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(This article updated regularly due to changes in the industry. Updates will be noted on my BLOG and at the bottom
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Tankless 101A tutorial for the homeowner and the professional
Tankless water heaters have been sweeping the nation with a huge growth over the
last 10 years or so. These are water heaters that do not have a tank. Many of the larger tankless companies have seen their
sales grow by hundreds of percent each year! These compact units mount on a wall either inside or even outside the house and
supply hot water on demand literally without end! The Europeans have been heating water with tankless heaters for years. Many
people believe that within the next 5 to 10 years 50% or more of all American homes will have a tankless water heater in them!
Even the big tank water heater companies have tried to jump on board by partnering with larger Japanese companies to have
units private labeled for them (More on this later) Tankless water heaters are available in electric natural gas and propane
The electric tankless water heaters have advantages
over tank type electric models but very few provide enough capacity to serve multiple fixtures with only one unit in northern
teir climates and may require a larger electrical service to operate them depending on model. This has kept most builders
from using them in new construction. Although they do tend work well in small home, condo or apartment applications where
gas is not an option. For the purpose of this tutorial we are going to talk about the gas fired units. There is a updated
section below about electric tankless water heaters.
water heaters work on demand by using sensors and computer boards to monitor the flow of water and change the rate of firing
to supply just the amount of hot water required for the current demand. (They are also called on demand heaters) This means
that they burn less gas to supply hot water to something like a sink than they would if you are using multiple fixtures at
the same time. This modulating firing rate also make them very efficient to operate as you are only using the exact amount
of fuel needed at that time. A term that should be avoided is “instantaneous”. Tankless water heaters are not
instantaneous. It does take them about 2 - 4 seconds to go from their at rest “off” mode to producing hot water
at the set point temperature. This is not a big issue however. The problem is if a consumer thinks by hearing the term “instantaneous”
that they will get water at every outlet in the house instantly if they get a tankless heater, they will be disappointed.
Most homes have many feet of piping between the water heater and the outlets and do not have a recirculating system. The amount
of time it takes from when a faucet or other hot water fixture opens to when the set point water gets to that point is called
“Lag Time”. In today’s large homes with low flow fixtures it is not uncommon to see a lag time of over 3
minutes to get hot water to remote fixtures in a home. Changing the type of water heater will not improve the speed of the
delivery of water unless the location of the heater is altered or if a recirculating system is installed. Because of their
small size of course, many times when a tankless heater replaces a tank, it can be moved to a more central location or nearer
to the fixtures it is to serve. This may cut down on the lag time considerably.
Tankless Water heaters save space in a home because they take up NO floor space. They also do not require protection
from vehicles if installed in a garage and are so small they can be installed in a crawl space or attic as well. If you really
need space, many can be installed outdoors giving you all of your interior space back. Just be sure to choose a model designed
for outdoor installation and with freeze protection for your area. (More on this later also)
Tankless water heaters save fuel because they do not have to maintain a
supply of hot water in a tank and are typically “always off”. Tank type heaters fire on and off all the time to
maintain the temperature of water in the tank within about 10° - 15° of the thermostat setting. (This is called “Stand-by
heat loss”) This also can result in some noticeable temperature difference. Tankless water heaters provide hot water
to the set point temperature plus or minus 2°. Another thing that makes a tankless hot water heater more fuel-efficient
is that they are “fully modulating”. In other words they only use the fuel needed to heat the water to the set
point at the current flow rate. If you are washing your hands using under 1 gallon per minute (GPM) you will be at a lower
firing rate than you would be if you are filling your tub at 3 GPM. This works much like your car. When you are sitting still
the car is idling. When you want to go or go faster you give it more gas and when you get where you are going you turn it
With their “always off” condition and their modulating capabilities it is common to see up to a 50%
reduction in fuel use when changing from a tank type heater to a tankless unit. If you are going to change from a 50-gallon
gas heater to a tankless you are probably not going to realize quite that much energy savings. In fact a 50-gallon tank water
heater does not use much more fuel at all compared to most tankless heaters. However a 50-gallon tank heater only can really
give you about 35 gallons of hot water per use before you begin running out of hot water. The tankless heater will deliver
more than 300 gallons per hour for most of the year and you can never run out! If it is an electric tank water heater that
you are replacing, your savings may be higher than 50% depending on the size of the tank. If you really want to know what
your savings may be look for the yellow “Energy Guide” sticker on your existing heater and look for the one on
the tankless unit you are considering. This will give you a good idea of what to expect. Of course your personal use will
effect this as well. If you have a family of 6 that has never had enough hot water with a 50 gallon tank heater, your bill
might just go up because now your family will not be taking cold showers or have to shorten them. If you have a vacation home
that is occupied only on weekends or using the tankless for something like a school locker room, your savings will be greater
because the tankless unit is “always off” eliminating wasted energy. On commercial jobs like this it is common
to realize THOUSANDS of dollars per year in savings! Many times paying for the entire project in just a few years. Part
of the decision making process is; What do you want? Endless hot water may be worth the additional investment to you even
without an energy payback.
Location Location Location
Builders like the tankless water
heaters for several reasons, not the least of which is space savings. When you charge by the square foot for a home, saving
space means that home is worth more. A tank type heater installed in garage requires a floor stand, a pipe to protect against
vehicle impact and normally venting all the way to the roof. In a two-story home, this means more framing, drywall and paint
to enclose it. A tankless water heater is wall mounted and can be sidewall vented, keeping the cost of venting to a minimum.
It also does not take up any of the garage floor space. Being able to install tankless heaters outside or build them into
a wall gives even more options that the builder never had before. This means even less venting cost (practically none) and
even more space savings. Some builders will locate them centrally in a crawl space to cut down on lag time. Others will locate
them near a master bath or kitchen. Some will install them in attics or outside to free up more space. Since there is no tank
to burst, installing a tankless heater in an attic is not as risky as installing a tank there. Even with a drain pan, a tank
water heater in an attic is a catastrophe waiting to happen! A drain pan that is 3” deep will not do much good if the
bottom blows out of a 50-gallon or larger tank water heater. (This is not an uncommon occurrence!) New water heater
codes in 2015 are going to make tank water heaters even bigger, and harder to install as well as more expensive. More
and more quality builders will be moving towards tankless water heaters to meet their needs.
Many of the better tankless companies have models that can be installed outdoors. This frees up all of the interior
space and does away with venting costs or combustion air issues. These units will have their own freeze prevention systems
however you will need to protect your water piping from freezing. This can be done with a pipe cover kit or recessed wall
box, which can be insulated. It is also recommended that you install self-regulating heating cable on the piping to keep it
above freezing. Outdoor units require power at all times to operate their freeze prevention system. In the event of a power
outage in freezing weather, you will need to prevent you tankless from freezing by leaving a faucet dripping or draining the
unit until the power comes back on. A “back-up” power supply or generator is also an option and there have been
some solenoid valve products developed that will automatically valve off and drain down a tankless water heater in the event
of a power outage.
