Standard Water Heaters vs. Tankless Water Heaters – The Pros and Cons

When the time comes to replace your water heater, a common question that arises is whether or not to install a standard water heater with a tank, or to use the newer, energy-efficient tankless water heaters, which have been becoming increasingly common. There are pros and cons of both approaches.

The main factors to consider when making a water heater selection are capacity, cost, energy savings and ease of installation, for starters. Here’s a rundown of both styles, and the benefits of disadvantages of each:

Standard Water Heaters (with Tank)

This is the traditional water heater with tank that most of us have had in our homes, either currently or in the past. It holds water in a tank and keeps hot water ready for use at a specified temperature.

Pros

  • Basic Installation: Since most homes are already equipped for this type of heater, installation is relatively quick and easy. In many cases it is a matter of connecting two water pipes and the electrical wiring.
  • Lower Upfront Costs: Standard water heaters are considerably lower-priced than tankless hot water heaters. And because installation is simpler, you’ll save less on that part of the process, too, for an overall upfront cost that’s significantly lower than if you go tankless.
  • Ready for Multiple Use: Since standard heaters already have hot water ready to go, they can supply more than one faucet, shower, dishwasher, etc., at once. As long as there’s enough hot water in the tank, performance won’t be affected by more than one water source running at once.
  • Steady Temperatures: Standard water heaters keep the water in the tank heated to a consistent temperature at all times, so you won’t experience any uncomfortable temperature spikes or dips.

Cons

  • Poor Energy Efficiency: Standard water heaters constantly monitor the temperature of the water in the tank and heat it accordingly, which wastes energy when your water is not in use. That also equates to a higher operating cost per year.
  • Finite Capacity: Once all the hot water in the tank is used, there is no more hot water available until the heater can heat more water up to temperature. That can take a while, and ruin your shower.
  • Size: Standard heaters take up a lot of space, mostly because of the large 40- or 50-gallon water tank it uses.
  • Water Waste: It may take some time for hot water to reach your faucet, which means you’ll leave the faucet running – and wasting water – while you wait.
  • Shorter Lifespan: Standard water heaters simply don’t last as long as tankless systems; a standard heater usually survives 10 to 15 years, versus 20 years for a tankless device.

Tankless Water Heaters

A more relatively recent entry into the market, tankless heaters provide hot water on-demand, heating the water as needed, instead of storing and heating it inside a large tank.

Pros

  • High Energy Efficiency: Tankless heaters don’t store hot water like traditional heaters. Instead, they heat water on-demand as it’s needed, greatly saving on energy usage. Most households can expect a 10% to 15% energy savings.
  • Infinite Capacity: Since the tankless heater is heating the water on-demand, there’s no point when you “run out” as experienced with standard water heaters. You can take as long and as hot of a shower as you like, without suddenly having the water turn freezing.
  • Compact Size: Operating without a water tank means that tankless heaters are much smaller in size than standard heaters. They are usually little more than a box mounted to the wall in your basement or utility closet.
  • Water Savings: Tankless heaters use less water, because they provide near-immediate hot water where they’re being used. You won’t stand at the faucet, waiting with the water running, for an extended period.
  • Longer Lifespan: Tankless heaters last longer than standard heaters, to the tune of an extra five to 10 years. Most tankless heaters survive at least 20 years.

Cons

  • Complicated Installation: An experienced plumber and/or electrician is generally needed to install a tankless heater, which may require connections to your home’s propane or natural gas supply, or your electrical system. If you are using electric for it, you may also need to upgrade your home’s electricity, just to be able to power it.
  • Higher Upfront Costs: There is a notably higher cost for purchasing a tankless water heater, especially if you’re buying a heater that is large enough to provide water for more than one water outlet at once. Installation costs will also be higher, pushing the overall upfront pricing to a different cost bracket than standard heaters.
  • Multi-Tasking Issues: Unless you buy a larger (and more expensive) sized tankless heater, you will not be able to enjoy hot water at more than one outlet at a time. For example, you shouldn’t expect to be able to simultaneously run the dishwasher and shower.
  • Temperature Fluctuations: Because a tankless heater heats the water as it is being used, sometimes there may be surprising and uncomfortable spikes or dips in the temperature of the water at different flow rates, especially if the water pressure varies throughout the home.
  • Venting: When using gas to power a tankless heater, you’ll need to vent the heater to the outdoors, either with a direct vent or conventional exhaust flue. This also adds to the cost of installation.

***Are you ready for a new hot water heater in your home? Contact Empire State Plumbing online today or call us at (518) 482-4205 for a comprehensive consultation. We are the hot water heater experts in the Albany and Saratoga areas!