Tankless Water Heaters

How tank-less or on-demand water heating system works, pros and cons, brands...

When searching for residential tankless water heaters, also called on demand and instant hot water heaters, it is important to know that the tank-less system and heating process is different from tank-type systems. Explore how these high efficiency and condensing products can benefit you, reduce the energy consumption and save you money.

Highlights

About Tankless Water Heaters

The main advantages of the tankless water heaters is the tank-less design, continuous flow and endless supply, less energy consumption (up to 30-40% when comparing it to tank-type heaters), more savings for you and no worry about running out of hot water during long showers.

When comparing the tankless technology with storage-tank you will see that the conventional type is heating water even when if you are not using, while the tankless appliances work only when you open the hot tap - on demand.

bosch tankless water heater

Tankless water heaters can use gas or electricity. My favorite types are gas-powered with the electronic ignition, but you can also find models with the continuously burning pilot light, both types having pros and cons.

The size of the unit you need depends on demand, how big your house is and the family size. Some manufacturers offer a multi-system set-up that can link many units into one system, to satisfy demand even for the largest houses.

Majority of these tankless hot water heaters are whole-house type, as they have higher GPM flow rate capacity, so they handle demand for more than one application at a time.

There are also some manufacturers that offer economy residential and commercial grade models to be used for space heating and water heating at the same time.

How tankless works

After you check how tankless water heaters work, you will see that these models are more complex than standard type and they require some knowledge before you try to install or service them. This is especially true when dealing with the gas-powered units.

How electric type works

There are some electric tankless heaters where heating element is controlled by the flow-sensing device that operates with a constant heat input and maximum flow rate. Flow rate depends on the pressure which can be adjusted on the knob.

If there is a request for maximum flow, the outgoing water toward the hot water tap is cooler since it spends less time passing through the heat exchanger.

How gas type works

Modern gas-powered tankless models are using the latest technology where the output temperature, flow, safety and other parameters are controlled and regulated by the electronic circuit board or small computer. Good examples are Rinnai, Noritz, Takagi or Paloma.

this picture explains how tankless hot water heaters work

When you open the hot water tap a flow sensor in the tankless hot water heater sends the signal to the electronic module. From there signal goes to the gas valve to open the gas flow.

If all the requirements are met, natural gas or propane flows into the burner located inside the combustion chamber. The gas is ignited either by the pilot flame or spark from the electrode.

Burning gas heats the heat exchanger where incoming cold water is quickly heated to the pre set and desired temperature. The heat exchanger transfers the heat from the burner to the water heating instantaneously. A vent pipe vents products of combustion out using the direct vent or powered vent system.

Once the faucet is turned off, the flow stops and flame goes out. As it can be seen from the above explanation tankless water heaters heat the water on demand, while providing you with an endless supply of hot water. You can see them often installed on the wall.

Video: Tankless Basics


Reviews by fuel source

Electric-powered

Electric tankless hot water heaters have a compact design, saving you lots of space. They have a long service life as they are less prone to hard water and sediments. You can choose point-of-use or whole-house water heaters. Electric tankless water heaters don't produce greenhouse gases. Top selling brands in North America are Bosch PowerStar, Titan, Stiebel and Eemax.

Gas-powered

Gas tankless hot water heaters are environmental friendly appliances also. Many of them utilize advanced technology for energy efficiency, and meet strict emission standards. They can use natural gas or propane - LP. Gas tankless water heaters produce higher flow rates than electric ones.

Tankless hot water heaters can be further divided into two categories; one that can only work as on/off and the other with the modulation.

Hot water heaters with modulation, base the heat output on the flow. For example if the demand for hot water is higher, modulating gas valve provides more gas and the final result is more power.


emergency plumber

Manufacturers

Here is the list of the popular residential tankless hot water heaters brands where many of them are Energy Star qualified models, some brands are cheap and the other expensive:

  • GE


See our selection of the best tankless models.

Benefits

  • Endless hot water supply. Run out of water? Never.

  • Durability, life span is 20 years or more (for some).

  • You can save up to 50% of energy and heating costs.

  • High efficiency heaters available, marked as Energy star.

  • Flexible installation options, can be installed anywhere, inside or outside.

  • All the parts are replaceable.

  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Reliability rating is 99%.

  • Safety - no scalding injuries.

  • Provides you clean and fresh hot water.

  • No tank no leaking problems.

  • Some use smart technology with self-diagnostic program (great for repairs) and precise temperature control for safety and comfort.

  • Government tax credit, rebate and other incentives.

  • They can use natural gas or propane (LP).

Disadvantages

  • With the high up-front costs tankless system can cost up to three times as much as tank-type heaters.

  • Required upgrades like venting system or gas line are costly.

  • Your hot water output is split among all your household fixtures, the reason why an inconsistent temperature occurs.

  • Venting gas and propane units requires expensive stainless steel tubing, for some brands other materials are used.

  • Electric instant water heaters may require an additional circuit and lots of energy.

  • Gas water heaters require the additional expense of an annual servicing.

  • Instant water heaters need a minimum flow rate to activate the heat exchanger.

  • Impossible to include renewable energy technology in tankless water heating system.

  • Tankless water heaters are reliant on the pressure that is delivered to your home, you need good plumbing system.


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(Photos are courtesy of Bosch and Takagi)