Another reason that builders like tankless water heaters is
that they are able to provide hot water to todays popular large tubs and showers. A standard bathtub holds about 35 gallons
to the overflow. The popular soaking tubs hold anywhere from 45 gallons to over 80 and just filling up the tub leaves most
without any hot water with a tank type heater for a period of time. A tankless can fill all the tubs of a home and then provide
back to back showers, do the dishes, and wash the clothes. A tank type heater has to be very large to do all of these things
without running out. We are only limited to the flow rate our tankless unit can provide. Choosing a tankless heater with the
proper capacity for our house makes it possible to handle multiple hot water needs at once without the worry of running out
of hot water. Until now, most people made “water rules” to determine who showers when, or when they could do the
clothes or dishes. This goes away with a tankless water heater. Some people mistakenly think that they will only be able to
run one fixture at a time with tankless heater. While this may be true of the “Home Center” models, this is far
from accurate when speaking about the professional grade heaters from Rinnai, Noritz, Navien and Takagi/State. These models
have the capacity to operate 3 showers or more at the same time! Some will correctly claim that tankless water heaters limit
the flow rate to make sure you get the setpoint temperature and say that this means you will not be able to do multiple things
within the home using hot water. This is simply not true. Choosing the right unit is important as discussed a little later,
but making this claim is like comparing all tank water heaters to the old 30-gallon tank heaters that would run out after
Today’s tankless water heaters provide more than enough capacity to meet any hot water need from a
one-bathroom house to a hotel. You just need to choose the correct system for your application just like any other hot water
system. Here is something else to consider when choosing your tankless heater. Asking it to operate three showers, the kitchen
sink, the washing machine, the dishwasher and a laundry sink at the same time is not only unrealistic…your water pipes
can’t carry that much water! Most homes only have a ¾” hot water main and most are now in PEX or CPVC materials.
These piping system can not carry more than about 8 - 10 GPM total, including cold water. Also, many new homes typically see
less than 2 GPM at a showerhead due to pressure losses in the piping. In other words if you choose a tankless heater that
can deliver between 6-8GPM in the warm months and 4+ GPM in the winter months you will be quite happy in a typical 3-1/2 bath
or less home.
You should avoid the tendency of some to oversize a tankless system based on unrealistic system demands.
If in doubt, contact the manufacture for help. Capacities of these water heaters have improved greatly over the first tankless
models that showed up about 15 years ago in the US. Rinnai, Navien and Noritz both have models that can run from 4.2 GPM to
9.8GPM inculding residential and commercial units. Noritz has a commercial grade model that can produce up to 13.2 gallons
per minute (752 gallons per hour from one unit!) Most of these products can be installed in multi-unit installations for high
flow rate demands like luxury homes, large shower system with body sprays, locker rooms or hotels. (More on this later as
well.) Many tankless water heaters are also installed with a remote control unit that makes it easy to change the set point
temperature of the unit.
One manufacturer, Rinnai, has a remote that lets you set a controller to the capacity of your
tub that will actually stop the flow of water once the tub is filled! You then set the temperature you would like and fill
with just the hot water. When the unit measures the gallons set an alarm sounds to remind you shut off the water and reset
the remote and the flow is stopped. These nuits are able to provide multiple remotes to serve the same heater to provide for
multiple locations to change the temperature of the hot water if you like. Navien is comming out with a wireless remote to
allow for easy locating of the remote in retrofit instalations. These digital remote control panels also provide diagnostics
for the water heater in the event that there is a problem. They flash a fault code to help service personnel find and fix
any problems that may come up quickly. The better tankless heaters by Noritz, Navien, Rinnai and Takagi totally control outlet
temperature so they can NOT be "overshot" giving you less than the set point temperature. You always get setpoint
temperature plus or minus 1 or 2° (Unlike a tank which is + or - about 10°) Electric units and home center models
do not have this ability. I would advise avoiding the home center models completely as most lack the technology (and all lack
the support) and BTU’s to give you good performance.
In units that can not control their outlet flow, you will
need to “throttle” the flow rate yourself at the outlet. This also means that if you are taking a shower and someone
else turns on another fixture needing hot water, you may get a big surprise as the water temperature drops considerably in
The better tankless heaters are very easy to work on. (I
say the better ones because I have not had to work on a home center unit yet) Like anything else, training is preferred but
any good contractor with a cell phone and a Philips screwdriver should be able to take care of a problem using the tech support
lines of the companies listed above. A manometer (Device used to measure gas pressure) is also a very handy tool to have.
How long do they last? About 20 years on average. Compare that to the 12-year average of tank heaters. This also contributes
to the “total value” of the product since this means lower cost of ownership when factoring in replacement cost
and life span of the product. Add in the long-term energy savings and your tankless heater just might pay for itself and in
some cases it’s replacement! Keep in mind however that installing these units outside in cold climates if there were
a power outage, there is no freeze protection to these units until power is restored. You should protect the unit as detailed
above. Most homeowner’s policies do not cover the water heaters themselves so it is a good idea to provide a generator
in these installations or just put the unit indoors. For a commercial job, if you have a heater go down, most of the
time it can be fixed for a fraction of the cost of replacment. (All parts are replaceable) If you need to replace one
unit on a bank of tankless heaters, you are talking a couple thousand dollars, not the tens of thousands associated with large
commercial tanks, plus rigging ect to get them in and out!
The Right Sized Unit
The first thing we need to do is establish the peak hot water demand for the job.
In a home this is usually the number of showerheads, X the flow rate X 80%. Example: 3 showers @ 2.5GPM each = 7.5GPM X 80%
= 6GPM peak demand.
You want to choose a tankless unit that can meet or at least get close to this demand during
the warm half of the year. (Remember it is VERY uncommon to have a demand like this actually happen in a home, plus we are
not going to install a unit that can not control the flow rate anyway.) If you are within 1 GPM of this rate you will be happy.
It is not possible for most people, even plumbers to tell the difference between 1 GPM and 3 GPM without a direct caparison
next to it.
The proper size unit for the home above would be something like the Rinnai R94LSi or Noritz NRC111
or Navien NPE 240A. The websites of these manufactureres some great sizing calculators on it and may have an energy cost
calculator and even an evironmental impact calculator to demonstrate how installing their product is good for your wallet
and the planet.
Professionals: Please talk to your local wholesaler about attending a training class on these products.
They must be installed properly to work well and installing them improperly may result in damage to the tankless heater, poor
performance, premature failure or injury to the homeowner. Some manufacturere's also offer online training.
What about the tank manufacturer’s?
Good question. In the United States, over 8 MILLION
tank type water heaters are sold every year! About half of them are electric. That is a huge market. Every time a tankless
company sells a tankless water heater, the tank companies loose a little bit of their market share. (They don’t sell
a tank) It did not take very long for this to get the attention of the big tank companies.
These companies quickly
looked into the market. They had some serious questions to ask and decisions to make. The questions would be along these lines:
Is this a fad that will go away? Do these things really do what they say they can do? How long have these products been in
use in other parts of the world and what is their track record? How long will it take us to produce a market viable unit?
These great companies are full of very smart people. They got their answers and had a group “Uh-oh” moment.
