside. Our current rental has an electric unit. Its automatic for me not to run the washing machine or do the dishes if someone is showering but I guess a generation would have to learn that again. And you never run out of water - thats the best bit!

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      10 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      We used those when I lived in Spain and even now many friends of ours use them here in the U.S.

    • profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      I have one and I LOVE it! I would never go back again. We never, ever run out of hot water. I never even have to think about it anymore. Anytime I go elsewhere I can't believe that they actually run out and put up with that when there are tankless models on the market.

    • solarstories profile image


      10 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      This is very informative and useful information on another way to save on energy costs and fuel consumption. I had not been very aware of this particular method before.

    • kerryg profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      My parents have had a Bosch for a number of years and been very pleased with it so far. I am considering replacing my conventional water heater with one when it dies also.


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