Key Differences Between Traditional and Tankless Water Heaters

Shower head with water flowing

The water heater is an essential appliance for any home. While traditional tank water heaters have been the standard in America, recently tankless water heaters have come on the scene. While both traditional and tankless water heaters can be effective appliances, there are a few key differences to consider if you are in the market for a water heater. Here’s what you need to know about tankless water heaters:

Endless Hot Water

This is one of the major reasons tankless water heaters are gaining in popularity and something companies are emphasizing in advertising tankless. Because the tankless water heater provides instant, direct heat to the water running through the system, there is no limit on how much hot water is available at any given time. Contrast this with the thirty to fifty gallons held by a traditional tank water heater, and you can see how this aspect could be a real selling point for a larger family that uses significant amounts of hot water at once.

Quicker Water Heating

The more instant hot water available with a tankless heater is also commonly advertised. While this is definitely true, you won’t get completely instant hot water out of the tap when you turn it on as there is still water that has been sitting in the pipe. Since a tankless heater only heats the water coming through the system, water already sitting in the pipes after the unit won’t be impacted. However, if instant hot water is a highly desirable for your unique needs as a homeowner, don’t write off tankless water heaters – by pairing a tankless heater with a circulation pump, you will be able to ensure your water is both instantly hot and won’t run out.

Smaller Size Provides Flexible Options for Installation

Another reason consumers are finding tankless heaters compelling is the significantly smaller size compared with traditional units. Considering a tank unit must be able to contain a significant amount of hot water for the house, these units are often very bulky. Since tankless don’t have this requirement, you have more options for installation and you will also free up more space in your basement or wherever it is that you choose to install your water heater. In warmer climates, tankless units can even be installed outside of the home.

Higher Cost but Longer Lifespan

While purchasing a tankless water heater is likely going to be a larger investment up-front, these units have the potential to outlast traditional tank-based models. A tankless heater has the potential to have a lifespan of up to twenty to twenty-five years, assuming it is well-maintained. While the lifespan of traditional water heaters can vary based on a number of factors, it is not uncommon for their lifespan to be a decade less than what one can expect from a tankless unit.

Don’t Expect as Much Savings as Advertised

While energy efficiency is often advertised as a significant cost-saving benefit of a tankless heater, your wallet may not be better off in the long run. While tankless heaters are more efficient than traditional models, they also require annual or biannual maintenance if you have hard water. If you are building a house or remodeling, pairing a tankless heater with a water softening system means you won’t have to worry about maintenance, but this is also going to increase the initial investment you are putting into your home. For maintenance, it is possible to do the job yourself using a kit, otherwise hiring a plumber is always an option. With these costs factored in, however, the annual savings from high energy efficiency are often cancelled out.  

Tankless Water Heaters: The Bottom Line 

There are a lot of factors to take into account when considering what water heater will best suit your needs. However, there are many compelling reasons to opt for a tankless model. Weighing the costs and the benefits will allow you to make the best decision for your household, regardless of your situation.

Still feeling stumped? Contact a member of the Tritan Plumbing team for a consultation today!


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