They made a conscious decision that they would not roll over and let the “invaders” take over their market without
They found out that over 25 years of research and development went into these products. With estimates
of 5 years before half of the market flipped to tankless, they had to act fast. They knew they could “Reverse Engineer”
the products but that takes a lot of time and they would have to be careful to keep from violating patents.
first step by a few of them was to attempt to slow things down. They did this by putting out letters, and articles touting
the “negatives” of tankless heaters. While this was going on on the surface, they were behind closed doors with
the lawyers striking deals with the tankless companies to have units private labeled for them in an effort to slow down their
shrinking market share until they can catch up with the technology.
The results so far are this: Bradford White
has Rinnai manufacturing its “Everhot” tankless water heater line. It IS the Rinnai line with the BW name on it.
State and A. O. Smith had Noritz manufacturing theirs before Noritz severed the relationship. Then Rinnai made
them a generic unit for a short time and now they BOUGHT Takagi US so all State tankless units are now Takagi. All that
said, the units made by Rinnai and Noritz for State got very poor product warranty support. AO/State just was not set
up for it and frankly still aren't.
Now don’t think that the very savvy Japanese company’s were putting the cart before the
horse. They know what is going on and they know that they own the technology…for now. They simply set the whole thing
up so their original products still have better pricing on the street and the tank manufacturer gets "Generic" models.
They knew that the tank companies would find someone willing to get the quick sale. By doing this they at least kept them
from partnering with companies making lower quality units. (That could have started a whole new problem for tankless)
One very large tank company about 10 years ago even went to the trouble of taking “their” new tankless water
heater and putting against their tried and true gas fired tank water heaters in a “test”. The parameters of the
test were set up to with high levels of water hardness. They knew that the tankless would require cleaning because of it and
their tanks would not. (Because you can’t!) One thing they did not bother to tell anyone or include in their “short
term” test was that had this test been allowed to continue, the hardness would have certainly ruined the tanks and required
them to be replaced a lot sooner than the tankless which could simply be cleaned. This was done also to try to slow down the
onslaught of tankless while they tried to figure out what to do next.
Most of these tank companies are still producing
papers trying to slow the growth of tankless. (Even the ones with their “private labeled” products!) They will
sometimes make claims using the lower quality of the available units to try to show them as “point of use” of
all them a “Niche product” even eluding to tankless as a fad at times. They will make statements claiming that
they don’t believe in tankless water heaters as “whole house” units. These are just attempts to “stem
the tide” as long as they can unit they can catch up. Some will print more than others but it is all for the same reason.
They need to get people to NOT consider tankless water heaters for as long as they can to protect their own interests.
So, the big tank companies are worried, as they should be.(The smartest one BOUGHT a decent tankless comany!) They
are doing what they can, and they are not going away. Tankless is to water heating what indoor toilets have been to bathrooms!
Tankless water heaters usually have a warranty that covers the heat exchanger
and the parts separately. The heat exchanger is the main part, much like the tank in a tank water hater. Normally the warranty
is for about 10-15 years on the heat exchanger and 3-5 years on the rest of the parts. This average warranty also reflects
on the average life expectancy of tankless heaters. (20 years!) Some now even a 5-year LABOR warranty!
brief word about warranties. Manufacturers (Of all Products) tend to set warranties at about half of the life expectancy.
Your cars, your dishwasher, your water heater, all have a warranty that is about one half of the average life expectancy of
The nice thing is that with a tankless, even if the main part (the heat exchanger) fails after warranty,
you have the choice. Replace the heat exchanger or replace the whole unit. You do not have this luxury if your tank fails
in a tank water heater.
Venting Tankless Water Heaters
Venting is very important to gas fired tankless water
heaters. If these products are not vented properly, many bad things can happen. The least of these is the unit may fail very
soon in its life span due to condensate being allowed to enter the product. At the very worse, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
could occur. “Shortcuts” should never be taken in regards to the venting system on this or any other
piece of equipment that burns gas, oil, wood or other products. All manufacturers’ instructions should be followed and
you should always make sure that your heater is vented properly.
Tankless water heaters can have their venting
go either out a side wall with horizontal venting or up through the roof. Keeping the venting run as short as possible is
both good for the heater and will help keep costs down. In fact, many times it makes sense to move the location of the heater
closer to an outside wall and run the water lines to it rather than run longer venting. (Copper, PEX and CPVC are relatively
cheap compared to Stainless Steel vent piping!) This also may give you a reason to get some needed space back within the home.
Today's higher efficiency units venting with PVC can help eliminate this issue.
Some tankless water heaters require a special vent piping material.
This material is known as “Category III” and is typically AL29-4C Stainless steel but sometimes may be other materials.
This is required because the combustion efficiency of the heaters make it very likely that condensate will be formed within
the venting system. This condensate, although there is not a lot of it, is highly acidic and will destroy standard vent material
in a short time. Type “B” gas vent can not be used on most of these heaters for this reason. Another reason this
vent is required is that the vent systems are under pressure from the fan within the heater. This is known as “Positive
Pressure” venting and requires that the vent system be UL listed as positive pressure and sealed to prevent carbon monoxide
from leaking out into the occupied space. Tankless water heaters as well as other products also have maximum lengths that
you can run the venting. The number of elbows required in the system shortens these distances. Always consult your manufacturer
instructions and NEVER exceed these distances!
It is also not allowed to tie these vents together on most
systems (although some do allow that now) or tie them into an existing masonry chimney. The condensing gasses would quickly
begin to cause damage to the masonry and result in structural damage to the property as well as a very unsafe condition with
carbon monoxide. If you can run the proper vent product up through an existing chimney to the outlet and provide the proper
condensate drain to protect the unit, you can use the existing chimney as a “chase” to run your new vent pipe
in. (Consult individual manufacturer’s instructions!)
Most manufacturers require that you either slope horizontal
venting away from the heater, or provide some type of condensate drain within 3’ of the vent connection to protect the
unit from damage caused by condensate. The condensate in the venting will destroy the heat exchanger if allowed to run back
to the unit. Units not vented properly will have their heat exchangers ruined within a few short years. Most vent manufacturer’s
now have the ability to provide a drain tee even when venting is installed straight up to properly protect the unit.
Venting is probably the most important part of a tankless heater installation.No connecting to masonry chimney’s without
lining it with the proper vent pipe. Use the proper UL listed positive pressure venting made for these products. Allow for
proper removal of condensate within the vent system. Keep venting runs to a minimum length. NEVER exceed manufacturer’s
venting lengths. Read and obey your owner’s manual!
Tankless water heaters save energy because they are always off and they modulate their firing rate
to the demand. However just because they save energy does not mean your existing gas line is large enough. When these products
have to go to high fire to meet a large demand you must be able to provide enough gas for the unit to function properly. Do
not assume that if your existing gas line is the same size as the connection to your tankless heater that your pipe is large
enough. In an existing home it probably is not!
Most homes with tank water heaters do not have a gas line sized
properly for a tankless water heater, especially if other equipment is connected to the gas piping system. The best solution
for this is to run a separate gas line to the tankless from the meter without re-running the entire gas main. There are many
good flexible gas piping systems that can make this job simple and limit the number of joints and installation time of the
new gas line.
