Having a ready supply of hot water is essential to your home’s comfort. For many years, traditional tank-storage-based water heaters were the best and only option to provide it. Today, however, tankless on-demand water heaters are more popular than ever before. Choosing between them, though, requires a bit of knowledge many homeowners may not have. So, the experts here at At Your Service Heating & Cooling LLC put together this guide. Here’s everything you need to know about traditional and tankless water heaters and how to choose between them.
How Do Traditional Water Heaters Work?
Traditional water heaters basically consist of a storage tank, a heating mechanism and a thermostat. Some water heaters use electric heating elements, and others use combustion-based heating that relies on natural gas or oil. In either case, traditional water heaters work the same way.
The tank fills with water from your home’s incoming water supply, and then the heating element heats it to a preset temperature. When the thermostat indicates that the water is hot enough, the heating element turns off.
Most traditional water heaters include storage tanks that hold between 35 and 50 gallons of water. So, when you turn on a hot water tap in your home, it draws hot water from the tank’s storage. As the available hot water drains, the tank begins to refill and starts the heating process again.
When you’re not using any hot water, a traditional water heater will cycle on and off to keep its stored water at the proper temperature. Since the tanks feature a layer of insulation wrapped around them, heat loss is minimal. So, an idle traditional water heater will need to enter the heating mode sparingly to maintain its stored water’s temperature.
The Benefits of Traditional Water Heaters
Since traditional water heaters rely on time-tested technology, they’re very reliable. They also come with some advantages that make them appealing to homeowners. These include:
- Low upfront and installation costs
- High hot-water-flow rates
- Lower long-term maintenance costs
- Easier installation
The Drawbacks of Traditional Water Heaters
Although traditional water heaters have historically been the most common option chosen by homeowners, they do have some drawbacks. They include:
- High operating costs
- Large space requirements
- Limited lifespan between 15 and 20 years
- Limited capacity
How Do Tankless Water Heaters Work?
Tankless water heaters, although less common than traditional water heaters, offer an excellent hot-water alternative for homeowners. Unlike traditional water heaters, tankless models produce hot water on demand and don’t store it for future use. Instead, they sense when you’re calling for hot water and heat it on-the-fly as needed.
A typical tankless water heater relies on an electric or gas-powered heating element. They include a heat exchanger that the incoming water supply flows through when you require hot water. As a result, most tankless water heaters have a limited flow rate compared to traditional models. However, there’s no limit as to how much hot water they can produce, as they’ll keep running for as long as you need hot water.
The on-demand operation of tankless water heaters makes them quite energy efficient. It’s estimated that they consume 24% to 34% less energy than comparable traditional water heaters in homes that use 41 or fewer gallons of hot water per day. Although their efficiency suffers a bit in high-usage situations — such as homes that use up to 86 gallons of hot water per day — they still save between 8% to 14% compared to traditional models.
The Benefits of Tankless Water Heaters
Even though tankless water heaters are just beginning to gain traction in the United States, they’re not based on new technology. On the contrary, tankless water heaters are in wide use throughout Europe and South America and have been for many years. That’s because they come with some significant benefits compared to traditional models. They include:
- Lower operating costs
- Smaller space requirements
- Longer lifespans of between 20 and 30 years
- Superior energy efficiency
- Instant hot water whenever you need it, for as long as you need it
The Drawbacks of Tankless Water Heaters
Since tankless water heaters feature superior energy efficiency and lower operating costs, you may assume that they’re clearly superior to traditional models. There are, however, some drawbacks that come with tankless water heaters. They include:
- Higher purchase costs
- Higher installation costs, particularly when replacing an existing traditional water heater
- Limited flow rate means they can struggle in demanding conditions
- Immediate loss of hot water in a power outage
Choosing Between Traditional and Tankless Water Heaters
Deciding between a traditional and a tankless water heater comes down to a few factors. The first is cost. If the upfront costs are your primary concern, traditional water heaters are always going to be the better option. This is especially true if you own a home that already has one.
Traditional water heaters are also a good choice if you require the ability to use hot water in several places in your home simultaneously. Their higher flow rate means that you can use the hot water in a few rooms at the same time, and each location will receive hot water — at least, until the tank empties. Even then, you always have the option of purchasing a traditional heater with a greater hot water storage capacity to avoid that problem.
If you don’t use large amounts of hot water in your home, or if you don’t have multiple people trying to shower simultaneously that often, a tankless water heater may be your best bet. Although they cost a bit more upfront, they can last roughly twice as long as traditional water heaters. That plus their superior energy efficiency means that their total cost of ownership is far lower than traditional models.
On top of that, there are some ways to get around the flow rate limitations of tankless water heaters. One such option is to install more than one. In houses with high hot water usage, it’s often possible to create two hot water branches, each for a specific part of the home. Although this increases your upfront costs, it effectively removes the flow rate limitations of a single unit. Or, you could opt to install a secondary, far smaller traditional tank unit, which can add a bit of extra capacity to handle the times when demand is high.
Consult the Water Heater Specialists
Hopefully, now you can make your decision between a traditional and a tankless water heater. You can always count on the experts here at At Your Service Heating & Cooling LLC for help, though. We’re a family owned business that’s served the Baltimore, MD area since 2013. We offer comprehensive heating, cooling and plumbing services to help you keep your home comfortable at all times. Additionally, we’ve got years of experience dealing with both traditional and tankless hot water heating systems. So, whichever you choose, we’re the first number you should call.
When your home’s ready for a new water heater, call At Your Service Heating & Cooling LLC, and we’ll help you choose and install the perfect model to fit your needs.