What's the Difference Between a Tank or Tankless Water Heater?

Is it time to upgrade your water heater? Water heaters are the third largest energy consumer in the average Louisville home – the right water heater helps your household cut costs without a sacrifice in comfort. Which type of water heater best meets your needs – a tank or tankless water heater?

The right answer really depends on what is most important to your family. Is it saving money? Is it saving energy? Is it making sure everyone has enough hot water for morning or evening showers? Depending on your household’s hot water demands as well as your budget, one type of water heater may be a better solution versus the other.

To help you make an informed purchase decision when it’s time to upgrade your water heater, the Louisville plumbing experts of Jarboe’s compares the two types of water heaters side by side. Learn the differences between a tank and tankless water heater to see what each equipment type has to offer your household.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heater: The Basics

Do you know the difference between a tank model and a tankless water heater? Before we get into comparisons, let’s walk through the basics of each type of water heating system.

Tank Water Heater Basics

When you picture a water heater, you likely envision a tank model. This is the style that exists in most homes – it’s been around for decades. You may also know them as conventional water heaters or traditional water heaters.

A tank water heater gets its name from the storage tank it uses to hold heated water. The water heater preheats water which is held in the storage tank, ready for use when the taps and appliances around your home turn on. Water is kept at a consistent warmed temperature the entire time it’s held in the tank.

Tank water heaters come in various sizes, determined by the volume of hot water that is held in the storage tank. The size your Louisville home needs depends on how many people are in your household, how many hot water-consuming appliances you use, and your hot water usage habits. Most homes have tank water heaters that range between 30- and 50-gallon capacities. They use electricity or gas to operate.

Tankless Water Heater Basics

A tankless water heater is a newer option that has gained popularity in homes over the past few decades. Promoted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to tank models, the tankless water heater is a favorite among energy-conscious homeowners aiming to cut down on household energy consumption.

As you may have guessed, there’s no tank component to a tankless water heater. Instead of pre-heating water, water is heated whenever your appliances or taps turn on calling for hot water. Water is only heated when needed versus constantly heated. Due to this process, a tankless water heater is also known as an on-demand water heater. A tankless water heater runs on either electricity or natural gas.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heater: How They Work

The top water heater concern among most Louisville homeowners is the ability to generate enough hot water for the household’s needs. No one wants to be stuck taking a cold shower because they were the last one in the house to hop in, or have the water run cold while bathing just because the dishwasher is running at the same time!

When it comes to hot water demand in a home, it’s important to pick the style of water heater than best accommodates your needs. A tank and tankless water heater work differently, so assess your home’s hot water use to determine the best solution.

Tank Water Heater Performance

However, much hot water is held in your storage tank is the amount that’s available at any given time. This hot water is available for use in one shower or for many taps and appliances at the same time. Of course, if you run multiple hot water applications at once, there is less hot water available for each use. But, until the hot water runs out, every application enjoys the same level of hot water.

Once the hot water in your storage tank is depleted, your taps start to run cold. You must wait a period of time before the tank is replenished with hot water. How long this process takes varies between different tank-style water heater models.

Generally, if your household runs multiple hot water applications at the same time, a tank water heater delivers the best performance with more available hot water for simultaneous demands. If you find the hot water runs out before your tasks are completed, an upgrade to a larger capacity water heater is a potential solution for this problem.

Tankless Water Heater Performance

A tankless water heater delivers ample hot water when one hot water application runs – when you start to use multiple hot water taps or appliances at the same time, you run into some performance issues. A tankless water heater is typically output challenged and cannot deliver equal hot water across multiple hot water applications.

While hot water is instantly created, temperatures are not always consistent. This means that while your washing machine receives adequate hot water, the shower that runs at the same time may not. As you can imagine, this creates some discomfort throughout the home.

If you only use one hot water tap or appliance at a time, you are likely able to avoid this discomfort. A tankless water heater certainly has the ability to produce enough hot water for one demand at a time. Smaller households are typically less likely to run multiple hot water applications at the same time, so a tankless water heater is a fine solution.

Another tankless water heater solution is to install multiple tankless units throughout the home. Additional units are installed to directly serve applications that consume a large amount of hot water. With dedicated tankless water heaters, each application receives adequate hot water without interfering with other applications that run at the same time.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heater: Costs

For many homeowners, a big purchase decision such as a water heater upgrade often comes down to cost – be careful to consider the many different types of costs involved over the lifespan of your new water heater. When you focus on just the initial purchase price, you don’t get a clear picture of the savings or lack thereof your decision may generate.

Water Heater Installation Costs

A tankless water heater costs more than a tank model to purchase and install. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars or more to buy the equipment and have your new tankless water heater installed. If you choose a tank model, the price is usually around a thousand dollars.

Of course, this price is greatly dependent on the specific model you choose and factors specific to your home’s installation needs. In a retrofit project where a tankless water heater replaces an old tank model, some extra work relocating piping is needed to accommodate the new unit. Even if you replace a tank unit with a new tank unit, if you switch from gas to electric water heating (and vice versa) some additional work is often required to ensure proper power supply and safety.

Water Heater Replacement Costs

A tank water heater lasts anywhere from 10 to 15 years on average, where a tankless water heater lasts 20 to 30 years. Depending on how your system is maintained and your home’s water quality, this number may be more or less.

Expect to replace a tank water heater twice as often as a tankless water heater. Water heater replacement often stems from system failure. With a tank model, water heater failure has the potential to cause a flood in your home which results in water damage. With a tankless water heater, there’s no large volume of reserve hot water, so there is less of a risk of major water damage associated with system failure.

Water Heater Usage Costs

If you aim to generate significant energy cuts with your water heater upgrade, a tankless water heater is the type of unit that delivers the best savings. Versus tank models, a tankless water heater offers up to 34% more energy efficiency – this is in a home that consumes 41 or fewer gallons of hot water each day.

Even though a tankless water heater is the most efficient option, a new tank water heater is still able to help your household cut energy consumption. When you upgrade to a high-efficiency gas water heater, you save up to 8% on energy costs throughout the year. It’s wise to make the switch from electric to gas water heating, as gas typically costs less from your utility provider.

If it’s time to upgrade your Louisville water heater, contact Jarboe’s for highly efficient plumbing equipment paired with top-notch installation services. Whether you choose a tank or tankless water heater, we are here to help with the equipment and services you need. Don’t sacrifice comfort with a lack of hot water – our Louisville plumbing professionals help you make the right call and get the best water heater to tackle your home’s hot water demands.

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