Needless to say, gas piping is not something the average DIY’er should be attempting. The money
saved on running a gas line is not worth the risk of your home and family. Gas piping should always be checked or installed
by a licensed and insured contractor trained for gas piping.
Water Pipe Connections
tankless water heaters come with a plumbing pipe kit will all the connections to hook u p the water lines including the flush
valves for service later and a relief valve. For the ones that don't, you shouls add a tankless valve kit like the Tankless
Kit by JOMAR Valves. This valve set gives you only 5 joints to assemble. It has union connections at the heater, which will
greatly speed up replacement later. It has FULL SIZE HANDLE ball isolation valves on each side (That are never stuck!) drain
valves that give you the ability to flush the tankless system later or drain the unit easily without draining the whole house
and it comes with the proper relief valve. Also, if you are using a pipe enclosure or wall box, this kit will allow the relief valve
to fit inside the box and still be able to operate the valves, unlike other kits. All of this is in a very compact kit and
makes hooking up the water side of your heater fast and easy. This one pipe kit saves about 16 joints at the heater! Make
sure you get the one with the relief valve sized for your heater!
Minimum Flow Rates
A very important consideration when deciding on your tankless water heaters is minimum flow rate. All tankless heaters need
a minimum flow rate and pressure to work properly. You should look for a model that has a minimum flow rate of .5 GPM or
less for a residential application and one that will operate well down to about 30 PSI system pressure. Some new, higher
efficiency condensing models have a turn on rate of .4GPM! UPDATE! Rinnai models now turn on at.4GPM and will run
down as low as .26GPM! Seisco electric tankless have a turn on rate of .25GPM. This eliminates low flow issues
especially on LEED type and low flow commercial projects.
Even with a minimum flow rate of .5 GPM it is possible
to have a flow related problem but it is a lot easier to solve. If you have single handle bathroom (lavatory) faucets you
are going to need to open them all the way to get the minimum flow rate to fire the heater, especially in the summer time.
This is why I advise to not use tankless water heaters with high minimum flow rates in homes. Commercial units can have minimum
flow rates of .75GPM . That is higher than a minimum flow rate as you would want in a home. Large luxury homes
with “carwash” shower systems do not have very low flow fixtures and typically do not need to worry about minimum
Also, debris in faucet aerators and showerheads can cut their flow rates down to a point that will
keep the tankless from firing. Make sure your fixtures are free from debris.
Most 2.5 GPM showerheads will not
supply 2.5GPM of flow in a new home. (They are tested and reated at 80 PSI water pressure!) Typical homes have abourt 60psi
water pressure and have system pressure looses. Every foot of pipe and each fitting in the water main has a pressure loss.
At far ends of the home these add up and can cause lower flow rates at fixtures like showerheads. This is not a big problem
though and rarely causes issues with the better tankless water heaters. Most people never know the difference and as stated
above, it is almost impossible for most people, even plumbers to tell the difference between 1.5GPM and 2.5 GPM in today’s
showerheads without measuring the flow. As long as the velocity of the water is acceptable most people are quite happy and
of course some showerheads are better than others.
Most tankless water heaters have an inlet water filter. This
should be checked and cleaned regularly to make sure that flow is not slowed or stopped by this filter. This is the first
place to look whenever there is a problem with your tankless water heater. Look for it in your owner’s manual.
or Acidic water
Water quality issues can be a concern for tankless water heaters in some areas but it
is actually fairly rare. To understand the concern you first need to understand how certain water conditions effect tank and
tankless water heaters.
Hard water is water with large amounts of dissolved solids in it. If you have hard water
and pour it into a clean glass, you can not see the hardness. The hardness is “in suspension” in the water and
as the water is heated the particles cling together and drop out of suspension. In a tank water heater they sink to the bottom
and form a layer of scale where they build up. In a tankless most of the particles are flushed from the system as they drop
out of suspension.
Since a tank heater heats water when you are not using it to maintain the stored water, they
tend to get that sediment on the bottom of the tank. This is because the particles are dropping out of suspension when there
is no movement of water in the tank. Even when you are using hot water with a tank heater there is very little movement of
the water. As the sediment builds on the bottom of most gas fired tank water heater it becomes an insulator and causes the
steel to be over heated without a good transfer of the heat to the water on the other side of the sediment. Over time, the
fire burns through the tank or the welds fail and the tank begins to leak. If the leak is not spotted, then the tank will
eventually rupture flooding the house!
In a tankless water heater, the particles are being flushed from the system
as they drop out of suspension due to the high flow rate through the coils. Some hardness may adhere to the walls of the tubing
but it will be a lot slower process than with a tank. If the water is so hard that the tankless coil becomes fouled the heater
will send an “Overheat” or “Lime” error code (Usually represented with a number) and lock out alerting
the homeowner that something is wrong. Rinnai has a special "LC" error code to alert the home owner before damage
is done to the unit. A technician can then come out, diagnose the problem (With help from the heater error codes) and de-scale
the unit, renewing it in about 45 minutes.
Scaling of gas tankless water heaters is a fairly rare thing. When it
happens the water is typically so hard that the homeowner should consider a water softener system. Water that is that hard
is effecting every other appliance in the home. Toilet fill valves, faucets, washing machines, dishwashers, ice makers, etc.
In fact if the water quality is that poor, a softener system will pay for itself by making these other things last longer
and require less maintenance and less frequent replacement, including the tankless water heater!
Acidic water is
another problem. Most water is not going to have this kind of issue, especially if you are on a public supply. However, if
you know you have acidic water, you need to consider installing a neutralizing system to protect your tankless water heater.
Any acidic water that will eat copper piping will eat the copper piping in a tankless water heater as well and shorten it’s
life as well as possibly voiding the warrantee. A unit with a stainless stell heat exchanger like Navien would not be
effected by this kind of water.
you do not know if you have hard water or acidic water, chances are you don’t and shouldn't worry about it. If you want
to be sure, there are many testing services available for free from companies that sell the treatment systems or you can contact
your local water company or extension agency for testing.
Even if a tankless heater does develop a leak in the
heat exchanger, that part can be replaced and your tankless is back in service without a replacement. With a tank heater,
once the tank gets a leak, you throw it away and get another one. This also makes tankless heaters more environmentally friendly
because less material is going into landfills. Think about the millions of tank water heaters going into landfills every year!
What if water heaters lasted twice as long and were repairable? How much landfill space could we save?
water Sandwiches” (Not just for breakfast anymore)
The “Cold water sandwich” is a phenomenon
that can effect a tankless water heater home that is less likely to effect a home with a tank heater. It happens in homes
with tank heaters but can be less noticeable. This is where a section of piping has hot water that has cooled off between
uses and between the piping in the walls or water heater. Piping in the walls looses its heat slower than piping in a crawl
space or basement. If there is a hot water draw and then the flow is stopped for while, the water in the most exposed piping
cools off faster than the water in the piping in the walls. If someone opens a fixture at the right time, the first water
out of the tap is hot, then goes cooler as the water from below gets to the outlet, then heats up again as water from the
heater gets to the fixture. In some homes a tankless water heater can exaggerate this a bit.
