Thinking of going tankless, but you don’t quite understand the difference between storage tanks and tankless? Let us help!
Below, you will find information on the traditional storage tank that we’ve all become so accustomed to and information on tankless water heaters, how they work, and their benefits.
How a Storage Water Heater Works
The traditional tank water heater heats and stores water for home appliances and fixtures.
Fundamentally, a water heater is an appliance that converts energy to heat and transfers that heat to water. It’s connected to a cold-water supply pipe and has an outgoing hot water pipe—or system of pipes—that supplies heated water to faucets and appliances.
The majority of water heaters are fueled by natural gas, though propane-fueled and electric water heaters are not unusual. Where natural gas is available, it is a much less expensive energy source than electricity.
A gas-fueled storage water heater heats water by means of a burner beneath the tank. Natural gas (or propane or kerosene, in some cases) is piped to a gas valve. Depending upon the age of the water heater, it may be served by a couple of different types of valves, as explained quite expertly in the following video.
A thermostat that detects the temperature of water in the tank regulates fuel delivery to the burner, which is ignited by a pilot light or spark ignition. A vent collects toxic emissions from the burner and pipes them up through the tank, out the top, and normally up through the roof. Some newer, high-efficiency water heaters have fan-assisted vents that can be piped out through a wall.
Because the tank is under pressure, hot water exits through the hot water outlet at the top. When the hot water leaves, cold water enters through a diffuser dip tube that extends down inside the tank. The cold-water pipe normally has a shutoff valve. A magnesium or aluminum anode rod utilizes the principle of ionization to minimize the water’s corrosive elements, which can significantly shorten tank life. The larger the anode, the longer a tank is likely to last.
The drain valve at the water heater’s base is used for draining the tank or flushing sediment out of it. This important maintenance step should be done once or twice a year, according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.
A temperature-pressure (TP) relief valve near or on the top of the tank opens automatically if temperature or pressure exceeds safe levels. This valve should be tested at the same time the tank is drained, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
With an electric water heater, a heavy electrical cable delivers energy to heating elements. An electric water heater doesn’t create combustion gases, so no vent is required. It typically has one 5,500-watt or, for faster heating, two 4,500-watt elements. Separate thermostats control each element, cycling on and off as needed.
How a Tankless Water Heater Works
A tankless water heater heats water as it’s needed for the home and for appliances.
Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. Either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water.
Tankless water heaters, also known as demand-type or instantaneous water heaters, provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with storage water heaters, which can save you money.
For homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, demand water heaters can be 24% - 34% more energy efficient for homes that use a lot of hot water – around 86 gallons per day. You can achieve even greater energy savings of 27% - 50% if you install a demand water heater at each hot water outlet. The initial cost of a tankless water heater is greater than that of a conventional storage water heater, but tankless water heaters will typically last longer and have lower operating and energy costs, which could offset its higher purchase price. Most tankless water heaters have a life expectancy of more than 20 years. They also have easily replaceable parts that extend their life by many more years. In contrast, storage water heaters last 10-15 years.