Should You Opt for a Standard Hot Water Heater or Go Tankless?

While your home’s water heater should last up to 10 or 12 years, it will eventually need to be replaced. When that time comes, you have a choice to make – should you go with a standard gas or electric water heater, or should you go “tankless”? There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the issue, so a little clarity might help you make a more informed decision.

Energy Efficiency

This is where most tankless water heater companies claim their product excels. According to Consumer Reports, the average hot water heater can account for up to 30% of your home’s annual energy usage. Tankless unit manufacturers claim their products are far more efficient than other technologies. There’s some truth to this – tankless systems are about 22% more efficient. However, that doesn’t add up to big savings (usually about $80 per year or so), and the systems cost more off the bat.

Plenty of Hot Water

Another supposed benefit of a tankless hot water system is that its supposed to be able to produce hot water very quickly, unlike traditional systems that can take a while to refill and reheat after being drained of hot water. The truth is that tankless systems aren’t all that great at providing “endless amounts of hot water”. There’s also the question of speed. Yes, they heat faster, but not that much faster, and certainly not instantaneously.


One very real drawback to tankless systems is the fact that they can suffer from buildup within a very short amount of time. In fact, some manufacturers specify that they should be flushed with a de-scaling solution at least once per year. While regular hot water heaters also need maintenance, the speed of scale buildup is much slower here.

Where Tankless Systems Shine

While the information above might make it seem like a tankless system isn’t the best choice, that may not be the case. If you don’t use a lot of hot water during the day (under 41 gallons, according to the federal government), tankless systems actually can save you some money over the course of the year, above and beyond the installation and maintenance costs. They’re also better suited to this type of hot water use in terms of heating capabilities.

There’s also the fact that tankless systems have a longer lifespan than conventional hot water heaters. A tankless unit from a reputable manufacturer might be able to last up to 20 years with the right maintenance. Compare that to the 10 to 12 years for the average hot water heater, and it’s a big difference.

So, which is right for your needs? Really, only you can tell. There are pros and cons to both tankless and traditional hot water heaters, so you’ll need to determine what your requirements are, how much you have for a budget, and whether or not you’ll be using a lot of hot water each day, or only a little bit.

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