Tankless water heaters have been popular in many European countries for decades, but have been very slow to gain traction in North America. This has been especially true of Canada, due to our cold winter climates making it nearly impossible for tankless heaters to keep up. In recent years, however, many new natural gas-fueled models have been developed that can keep up against our much-dreaded winter cold. With these advances in heating efficiency, tankless water heaters are now a wise choice for consumers looking to cut down on their gas bills.
Let’s back up a step or two—many people have never been in a home that uses a tankless heater, and thus aren’t familiar with what they are or how they work.
What’s a tankless water heater?
This is one of those times where the name of something is pretty apt: a tankless water heater differs from traditional models in that they (surprise!) don’t have a water tank. Normally, a water heater always has a large reservoir of hot water on standby for when you need it. It’s a bit like someone keeping a kettle on the stove all day and night just so it’s always handy if they want to make some tea. Except in this case, the kettle holds up to 400 litres of water. No matter whether you’re home or at work for half the day, your water heater is dutifully keeping a close eye on the temperature of the water it holds, kicking on the gas burners every time it drops below the desired temperature (usually around 50 to 60 degrees Celsius).
When you think about it, it doesn’t sound terribly efficient, does it?
In contrast, a tankless water heater only heats water when it is needed. When a hot water tap in your home is turned on, room temperature water is channeled through the heating unit, where it’s heated by a high intensity gas or electrical element. When you shut the hot water off, the water heater follows suit. It’s similar to how the water cooler in your office instantly produces piping hot water from the hot tap.
So, which makes more sense: heating water all day every day, or only heating water when you need it? That’s why it’s worth considering the merits of switching over to a tankless water heater.
The pros of installing a tankless water heater
- You don’t run out of hot water. Ever. Meaning that you can fulfill that fantasy of staying in the shower literally all day. On a more practical level, this makes it much easier for large families to coordinate shower times.
- They don’t have the pricey standby heating costs that normal water heaters have. You’re only paying heat the water you use, when you use it.
- Some gas-fueled heaters come equipped with an intermittent ignition device (IID), instead of using an always-on pilot light. This means when it’s not in operation, it’s using absolutely zero natural gas.
- They tend to last longer than typical water heaters, usually running for more than 20 years without an issue, compared to the average 10 to 15 year lifespan of storage water heaters. When an issue does pop up, parts can be easily replaced.
- They’re very small, meaning that your man cave in the garage just got a little bit bigger.
- As storage water tanks age, large deposits of rust and scale and other grimey stuff builds up on the inner walls, which in turn contaminate your water. In contrast, tankless heaters provide consistently pure water for the entirety of their lifespan.
- Here’s the biggie, the one you’ve been waiting for: they can cut your gas bills by a lot.
- Households that use less than 150 litres of hot water per day can save 25 per cent.
- Households that use up to 325 litres per day save around 8 to 15 per cent.
- When a tankless heater is installed for each individual hot water tap, savings can be as high as 50 per cent.
Obviously, nothing is perfect, and tankless models do have their inherent shortcomings.
The cons of installing a tankless water heater
- Tankless water heaters can be quite a bit more expensive than their tank-equipped cousins, so the upfront costs are higher.
- The output rate of a tankless heater is less than that for tank heaters (until the tank runs out of water, that is). However, modern tankless models can put out between 7 and 15 litres a minute, so as long as you aren’t running the shower, dishwasher, and washing machine at the same time, there won’t be an issue.
- Customers with higher than average hot water needs can easily address this issue by installing multiple heaters in parallel, or installing one for each high-demand appliance.
- Some manufacturers recommend that their models be serviced once a year by a technician.
Tankless water heaters aren’t for everyone. Every household is different, and in some instances a tank water heater might be a better choice. Water heaters are an important element of your household in that they’re utilized every day. Hopefully we’ve given you some food for thought so you can evaluate your own needs, and see if now is the time to switch to a tankless water heater.