People have used hot water to take showers, baths, wash their dishes, or clean clothes, for centuries. However, the ability to produce that hot water has not always been an easy task. Even after the problem of heating was solved, there was only so much hot water available.

Finally, someone came up with an idea that removed the task of hauling hot water from the source of heat to the spot it of use. However, to keep an appreciable amount on hand, large hot water tanks had to be stored somewhere to handle the volume. Inventive technology now has a way to get gallons of hot water per minute, on demand with the twist of a water faucet.

The History of Water Heaters

It might be difficult to comprehend, but a hundred and fifty years ago, people had to heat water by sitting a kettle full on a wood-burning stove. If you wanted a hot bath, you had to carry your tub of water, one pot full at a time. In the 1860s, Benjamin Waddy Maughan patented the first tank water heater for home use, but there were still many limitations.

At the turn of the 20th Century, electricity made hot water available in tanks. These handy devices meant that homeowners could have hot water on demand from a tap. Convenient in most respects, except there were limitations.

The water had to be stored in a tank somewhere in your house, plus there was only so much of it available. While available on demand, availability was limited. The more hot water you wanted or needed at any given time, the bigger the tank had to be. Enter the concept of the tankless water heater.

How Does a Tankless Water Heater Work?

When you start to analyze the differences between a tankless water heater vs tank hot water supplies, it’s easy when you appreciate how a tankless water heater works.

When you turn on the hot water tap, water runs through a pipe inside the heating unit. A gas burner, or electric heating element, heats the water. This provides a constant supply of hot water to any line running through the heater.

Advantages of a Tankless Water Heater

water heater

The advantages of installing a tankless hot water heater are two-fold. Primarily they provide a constant source of hot water, and they do not require a large designated space or following a series of strict building codes.

True Hot Water on Demand

The number one advantage of a tankless water heater is the real sense of on demand. With a tank, you are always going to have a limited supply. It produces between 2 and 5 gallons of hot water per minute.

Even a 50-gallon hot water tank is going to be hard-pressed to keep up with those numbers over the course of a 15-minute shower. As soon as one person is done, there is no wait time before the next person can use hot water. Tankless hot water heaters are truly hot water on demand.

No Tank Required

Then you begin to consider space. When weighing the benefits of a tankless vs tank water heater, you can eliminate the question of where you’re going to install the tank.

There are codes and building requirements for hot water tanks on second floors in homes, plus a myriad of regulations to follow for tanks installed in a flood zone. Space is never a problem when installing a tankless water heater, since they average about the size of a sheet of standard notebook paper, and are only about 3 or 4 inches thick.

That’s a lot smaller than a big barrel-shaped tank stuffed in a closet, or stashed under the basement stairs. Since there is no need for a tank, homeowners can also install more than one tankless water heater, each dedicated to a different job.

Energy Efficiency & Durability

Since the hot water drawn from a tankless heater is on demand, there is never a situation where water sits in a tank unused. The water usage is only the water pulled through the waterline to the source.

Conventional water tanks must keep the water at the desired temperature, no matter how much is used. Newer models are somewhat more efficient, but the tankless heaters are the ultimate in water heating efficiency.

A tank hot water heater will also have an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years. Tankless hot water heaters a standard life durability of 20 to 25 years, with simple maintenance procedures that can potentially double that number.

How to Install a Tankless Water Heater

man installing a tankless water heater

The simplest method for installing a new tankless hot water heater would be to swap it out in the same location as the old tank. That is not imperative, but if you want to move the tankless heater to a new location, you should consult with a trained professional.

The basic instructions on how to install a tankless electric water heater are easier than a system supplied by gas. Since the gas requirements and building code regulations for gas installation are different, you cannot just attach the same wiring set up and add a larger breaker. Consider professional advice before installing a tankless system fueled by gas.

Remove the Old Hot Water Tank

Turn off the main water supply to the old tank and disconnect the power source. Follow the tank instructions for draining all the water out of the tank, and then disconnect all other waterlines. Remove and haul your old tank to a recycling facility to be truly environmentally conscious.

Mount the Tankless Hot Water Heater

All tankless hot water heaters come with simple instructions for mounting the heating element. You can mount them on the wall without any difficulty. You will need to have some basic carpentry knowledge to make sure the unit is attached securely.

Use the recommended hardware that comes with the tankless system. Mark the holes for the mounting screws and drill pilot holes for each anchor. Be certain the system is anchored well, and then attach each water port.

Connect to Water & Power Source

One nice aspect of a tankless hot water heater is the simplicity of attaching the water source. It is a simple inward port and valve, and an exit line where the hot water supply branches to different taps. Once you have each of the water ports secured, allow them to dry for a couple hours.

Consult the owner’s manual for the proper way to connect each of the power wires. If you do not have a good understanding of basic electrical wiring, consider consulting an electrician for this phase. You can save a lot of money on the installation costs by doing everything up to this point yourself.

If you’re comfortable hooking the unit up to the electric, then finish that process. Do a complete check of every step one additional time to be sure there are no problems. Turn on the water supply to the tankless unit, and then flip the circuit breaker back on. If everything is installed properly, you should have hot water in a matter of minutes.

How Much Does a Tankless Water Heater Cost?

The range of prices for tankless hot water heating systems is great. There are high-end systems that have a larger gallon per minute capacity, which cost nearly $2,000. Simpler units are available that cost barely more than an old conventional tank hot water.

When deciding on how elaborate of a system you want to purchase, calculate that larger systems increase the energy efficiency. Some of the top models also have a lifespan estimate of as much as four decades. Remember, you can purchase smaller units that cost less, but additional tankless systems are easily installed, each one designed for a specific hot water need in your home.

Summing Up

If you’re using a conventional water heater with a tank, you’re using a design that’s over a hundred years old. Stepping forward into the new age of tankless water heaters will save you money, space and provide a constant source of hot water. They are an essential appliance consideration for all new home construction and an excellent choice for water heating upgrades.