Water heater technology has come a long way since they were introduced in late 1800s. Today, regulations, manufacturers, installers, and consumers are all driving the appearance of increasingly efficient water heaters on the market. In the world of gas water heaters, “tank” or “storage” type water heaters are pervasive in households and businesses across the U.S., however “tankless” or “on-demand” water heaters are increasingly becoming the water heater of choice due to energy savings, space savings, and a longer useful life.
Lately, some utility companies have started to lose interest in supporting on-demand water heaters with rebate programs due to the drawbacks of earlier generations of the technology. However, in light of recent studies, it would be wise for utility companies to take a second look at the current state of the technology.
Due to a number of convening forces, manufacturers have several incentives to focus on tankless water heaters from better public education to changing regulations. As the public becomes better educated on the benefits of the latest on-demand water heaters, how previous drawbacks have been addressed, approved upon, and tested, they will start to see a better value proposition for installing an on-demand unit. Other important factors are a market that increasingly values reliable energy savings and real estate savings, and the coming 2015 regulations specifically affecting larger water heaters.
On-demand water heaters have gone through three major technological advances in the past few years:
Our customers consistently cite space savings as a key benefit of installing a tankless water heater. The Gas Technology Institute study mentioned above produced a similar finding; customers cited space savings as the second most attractive benefit of a tankless water heater, after the ability to use unlimited hot water.
Many analyses of payback for installing a tankless water heater ignore the economic value of space savings to the consumer. Given this is the second most cited benefit of the technology and looking at broad trends in the U.S. where there is only about 20 square feet of self-storage per household, not accounting for space savings disregards a major benefit of the technology.
We can do a simple payback calculation for installing a hybrid condensing on-demand water heater if we consider the annual savings and the incremental installation costs.
Also, on-demand water heaters have an estimated life of 20-30 years, which is 2-3 times as long as standard tank units. The higher cost of installing a tankless water heater is primarily due to the cost of retrofitting a property for the unit – usually vent work, gas line upsizing, and new plumbing to account for tank relocations. Once that retrofit is complete, the cost of replacing a properly installed tankless unit drops dramatically and incremental cost versus a conventional tank drops to around $600. As such, when taking into account the life-cycles of both technologies, the economics of modern tankless units make even more sense.
With increasing efforts and numbers proving the value of hybrid condensing on-demand water heaters, homeowners should continue to consider this great new technology. Current generation tankless units have both environmental benefits due to reduced energy waste, ongoing energy savings, and real economic value from space savings benefits.
Utility companies should revisit the current technology and help homeowners overcome the upfront costs of installing on-demand units so they can reach their therm savings goals. Meanwhile, mainstream manufactures should continue to explore these new technologies to move the needle on efficiency, installation cost, and longevity of their product offerings.