There are several differences between a tankless water heater and a tank water heater. Some are insignificant, while others may cause problems. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Tank water heaters include insulated tanks. Depending on their size, they can hold from 20 to 120 gallons of water. Each model will have an electric or gas burner. Users get continuous hot water flow until it is depleted, leaving only cold water in the tank. The “first hour rating” refers to the number of gallons of hot water to expect in one hour. Even though insulated, heat can be lost through the tank walls.
Tankless water heaters provide consistent hot water while saving energy. It solves the problem of heat loss and running out of hot water. As long as the heating capacity is big enough to meet a home’s hot water demands, they will never run out. No heat is lost because the water is only heated as needed.
A major difference between the two is the size of the heating element. Smaller elements are in the tank water heaters. They also have smaller burners that use 30,000 to 50,000 BTUs per hour. A half inch gas line is adequate, and it has a modest air intake. Tankless versions have large burners, require bigger gas lines, and need 30 cubic feet of air per minute.
Flow rates between the two are substantially different. Tankless versions have a minimum flow rate of .5 to .6 gallons per minute. They won’t come on at anything less. This can be a problem with some faucets.
The initial cost of a tankless water heater is much higher, yet studies have shown a 22 to 36 percent energy savings when compared to a tank water heater. One would be looking at a 20 to 40 year payback time before acquiring large savings.
The last difference is the amount of maintenance required. It is greater with the tank-less versions. Depending on the location, it may need freeze protection systems. Many times a water softener is required due to scale build-up within the unit.
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