Water-heater inefficiency is evident in the numbers: Water heaters make up 14 to 25 percent of our household energy bill. When they are located in the house, they also heat our house all day long. In the summer, we pay to heat our water then we pay to cool the house.
There is a revolution afoot in water heating. Tankless water heaters have taken the market by storm. They are, well, a little sexy.
They work by only heating water when you turn on the hot-water faucet. They heat water rapidly as it passes though a highly efficient burner. They never run out of hot water. That's right, invite the whole extended family to stay at Christmas and no one will get a cold shower.
When tankless first came to the American market, they were underpowered by our standards. They had been used for years in Europe but Europeans apparently liked wimpy showers. Now they have enough capacity to run two or more showers simultaneously, while saving 50 percent on energy costs.
They also used to be expensive. Prices have dropped so low that you can now buy a quality tankless water heater for around $700.
Another nice feature about tankless water heaters is they can open up floor space. The units are amazingly small, about the size of a computer box. They hang on an interior or exterior wall or are placed in the attic. Many people with water-heater closets have relocated their unit and converted the water heater area into storage.
Their flexibility in location also means you can put the unit closer to your bathrooms, reducing the time you need to flush cold water down the drain.
Traditional tank water heaters, especially when located in the garage or near storage areas, are significant causes of household fires. On-demand water systems, however, do not typically have pilot lights and they are usually located high above flammables.
Tankless water heaters are not all sunshine and flowers, however. They often require a bigger gas supply line be installed, which can add another $1,000 to the price tag. They can also reduce the speed of water delivery, so that a shower might not provide hot water as fast as the old tank used to do. Proper placement of the tankless water heater or the installation of a hot-water heater demand system (www.gohotwater.com) — a neat piece of water-saving technology — can make hot water near instantaneous.
When it comes time to replace your water heater, consider this small sexy appliance for the job.