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How Tankless Water Heaters Work


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The traditional home water heater involves a plumbing connection that brings in water from the house’s main water feed into a large tank that is then heated with a natural gas flame. That water is kept at a certain warm temperature for ready supply. As the supply is used and then drawn down, the feed adds more water into the tank and the heating element adds heat to replace the supply. Eventually, the feed is overwhelmed by demand is still going, and the hot water in the house becomes mild at best. Only when the water demand is stopped and the heater tank gets a chance to catch up can it supply ready hot water again.

A tankless water heater takes a very different approach to the hot water supply in a home. They come in multiple sizes and configurations, and tankless water heaters have a number of advantages over the traditional water heater. Those advantages include:

  • Meets all requirements for Energy Star green expectations
  • A hot water delivery system that doesn’t wane and weakens as you keep drawing more hot water for a longer period of time
  • Only operates as needed; there’s no energy loss when not in use
  • Lowering operating costs helps save on a utility bill
  • Matches lower demand needs, like faucets
  • Comes with warranties for product quality
  • Operates with very low noise
  • They last twice as long as a conventional water heater (20 years versus 12 years max)

Tankless systems are not new. They’ve been in widespread use both in Asia as well as in Europe. They run on an electric power source versus gas flame for small ones. Large tankless systems still use gas-firing for heat though. Most importantly, they can manage the entire home’s needs and still provide plenty of hot water for a shower or bath at the same time.

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Signs of an Aging Water Heater and Candidate for Replacement

One of the best times to consider a tankless water heater is when the current traditional heater is reaching the end of its life. As noted above, the typical conventional water heater is meant to work fine for up to 12 years. After a decade, however, corrosion started to take a big toll. The heater starts to be at risk for failure and, worse, catastrophic structural loss. If not in the garage, a water heater loss could easily flood a home floor with damage well in the neighborhood of $20,000, depending on where it is located.

Traditional water heaters start showing signs of problems with discolored water coming through the faucets as minute material for corrosion starts to flow with the water delivered. Stains in tubs and showers can be another indicator as the rust moves and deposits out of the faucet. Cloudy or sandy water is another indicator. To know for sure, a full evaluation by a plumber can confirm the actual status and performance expectation of what is left in the system.

Obviously, the most notable sign an old water heater has failed is the inability to produce anything close to hot water, especially longer than 30 seconds.

What to Expect With a Tankless Change

A tankless water heater is going to immediately have multiple benefits for a home. Along with instant hot water for any need, you’re going to see a big change in your gas utility bill as the demand for heating goes down. Also, hot water will be available for simultaneous needs, like a hot shower and running the laundry, and cooking all at the same time. With less footprint needed, you also get the advantage of more space available, which can be a plus in small or tight living conditions. Finally, you remove the risk of catastrophic tank failure and flood damage. That peace of mind versus dealing with repairs is a huge relief.

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Bellie Brown
Bellie Brown
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