Tank or Tankless Water Heater: Which One is Best For You?

Electric Water Heater

The average water heater can last 10-plus years, which gives water heater technology plenty of time to evolve in the interim.

By the time you need to select a new water heater, there is new terminology to learn. Not to mention that none of the new models look quite like what you currently have.

As well, since an aging water heater doesn’t always announce its exact retirement date in advance, you are often forced to select a new water heater as quickly as possible while your grumpy, shivering family watches your progress closely and counts the minutes until it arrives.

There is always a risk that the new water heater you choose won’t be the best possible match for your needs. In this post, learn more about two of the most popular types of water heaters and how to choose the best type for your household’s water usage patterns.

Conventional “Tank” Hot Water Heater

A conventional hot water heater is the type you most likely inherited when you bought your home.

A conventional water heater, also called a storage or “tank” water heater, is the type with the big insulated tank, which is where the heated water is stored. There are also knobs, valves, and metal pipes going to and from it that can make it look like a large, round stationary robot.

Conventional water heater tanks come in a variety of storage capacities ranging from small 20-gallon (75.7-liter) tanks to massive 100-gallon (378.5-liter) tanks. Most households will have a tank that holds around 55 gallons (208.2 liters).

When selecting a new tank hot water heater, the most important piece of data is what is called the FHR, or “first hour rating.” The FHR tells you how much hot water the heater can supply during a 60-minute use period, assuming the storage tank is full of water to begin with.

Here, it is critical to remember that, once the water heater has supplied hot water for 60 continuous minutes, it will need to refill the tank and reheat the water. What this means is that any hot water demands made from minute 61 until the storage tank has been completely refilled and reheated may be cool, lukewarm, or warm.

Choosing a conventional hot water heater becomes easy once you know your household’s average 60-minute peak hot water demand. The U.S. Department of Energy offers a helpful chart for calculating this average demand.

You can also use these EPA usage estimates as a go-by to calculate how much hot water your household consumes—for instance, during that critical 60-minute period in the mornings when you are all getting ready for work/school:

  • 1 shower = 20g (75.7 liters)
  • 1 food prep = 5g (18.9 liters)
  • 1 shave = 2g (7.6 liters)
  • 1 laundry cycle = 7g (26.5 liters)
  • 1 dishwasher cycle = 6g (22.7 liters)

Here, you can see how, once you have a working knowledge of how much hot water is required to complete certain tasks, you can choose optimal times to do certain tasks so as not to impact primary hot water usage needs, such as hot morning showers.

Tankless Hot Water Heater

A tankless hot water heater is a relatively new invention conceived to save storage space and energy use. These hot water heaters are often called “on demand” water heaters, because that is basically how they function.

There is no storage tank as such to preheat and store the water until it is needed. Rather, when a demand for hot water comes in, the water heater begins to heat up cold water right then and there.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the average tankless hot water heater can produce anywhere from 2 to 5 gallons (7.6 to 15.2 liters) per minute.

If you have a gas-fueled tankless water heater, you can expect output near the high end of that range. An electric-fueled tankless water heater, on the other hand, will more likely fall near the low end of the output range.

As you might imagine, a tankless or on-demand hot water heater won’t be able to keep up with the simultaneous hot water demands of many people at once.

For this reason, an on-demand hot water heater is often added as a secondary source of hot water to supply specific appliances (hot tub, remote guest house, clothes washer) or simply supplement existing hot water options.

Which Hot Water Heater Type is Right For You?

Here are some insights to help you select the right hot water heater for your household’s needs.

Gas Versus Electric-Powered

Current DOE estimates indicate you will pay more for a gas-powered tank or tankless water heater, but you will recoup that in lower monthly energy costs.

Tank Versus Tankless

A tank water heater with around 55-gallon (208.2 liters) capacity is typically a better choice for larger households with multi-use hot water demands (unless you install multiple tankless units).

This will cost you more on the front end, but can save you anywhere from 8 to 34 percent on your annual energy costs (around $100 per year for an Energy Star-rated tankless hot water heater equipped with an intermittent gas-powered pilot light system).

Give Us a Call

Here at Shipton’s, we have nearly a century of expertise with water heater technology. We are happy to help you select a new hot water heater that will deliver optimal energy efficiency for your investment—just give us a call at 905-549-4616!

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