Imagine the large
house with a tankless heater and a short draw. One person turns on a faucet at one end of the home and gets hot water to wash
their hands. A few minutes later another person goes into another area and washes their hands. The water in the pipes is still
hot. They are almost done when the temperature goes cold for a few seconds then back to hot again. Viola’ one cold water
sandwich at it’s best.
It does not happen every time and it does not seem to be a regular issue except in
the case of homes with recirculating hot water systems where this has not been accounted for. We will get into that later.
Here is why it happens: When the flow stops a tankless heater stops firing and the draft fan continues to run as a
“post purge” to ensure that all exhaust is moved out of the venting system. It runs for about one minute and during
this time it cools off the heat exchanger. The heat exchanger holds about .2 gallons of water. (a little less that a quart)
When the heater senses flow again it fires back to provide hot water for the next draw. The water in the piping may still
be hot, but the very first bit of water to leave the heat exchanger is not heated. It does take about 1 - 2 seconds for the
tankless heater to get going. Now this first quart of water enters the pipe with the water that is still hot from the last
draw and begins to mix with it as it travels down the line. Eventually the lower temperature water gets to the user and they
notice the temperature fluctuation.
Is this normal? Yes. Is it acceptable? Maybe. In most homes this is perfectly
acceptable since it is not a common occurrence and the short draws are usually hand washing and when this does happen it is
only a minor issue. One manufacturere has a built in buffer tank to eliminate this entirely (Navien) if it is a concern
to you. Personally I have never seen this to be a big deal in homes with tankless water heaters. However if you have
just paid for a recirculating system for your home and every time the pump comes on you get a little slug of cooler water
in the piping, it might not be acceptable. When you jump into the shower at the far end of the home expecting instant hot
water and get the surprise from the cold water sandwich, you probably will want to know how to deal with it. If you are an
installer of tankless heaters, then you will want to read and understand the next part well to provide a perfect hot water
system every time.
Recirculating systems (To loop or not to loop that is the question)
Recirculating systems can work great with tankless water heaters when properly designed and installed. The proper system
will provide instant hot water at most if not all outlets in the home and save the customer water by not having to run the
hot water until hot water gets to the outlet.
The traditional way is to install a recirculation system is to install
pump and a return loop back to the inlet side of the heater with a couple of flow check valves. This will work of course but
you have to install pump with enough “head” capacity to get through the high head loss of the tankless. Higher
head pumps also use more electricity to operate than their lower head counterparts. How big a deal is that? Well if a higher
head pump uses $.02 more to operate per kWh then the other pump, over a 20-year operating period that calculates into the
thousands of dollars over the life of the pump!
Another consideration is most tankless water heaters get their
energy efficiency and their longevity by being “always off”. Installing a recirculating system this way puts a
lot more wear on the unit and may cut it’s warranty in many cases. Add the cold water sandwich to the equation and there
is a better way.
One of the first things that installers dealt with was the cold water sandwich. This was managed
by installing a very small storage tank (About 5 gallons) right after the tankless heater. This way, if a small slug of hot
water got out of the tankless it would mix with the 5 gallons of hot water in the tank and be diluted to a point where no
temperature change would be noticed. They can also install a short leangth of larger piping that holds some more water instead
of the tank. That fixes the cold water sandwich but still leaves the high head pump and the warranty issue to deal with.
At some point someone came up with the idea of turning that small storage tank into a 5 or 6 gallon 110V tank water
heater. They are very small, insulated, and can plug into an outlet. Then they hooked up the recirc loop between the tankless
heater and the small tank heater effectively by-passing the tankless, saving the warranty and keeping the energy efficiency
of the unit. The small tank heater does not have to heat the water very much. When the system is first turned on, a hot water
fixture is opened filling the entire system with hot water including the small tank. The tank and recirculating system now
only has to use enough energy to maintain the loop temperature. This is usually only about a 5° rise. It sounds great
and looks great on paper but this is not a great solution! When you are circulating pipe around a house the hot water
pipes lose about 30 btu's per FOOT! When the pump is runnning and you are not using hot water you are wasting a considerable
amount of energy. In my personal house is caused the electric bill to be $50/month higher than with the system off! We
have much better Demand and timer based solutions now. Both Navien and Rinnai offer built in or separate recirculation
The best circulating system by far for any tankless water heater is the "Enovative" D' Mand system.
It is also "on Demand" and "always off". With this system you get total control, it only cost about
$1 / yr to operate and does not void any warranties! see Demand Kontrols for details or to purchase. This system works with either push buttons or motion sensors
to operate the punmp ONLY when you need it! This is by far the bst system for saving water and time withhout wasting
Twin tankless systems
There are many reasons to go to a “Twin” tankless system. You may have a big house with 4 or more baths
and a large family, or you may have a large flow capacity shower system installed and need a higher flow rate. A good gas
tankless water heater can easily operate 3 - 4 showers in the winter months, and even 4 - 5 in the summer months due to warmer
incoming water temperatures. (Depending on what part of the country you are in) If you need more that that you may want to
consider a twin system.
When you install a twin system you should always choose a tankless water heater that is
made to operate this way. If you were to just choose two tankless heaters and pipe them together you would compound their
minimum flow rates. If you have two tankless heaters with a .5GPM minimum flow rate and piped them in parallel without installing
them properly, you will end up with a 1GPM minimum flow rate before either heater will fire! Plus you would have a very unbalanced
flow through each heater. If you hooked them up in series, you would never be able to get a higher flow rate than the full
capacity of one heater.
Rinnai, Navien, Noritz and Takagi all have units that are made for multi-unit and twin
Hooked up in a twin system, when there is a low demand one unit will work by itself with
the other automatically valves and turned off. When the demand increases to about 50% of the capacity of the first unit, the
second unit is brought online and load is balanced between them. The heaters will work together up to their peak capacity.
They also will act as a “lead/Lag” system in that the “lead” unit will change after every few operating
hours so it does not get more wear than the other one. Another great benefit of this system is that if one unit develops a
problem, the system will lock it out and valve it off, sending an error code to the remote. The other heater will operate
normally up to its capacity. This is called “Redundancy” and it means you are never out of hot water, even if
there is a problem. Wiring these system is not difficult and the instructions do a very good job in guiding the installer
to hooking up the system for the first time.
There are very few homes that need more hot water than a twin tankless
system can produce. With the average heater from major barnds, you will get from .5GPM – 16+GPM depending on incoming
water temperature. That’s from the lowest flow rate required for hand washing up to 960 gallons per hour of hot water!
All that and you still have not taken up any floor space of the home,have no tanks to burst and they are always off!
The question comes up often “Should
I just put one at each end of the house and let them be separate?” You can of course do this if you like. It is two
separate hot water systems and you do not get the redundancy of the true twin system however you may eliminate the need for
a recirculating system in a larger home. The choice is up to you and you should simply consider what benefits are most important
to you and how your home will be used. If it is just a lot of bathrooms like a 5 or 6 bath home, but you do not have any high
flow fixtures, it may make more sense to just place them at opposite ends and have two hot water tankless systems. This is
very likely to cost less money up front then a twin system with a recirculating system in a large home.
