We usually take hot water for granted. We expect it to be available whenever we need it and in whatever quantity we desire. Our trusty water heaters work behind the scenes to meet our demands. For the most part, they are out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
Energy Savings Requires Planning
Like all appliances, however, they eventually fail. Life without hot water is miserable. Unfortunately, most of us make decisions on water heater replacement when we are in crisis mode. Who wants to research different technologies and models when facing the reality of cold showers? For this reason, most of us choose to replace our water heater with a new version of what we already have. This is not necessarily a bad decision. Newer models are typically more efficient and you can use the existing gas and water connections.
What if you had more time to make this decision? What if you were proactive and anticipated when your water heater needed replacing? You would certainly do more research and consult with professionals. You could also shop around and find the best prices and arrange for installation at a convenient time.
Water heaters have an average operational life of 10-12 years. This varies depending on a number of factors but it is a good general rule. When your water heater gets past the 10-year mark, it is time to start thinking about replacing it.
The main categories of gas water heaters are storage and tankless. Storage water heaters are the traditional variety. They continuously heat a reservoir of water. Tankless water heaters operate on-demand and only heat water when needed. Advice is plentiful on which technology is better. The honest answer is “it depends.”
Storage Water Heaters
There are two downsides to storage water heaters. The first is that the size of the storage tank limits the quantity of hot water available in a given time period. The second is that it heats water 24/7. You are burning gas and heating water even when it is not needed.
The good news is that storage water heaters are more efficient than ever. Enhanced insulation, heat traps, and more efficient combustion systems result in about 10% energy savings over older models. Some of these new storage water heaters qualify for tax credits or utility rebates. Check with a licensed plumber or your local home improvement store to see what incentives are available.
Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters operate on the simple premise of only heating water only when you need it. Your hot water supply is not limited by a storage tank. In addition to energy savings, they typically last twice as long as storage water heaters. However, there are always cons to offset the pros.
- Tankless water heaters require electricity to operate their controls and valves. Running electricity to the water heater can increase installation costs.
- In the event of a power outage, tankless water heaters will not operate.
- The combustion gas ventilation may require upgrading. This can also add to the installation costs.
- Some consumers have reported problems when they only need small amounts hot water such as for hand washing.
- Proper installation and maintenance are extremely important. Soot build-up, hard water scaling, and other issues can affect the operation of a tankless water heater.
- It can take many years for the energy savings to offset the increased cost of purchasing and installing a tankless water heater. Some estimates are that the payback period may exceed the life of the water heater.
In general, tankless water heaters make more sense when constructing a new home. Installation costs are far less in new construction than when upgrading an existing home. High-efficiency storage water heaters are an excellent replacement option for many homeowners. Either way, be proactive and replace your water heater when it is nearing the end of its expected life. Otherwise, you may be stuck buying whatever model is in stock and paying emergency service fees for installation.