Drawing a hot bath and lingering a few extra minutes under a steaming shower are a couple of the coziest luxuries around—and that makes running out of water partway through that much more frustrating.
It’s the kind of interruption that might have you thinking about whether it’s time to switch up your water heater. And if energy efficiency is important to you, too, you’ll want to consider whether a tankless water heater is worth it compared to the more conventional storage tank water heater.
Tankless (On-Demand) Water Heater Basics
Also referred to as an on-demand water heater, this is a compact wall unit about the size of a carry-on suitcase. It provides your home with almost unlimited, instant hot water thanks to an electric element or gas burner that heats cold municipal water precisely when you want to draw that bubble bath, wash your hands, or run a load of dishes.
In our Canadian climate, you’ll typically want a gas-fired on-demand water heater rather than an electric. Electric models often aren’t able to provide the same flow rates as gas, so while they’re useful if you want to boost hot water in a particular part of the household, they’re not ideal for supplying an entire home.
For example, a point-of-use electric water heater could be installed near an en suite. That could ensure the master bedroom always has reliable hot water, no matter how long a certain someone else in the house spends in the shower.
Why Bother Even Thinking About Your Water Heater?
Hot water is the second biggest portion of your utility bill after home heating, making up 15-25% of your utility bill—or more if you’ve already upgraded other energy efficiency aspects of your home. Making a switch to a more-efficient unit can help you cut monthly costs.
By doing this research now, you might be able to avoid making an under-pressure decision when you’re in a water heater plumbing emergency. It’s also possible that your current tank isn’t meeting your needs (do you frequently run out of hot water?) or you might know that your current unit is nearing the end of its lifespan.
Advantages of a Tankless Water Heater
For some households, a tankless water heater might just be the change they need. Here are some of the potential upsides of a tankless unit.
On-Demand Hot Water
This is a big one: You’ll have hot water almost instantly when you need it, almost endlessly, so there’s no scheduling bath time around whether someone did laundry earlier in the day.
An Energy Star certified tankless water heater uses an average of 30% less energy than its storage tank counterparts. This is in part because it doesn’t need to store water in an insulated tank, which loses energy through what’s called standby loss. A more energy-efficient water heater doesn’t just lower your bill, it can also help reduce your carbon footprint. Every little bit helps.
Monthly Cost Savings
That energy efficiency adds up to a lower utility bill because your water heater doesn’t need to heat up a bunch of water you’re not using throughout the day. And while some tank water heaters are too big for the amount of water a household uses, that’s never an issue for tankless water heaters.
Floods are Rare
Since there’s no storage tank in this type of water heater, there’s little risk of it bursting and flooding your home.
When you’re looking to free up some space in your home, downsizing from the roughly five-foot-tall conventional storage-tank water heater to the small, wall-mounted tankless water heater could be a worthwhile trade.
A tankless water heater, with regular maintenance, can last 20 years compared to the 10–15-year lifespan of a storage tank unit. Just make sure you keep up with water heater maintenance. With Calgary’s hard water you’ll want to schedule servicing at least annually, but every six months is even better.
Disadvantages of a Tankless Water Heater
Naturally, there are some considerations that might mean a tankless water heater is not the idea choice for your household.
A tankless hot water heater can cost up to 30% more than a conventional water heater, depending on the installation. If you’re replacing a tank water heater with a tankless one, this can pose challenges that can significantly increase the cost of installation.
Whether you’re building a new home or retrofitting an old one, it’s crucial to have an experienced plumbing technician install the tankless water heater to your plumbing system. An experienced plumbing technician can also help you estimate the costs of both tankless and tank water heaters.
Pilot Light Energy Loss
For some people, it may be a minor drawback that the tankless water heater still uses a pilot light, which will account for a small amount of energy loss. There are some models that allow you to turn off the pilot light when hot water isn’t needed, so be sure to talk to your plumber if that’s an important consideration for you.
Your Hot Water Isn’t Completely Unlimited
While your tankless water heater gives you nearly instant and almost endless hot water, there are still some limitations to your hot water supply. You may not be able to run the dishwasher, the washing machine, and have a hot shower all at the same time because your supply is limited by your unit’s flow rate.
Your flow rate is also impacted by the temperature of the incoming municipal water supply, which means in colder weather, your hot water may be a little more limited. For example, Natural Resources Canada gives the following scenario:
- In summertime, when the water coming into your home is 18°C, your water heater might be able to continually supply you with 15 litres per minute of 58°C water.
- In winter, when the water coming in is 5°C, that same water heater might now deliver you that same 58°C water at a rate of 11 litres per minute.
Low-Cost Ways to Lower Your Bills and Increase Your Efficiency
Contact us if you’d like to discuss whether a tankless water heater might be the right fit for you. In the meantime, there are plenty of super simple, low-cost ways to increase your hot water efficiency and cut your bill.
- Canadians use about 75 litres of hot water every single day, and all of that use impacts not only utility bills, but also our environmental impact. Use your hot water thoughtfully: turn off the hot tap while washing dishes by hand, shaving, or brushing your teeth.
- Switch out your fixtures, like installing a water-saving showerhead that makes it easy to pause the water while you’re shampooing or conditioning your hair.
- Choose shorter showers over longer ones, and showers more often than baths.
- Wash your clothes in cold water with cold-water detergent and make sure to adjust the load size to match the amount of clothing being laundered.
- Turn the heat down slightly on your water heater—but not too much! Keep it around 60°C (140°F) and definitely no lower than 50°C (120°F), which can allow harmful microorganisms to grow and is also uncomfortably cool for most people.