The multi-unit tankless systems work much like the twin systems above. The systems from
the major brands all use a multi-unit control that acts as a lead/lag system. You get a lot of redundancy with a system like
These are usually commercial applications with very high demands like locker rooms, dormitories, hotels or
industrial applications. Every once in a while a large luxury home is built that has a high flow demand that requires such
The wiring harness’ are included in with all these systems and are not difficult for the professional
installer although proper training is highly recommended. All of these companies have very good technical support teams to
help any contractor who needs or would like a little reassurance on their first big job.
Look at this example:
A high school has a locker room with 24 showers. They have a 10 year old 400 gallon tank water heaters that is “always
on” 24/7/365 and it has begun to leak needing replacement probably due to sediment build up caused by constantly heating
and reheating water that is not moving. A typical locker room has to have a hot water system sized that will meet the peak
demand, however the kids almost NEVER use it! At best, the showers get used a few dozen times a year after a football or other
game. The rest of the year, the big old tank is just sitting there wasting valuable energy.
In my area this job
would require roughly 5 units with proper controls. This system would be “always off” but with plenty of
capacity to supply the team with hot water when they needed it. With today’s high gas prices the savings would be well
into the thousands of dollars per year and the heaters would probably last past their 20-year life expectance due to light
use. An installation like this usually pays for itself in the first 2-5 years after installation in energy savings and is
a much better use of taxpayer money.
One other thing to consider for this installation is replacement cost. If
you have a tankless heater that ends up needing replacement, you have a small piece of equipment to replace. A heater like
the one in the above example lists for around $2000-$2500. A large commercial tank heater for this job would run more like
$10,000. The labor involved in replacing large tank heaters is also much higher. These large tanks weigh 500-700 pounds or
more requiring heavy rigging and special equipment along with people who know how to handle such large items. Tankless heaters
like the one in the example weigh about 80-100 lbs. and can be handled by two men without special equipment. This represents
a dramatic savings in the overall cost of ownership over the life of a system.
Combo systems: providing
both domestic hot water and hydronic heating with a tankless heater
To put it simply, YES YOU CAN! As
many people already know, there are great advantages in supplying heat with hot water in a home along with a domestic hot
water source. This has been done for years beginning with boilers using tankless coils or indirect hot water heaters and also
with tank water heaters doing both heat and domestic hot water. The tank water heaters went through a phase a few years ago
where tens (If not hundreds) of thousands of heaters were installed in this manner with good success.
advantages is the fact that one piece of equipment lowers costs of installation and saves space. You also get the warmth and
comfort of hydronic heat. Air moving over a hydronic heating coil tends to be warmer than hot air produced by a heat pump
especially when it is really cold outside and the heat pump is running at lower efficiencies.
Tankless water heaters
have plenty of BTU capacity for most homes, however some care must be taken in the design of the system to ensure that adequate
flow capacity will remain to supply the hot water needs of the residence.
One thing to keep in mind also is that
1GPM of flow equals 10,000BTUs of heating capacity. This means that even though you may have a 199,000 BTU tankless water
heater, if your maximum flow rate is 8GPM at a 20° rise, you are limited to 80,000BTUs of usable energy to heat the house.
(Still plenty for most average sized homes) This is the way most heating systems are designed. There is a way to get more
BTU out of a tankless heating system that will be discussed later by altering the design.
We are now seeing more
and more tankless water heaters going into "Hydro Air" applications where the units handles domestic hot water and
heat. Manufactureres have come up with ways to control the systems so they can do both jobs very well and many engineering
firms are specifying them in large appartment and condo projects.
Since we are limited in the flow capacity of a tankless water heater and for sake of
this discussion, we are going to assume that we are using a tankless heater capable of 6GPM+ at a 45° rise and is capable
of about 8GPM at a 20° rise. When the heat is one you are using reltively little of the capacity of the tankless
to provide that heat. There are multiple ways of providing "Domestic hot water priority" to the system to
ensure that when you need hot water for showering, there is plenty. Flow switches and sensors (Some available from the
manufactureres of the units) solve this problem easily by turning off the heat when there is a heavy demand for domestic hot
This type of
system leaves you with full capacity for both heating and domestic hot water using a tankless heater. You most likely would
never even notice the temporary deactivation of the heating system any more than you notice it now when the heat turns off.
Using a tankless heater as a boiler
Many times the question is asked “Can I use
a tankless water heater as a boiler?” This may be as a replacement to a boiler system or as a cost saving method during
new construction. Many times only a small BTU load is required such as smaller radiant floor heating systems. In these cases
a tankless water heater may offer cost benefits over a conventional boiler. After all, a tankless water heater is very similar
to a small wall mounted copper-finned boiler! NEW INFORMATION! THe Federal Government will not allow tankless
water heater manufacturers to sell their equipment as boilers unles they have a "boiler stamp" on them. For
this reason Tankless manufacturers can not and do not recomend them anylonger as boilers. Using them as a boiler will
almost always void the warranty. This is one area where the electric tankless companies like Seisco or Stieble Eltron
have a tremendous advantage! They make a small electric hydronic unit with sizes from just over 17,000BTUH to 95,000
BTUH! This can be a great alternative for small radiant zones. There area also several gas tankless manufactureres now
making boilers also.
a Modulating Condensing (Mod/Con) boiler if you can. Typical boilers are either on or off at their full input. A Mod/Con heating
a space under a reduced load will operate at a lower firing rate and save fuel. The energy savings alone will be greater
than the life cycle costs of a unit, including it’s eventual replacement. Plus, boiler and hydronic technology is advancing
at great speeds. 10 years from now there will be even better options for small modulating high efficiency equipment at pricing
lower than is currently available.
Another consideration is the piping method. Primary/secondary is the preferred
method of piping a tankless water heater to a large hydronic system and many Mod/Con boilers come with the header piping for
this. This enables the primary loop pump to maintain a good flow through the boiler and allows the boiler to modulate according
to the temperature rise demand of the system, even when only one or two small zones are operating. Sometimes if only a small
zone is operating, the Mod/Con may cycle off until the water temperature in the primary loop cools enough to require it to
operate. However, in single loop baseboard projects a standard loop with a properly sized pump will work fine. Many,
like the Rinnai even come with "outdoor reset" which allows the boiler to change it's output temperature based on
how cold it is outside! This makes it even more efficient and your home even more comfortable.
you have a small radiant or hydronic heating zone, consider an electric hydronic unit. They can offer very good performance
with a substantially lower up front cost. (More in my blog and in the electric tankless section of this article below)
Squeezing more BTUs out of a tankless heating system
Because Mod/Con boilers are not limited
to high return water temperatures like conventional boilers, they can introduce added flexibility in heating system design
by allowing for use of a higher Delta T (the difference in the supply and return water temperatures). As a result, a Mod/Con
can provide more BTU capacity per gallons per minute (GPM flow).
This concept is important to understand when there
is a need for more than the typical 10,000 BTU per GPM to heat a space. For example, increasing the design Delta T from the
standard of 20º to 25º delivers an increased output of 2,500 BTU per GPM flow.
