When you’re a homeowner, there’s so much to know and be responsible for. You’ve got general upkeep, yard and lawn maintenance, and, of course, utility bills. One of the main utility investments you’re making on a daily basis is that of your hot water. We’re so accustomed to having accessible, on-demand hot water, that it’s sometimes a resource we take for granted.
Well, of course, the specific answer depends on your personal household consumption, though there are standards we can look to. Experts from the Department of Energy estimate that the average American household uses as many as 64 gallons of water per day, and that it costs you an average of $400 to $600 per year to heat water, making it your second-most expensive utility investment — one that represents about 20% of your overall annual energy costs. That’s a big deal!
In fact, it’s such a big deal that you really should know what kind of water heater your home has, if it’s performing at its best, who to contact if it’s not, or if it’s time to look into more energy efficient models that suit your lifestyle and budget.
It’s also the sort of big deal that keeps industrial engineers busy in an attempt to create more efficient ways of making hot water accessible to homes while using less energy to do so. For the sake of this conversation, let’s focus on two specific types of water heaters: storage (or “traditional”) water heaters, and tankless water heaters.
The traditional storage tank water heater is the most prevalent type of water heater found in American homes. It’s essentially a large tank that can vary from 20 to 80 gallons in size acting as a reserve of hot water for your household needs.
The hot water is released from the top of the tank and routed to its ultimate destination (sink, shower, etc.) while unheated water enters the bottom of the in an effort to keep a full tank at all times. This also means that the tank is always working in order to keep the water at an optimally warm temperature.
These types of tanks can be heated using a wide variety of energy sources, most commonly electricity, oil, natural gas, propane and solar. Though the tanks can be insulated (either at purchase or post-purchase), they still create a great deal of wasted energy, mostly through stand-by heat loss or, in the instance of gas- and oil-heated tanks, venting-related energy loss.
Despite these inefficiencies, storage tank water heaters are still the most common type of water heaters due to their relative low cost compared to other types. (Though the initial investment might be cheaper, these tank storage models may be more expensive to operate over time.) So, if that’s the case, then what’s another option homeowners in the greater-Portland area should consider?
Tankless water heaters (sometimes referred to as instantaneous or on-demand water heaters) are just as described: water heaters that use no tank. When a user selects hot water from a faucet, unheated water is directed through the plumbing and into the tankless water heater unit, where a gas- or electric-powered element takes care of the heating. Sounds incredible, right? In many respects, it is!
Depending on how much water your household uses, tankless units can be at least 25% to 34% more energy efficient than storage units and, according to the Department of Energy. But it doesn’t mean that these tankless units don’t have their drawbacks.
Unlike storage tank water heaters, there is very little wasted energy with tankless water heaters. However, because it doesn’t have the large reserve of hot water that a tank unit possesses, the water flow is very limited in an on-demand unit vs. a storage unit. Additionally, these tankless units can be more of an up-front investment, but will typically save you dollars over time. They do typically require more annual maintenance but maye longer life than the average storage tank water heater.
If you are considering a tankless water heater you will need to have either natural gas available or sufficient electrical capacity in your panel to power an electrical tankless unit.
Still not sure what water heating solution is right for you? If you have the sort of household that needs and uses a lot of hot water or you just have questions about what water heating system is best for your Portland-area home, then the team at Greenbox Mechanical would be honored to serve you! We use our expertise in combination with your needs, budget, and lifestyle to create customized solutions for all your plumbing, HVAC, and electrical needs!