At 1 GPM with a 20º
rise, 10,000BTU is delivered. If we change the 20º delta-T to 25º, the delivery rate for 1GPM is 12,500. At a 30º
Rise it is 15,000BTU per GPM of flow!
As a result this enables the installer to get more usable BTUs from a smaller
capacity system when there is only a modest increase needed. For instance, a home needs 87,000BTUs of heat under design day
conditions. If the heat loss was determined using the standard 20º delta T, many standard residential boilers would not
have enough capacity and a larger, more expensive unit would be needed. By changing the design to a 25º delta T, an extra
2,500BTU per GPM of flow from that same boiler can be obtained. If the boiler is capable of 8GPM it can now have a heating
capacity of 100,000BTU (12,500BTU per GPM X 8). Although price is certainly not everything, this tankless water heater system
has a very large advantage over the price of a 100,000BTU boiler.
This is something many professionals do not know
or have not considered. By replacing a standard boiler with a modern modulating condensing boiler, you will not get the advantage
of the high efficiency unless you alter the design of the buildings heating system! In other words, if you install a mod-con
in a system designed to operate at a 20ºdelta-T, once the system is operating up to the set point temperature, your boiler
will not condense and you loose some of the advantage of higher combustion efficiency! The system needs to be set up with
a higher temperature differential to maintain the advantage of condensing equipment. Of course you still get the advantage
of the modulating capacity.
Another thing to cosider if you have an old style Cast Iron boiler
that also provides domestic hot water is that getting rid of the old iron boiler and replaceing it with a Mod/Con will save
you on AIR CONDITIONING too! How? Simple, Your boiler has to run during the warm months 24/7 to keep all that
iron hot and keep the domestic hot water coil ready to provide hot water. This is adding a lot off heat to the house
when you are trying to cool it with A/C. By going to a combination Mod/Con unit, your boiler is "Always off"
like a tankless water heater and you are not heating the house with a big chunk of hot cast iron. This will greatly
effect your energy bill on cooling!
Trouble shooting tankless heaters
Tankless water heaters have very little trouble. When they do have an issue, it is usually right after installation and
something easily corrected that has to do with the installation. Anything else that happens later will require professional
attention and would be beyond the scope of this article. However here are a few common things to look out for. One important
thing to remember. If you have a hot water problem and there is no error code on the remote, there is nothing wrong with the
heater! That does not mean you don’t have a problem, it just means that something else is going on. It will be something
minor and easy to fix once you find it.
First step: Clean the filter! It sounds simple and it is. This is going
to be the answer to 90% or more of the problems that show up later. It does not require tools and is a homeowner job. Although
all the major manufacturers recommend doing this monthly we all know you won't. You will only think about it when you have
a hot water issue and if you are on a good clean source of water you may never have to clean it.
If your installer
offers a preventative maintenance program, I encourage you to sign up for it. This is a good way to keep your tankless running
at it’s best and will lengthen it’s life as well as keep you from having nuisance problems that always seem to
occur on Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, right before your guests are going to arrive! I want to be clear on
this, tankless water heaters do not typically NEED anual service. But it does not hurt. Tank heater manufacturers
"require" you to drain the heater yearly but nobody does it.
water temperatures. There are three causes for this. The first is the cold water sandwich effect we already discussed. The
second is a crossed water line. If you are having this issue in a new home you may notice that you get good hot water near
the unit but much cooler water in remote areas. To identify or rule out a crossed water line you simply shut the cold water
valve to the tankless and open a hot water (only) faucet in the house. Pressure should quickly bleed off to nothing. If water
keeps flowing, you have proved a crossed water line. (Now you just have to figure out where it is.) Homeowners, this is not
a big deal! When you are working on a big house on your back, crawling and climbing and changing sides of walls it is very
easy to cross a water line. Every plumber has or will have this happen at some point in their career. It will be easy for
them to correct and everything will be fine.
The third cause is lack of flow. Picture a 2.5GPM showerhead in a
home. Many times they only give you about 1gpm of flow in a new home due to pressure losses or debris in the flow restrictor.
If the incoming water is high (Like in summer month is warmer climates) you need very little hot water at the shower valve
to make your shower. It is easy to fall below the required flow rate to keep the heater running. It looks like this: the person
gets in the shower and turns it on to full hot to get the water there. They then set the temperature to a comfortable level
and gets in. They don’t know that the heater just shut off because of low flow and the pipes are now full of hot water.
A few minutes later the temperature in the shower drops and they adjust to use more hot water. The heater fires back up and
a few minutes later it’s too hot, so they turn it back down and the whole thing starts over! The solution: Clean the
filter, clean the showerhead, and if both were already clean, remove the flow restrictor from the head. (LAST RESORT ONLY!)
Those first two are more for the homeowner. For you pros doing your first few tankless there are some other things
that might catch you. Here is a quick summary of what I have seen: Too small a gas line (Very common!), wrong fuel type, forgot
to turn on the gas valve, no combustion air, improper venting, water lines hooked up backwards, vent graded back to the heater
with no condensate drain, blocked vent, wrong sized pump in HVAC application, improper recirc systems (See above) and improper
vent termination. (Such as terminating the vent too close to the ground in an area subject to snow) I even heard of one job
where an outdoor unit was installed in the interior hallway of a dentist office! YIKES!
Unfortunately, I don’t
have enough webspace to go into all of these little issues. All of them have great stories to go with them and some of them
are quite humorous, but the moral of this is to help you realize that even though you may have been in plumbing for 30 years,
you will have to go through the learning curve of tankless. It’s not bad, it’s just a little different with different
things to trip you up than you are used to. With the great tech support of the big compaines, you will be up to speed in no
time. Go to every training you can, and do as many of the installs as you can. It won’t take long for you for you to
be a big supporter of these products if you give them a chance. Just make time for the trainings and stay away from models
that do not have good support including good local reps! You need to know these people and the good ones will quickly earn
your trust and your business.
Homeowners, any time you see an error code flashing on your remote, you want to contact
the installer or the manufacturer right away! It may be as simple as a #12 code, and you let your propane tank run out of
gas, or may be an LC code and the unit requires service and a de-scale. Either way, that’s the time to have things checked
out. LC codes or overheat codes require attention right away. It’s not a danger to you, but it is to your unit.
If Limescale is a known problem consider either a water softener or one of the many scale prevention devices on the market. Electric tankless water heaters
There are several good electric tankless models out
there and they are cheaper to operate than their tank counterparts. The problem comes with people who are so eager to get
a sale that they overstate or downright lie
about their performance or operating efficiency! I hope to help
clear that up here.
First let’s look at efficiency. An electric tank water heater operates at about 99% operating
efficiency! With a gas unit, even tankless, we are about 82 – 85% efficient. Wow! (I know some models now run 95% -
97%) So electric’s are more efficient than gas right? Wrong! All that means is that out of every $1 of electricity you
spend, you get $.99 worth of heat into the water. With gas if you are 85% efficient, the other $.15 of heat goes out the vent.
What they don’t tell you is that it takes a lot more electricity dollars to make hot water than it does gas dollars
(Or even oil for that matter!) in every case. Of course now we have high efficiency tankless gas water heaters also that operate
at well over 90% so you have even more options.
In every case we have the yellow Energyguide sticker to help us
out. This is an “estimate” of the cost to operate the product for a year. With water heaters it is based on a
typical family of 4 with a 2000 gallon/month hot water use. This gives the consumer a level playing field to judge energy
use that is not supplied to them by someone selling them something. Anyone who tries to discount the validity of this information
is either ignorant of the facts or at worse, a liar and should in either case be avoided.
Here is one of my favorites:
Electric water heaters have 0 emissions. Gas ones produce greenhouse gasses. Really? And just what made all of that great
electricity, hmmmm? No need to spell all this out is there?
Performance: Electric tankless heaters need to have
a large electrical service to operate well in all but the very warmest of climates. A quick glance at their temperature rise
charts will tell you that if you expect to operate more than one fixture at a time in most of the upper two thirds of the
US you will need about a 100 amp unit at a minimum and in most cases a 120 amp unit. If you only require operating one fixture
at a time you may be ok with an 80 amp unit. In any case most homes (not all by any means!) will need an electrical upgrade
to have an electric tankless installed. With this added cost, it is going to be more attractive to place a propane tank in
the yard and use that for your hot water needs. It will cost less up front, have much better performance and cost less to
operate (See the Energyguide stickers!) Exceptions to this rule are Steible Eltron and Seisco. They have a patented
energy management system that allows the unit to come on at 10% of it's load and ramp up from there, much like a gas tankless.
This means that instead of a 120amp unit slamming on at full power, dimming your lights and then powering down, theirs comes
on smoothly, and powers up to the needed load. This means that the appliance is rated differently electrically, and
by electric code, and in most cases even the 120 amp unit may be installed in a normal 200 amp panel as long as there is space
for the breaker. (The Panel load on the RA32 is only 54 Amps!) in a home where gas is not an option, this would be a
good choice as long as one considers and understands the capability of the unit. For instance, a RA32 in central Virginia
can be expected to handle 2.5 baths. In Florida you could probably do 3.5 - 4 baths. The same unit in Michigan,
might only be good for 1.5 bath home. Contact your local Rep for help if you need it. Seisco RA32 here.
The other problem with performance they have is that they do not control their water flow, which means they
CAN’T control the outgoing water temperature if you overshoot their capacity. For instance, a certain 120amp unit will
give you about 3gpm of hot water at a 50º rise. You are the person in a shower when some else in the house opens
a tub spout to fill the tub and the flow rate total now goes to about 6 gpm. Guess what happens to your shower temperature?
You are going to get a big surprise! Homeowners do not generally have a problem with a slight reduction in velocity from a
shower head but they very much have a problem with a shower going instantly to cold! As long as you understand this
when deciding on an electric tankless water heater, you should be happy. Steibel Eltron is now the first electric tankless
manufacturer to control their flow avoiding this problem! Just be sure you know what you are getting and choose a good
quality unit and more importantly make sure it's installed correctly! Electric tankless with the wrong sized wires or
breakers can also be a big problem.
I believe that electric tankless water heaters have their
place. A small remote suite may be one. An apartment, smaller home or condo where you can't have a vent or gas for
some reason or as “under-the-sink” point of use units. Possibly even a remote cabin where there is no
propane available. (Also rare) Or southern climates where it always very warm. They also can be very handy for a small
radiant heat zone where a gas tankless is simply way oversized. This is perhaps the best and most overlooked place for them!
So far the biggest electric tankless out there to my knowledge is a 120amp unit and this will give you about 4.5GPM
@ a 45º rise. This is ok for up to two or 3 fixtures of use in most cases, more in warmer southern teir climates
and maybe less up north. The two best models in my opinion are Seisco or Stieble Eltron.
If you are looking to boost capacity of your tank , you might also look at the Seisco Supercharger. This is great
for families that needs more hot water but don't have the budget to go totaly tankless. It is a 7KW or 9KW unit that
installs right after your tank and can over double the capacity while not greatly impacting your energy use or take up
the room of a second tank. It's job is to simply raise the water temperture when the tank begins running out of hot
water. This is a great way to increase capacity without a large upfront cost. These units only run about $360
plus installation and can take your 2 shower tank to a 4 shower or more appliance! With the new Water Heater codes about to
hit these are going to be great problem solvers when your new tank water heater won't fit where your old one was and you need
to go to a SMALLER TANK! To solve that problem or simply double your hot water capacity install a Supercharger. Seisco Supercharger here.
Drain Pans are required by every major plumbing
code and most building codes for “water heaters” when installed where a leak could cause damage to the structure.
In a word, anywhere you would need a pan for a tank, you should have one for the tankless. It’s true that they do not
have a tank to burst, but everything eventually reaches the end of its lifecycle. All major tankless brands also call
for installing a suitable drain pan anytime a unit is installed in an area where a leak can cause water damage. (Look
in their installation instructions!)There is at least one on the market currently and is available at major plumbing
wholesalers. The website is www.thewallsaver.com
Since Code also states that any equipment must be installed per manufacturer's instructions, if your tankless is going
in a closet, attic, condo or other place where it will cause damage when it eventually dies, you should also be installing
a pan. It will save many tens of thousands of dollars in water damage eventually.
There you have it. Now
stop wasting space and energy with a tank heater designed 100 years ago. Have a quality tankless water heater professionally
installed. They are good for your wallet, great for the planet, and an investment that gives you unlimited hot water every
time you need it!
I hope you found this article helpfull. Check
out my YouTube Videos also. Please feel free to contact me if have any other questions.
M. Scott Gregg (also the author of Profitable Plumbing) is a former Nortiz trainer and Rinnai Trainer
and is familiar with most major brand tankelss water heaters and is a licensed Master Plumber in the state of Virginia.
© Copyright 2006, M. Scott Gregg
All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced, stored
in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without
written permission from the author. (This includes a certain large name brand manufacturer of digital thermostatic shower
valves that have pressure issues! Do not temp me to name you, or to sue you for copywrite infringement.) Taking
sections of my article out of context or reproducing or use thereof for any purpose without written permission may result
in legal action!
My Copyright includes EVERYONE! If your equipment has
not kept up with technology or pipe sizing of homes, or has some other issues you need to deal with that with your engineering
department. If you believe that your equipment's failures are the result of the water heater chosen you should address them between
your engineering department and the manufacturer's engineering department you suspect regardless of manufacturer. I'm
sure they would be glad to help.
The Tankless 101 article covers many concepts and many manufacturers equipment
are mentioned to form a generic overall tankless water heater article. While it may be read to help one determine things going
on it can not be interpreted to solve 100% of any and every field problem and should NEVER be used to take place of proper
THANKS FOR VISITING and please refer my site and "Like" or share
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Updates have been made to the folloowing sections: "electric tankless water heater" , "using
tankless as a boiler", "Low Flow Rates"
A short electric tankless artice has been added to my blog on
the blog page.
NEW tankless Video Series HERE