Four tankless water heater myths — debunked
Builder Matt Risinger dons his construction scientist lab coat to
ensure these common misconceptions won't keep you from upgrading your clients
to the performance of tankless water heating.
For Matt Risinger's clients, running out of
hot water is simply not an option.
Risinger, a custom builder and whole-home
remodeling contractor based in Austin, Texas, has gained an enthusiastic
following on his YouTube channel, where he highlights his expertise in
building science and craftsmanship through the lens of his own projects. But he
also has a reputation with his high-end clients for never settling when it
comes to the performance of their home. So for many of his projects, that means
choosing the limitless hot water delivery of a propane tankless water heater.
In this video series, Risinger puts on his
construction scientist lab coat to set the facts straight on some common misconceptions
that might keep pros and their clients from upgrading to a tankless water
heater. Check it out, along with our in-depth interview about tankless water
Myth 1: Tankless water
heaters are too expensive.
Upgrading to a tankless water heater may add a bit to the cost of a project. But
for Risinger, the trade-offs inherent in stepping down to an entry-level tank
aren't worth the small amount of savings.
"They're not super efficient, you're going to
run out of hot water at least on an occasional basis, and they're only going to
last 10 years or so before you've got to get a replacement," he says. "For not
that much money, you're going to step up to all the benefits of tankless, as
well as the limitless hot water and the greater efficiency, which is a big
deal. And frankly typically double the life of the product for your client."
"You realize you don't have to
change your lifestyle based on what's happening with your hot water
Risinger says upgrading from an electric tank
to a propane tankless unit can easily save a client $200 to $250 annually,
which can pay off the upgrade in three or four years. But more importantly, his
clients expect to never run out of hot water. "The situation we talk about as
builders all the time is what if you fill up that big soaker tub in your
master?" he says. "Now that you've drained your tank on that one bathtub, how
does anyone do anything with hot water in the house?"
For tankless retrofits or upgrades, clients
will immediately appreciate the step up in performance. When Risinger upgraded
his own home from a standard tank to a tankless water heater, he found he no
longer had to wait an hour to use the shower after his wife or to get hot water
after his kids take a bath. "You realize you don't have to change your
lifestyle based on what's happening with your hot water situation."
Pros can start the conversation by having
their clients take the quiz at knowyourwaterheater.com, where homeowners can answer five questions
about their current equipment and see if it's time to upgrade to a new,
high-efficiency propane water heater.
Myth 2: Tankless requires natural gas.
Propane tankless water heaters offer the same
features as those fueled by natural gas. That's important for Risinger, who
frequently utilizes propane even for projects only 15 to 20 minutes outside of
downtown Austin. One such home, a 14,000-square-foot house, uses three propane
tankless water heaters zoned for different rooms.
"I think that there's still lots
of builders that are building in more rural areas that are using electric tanks
and don't necessarily think about propane tankless just because it's not as
"I think that there's still lots of builders
that are building in more rural areas that are using electric tanks and don't
necessarily think about propane tankless just because it's not as common, it's
not as talked about." But switching from two or three electric tanks to
space-saving propane tankless units could free up a large amount of space in a
garage or utility room, an important consideration when every square foot of
space is at a premium.
Myth 3: Tankless requires complicated venting.
In his southern climate, Risinger loves the
ability to install tankless water heaters on the exterior — where no venting is
required. "A lot of the houses I work with, the architects have pretty limited
mechanical room space, especially because we don't have basements down here,"
he says. "Being able to hang one of these units outside in a mechanical area
where I've also got HVAC condensers and things like that makes it super easy."
Upgrading from an electric tank to an interior
gas tankless water heater may require more planning, but high-efficiency units
can be vented straight through the wall with inexpensive PVC pipe. "A concentric vent
makes it really easy for us as builders," he says. "And anytime I can avoid a roof penetration,
I want to."
Myth 4: Tankless won't work with well water.
When a water heater heats water, a small
amount of scale can form on the heat exchanger, so periodic flushing is
required to keep tankless water heaters functioning at their best (Risinger
describes the process in a recent video).
Homes with harder water or more usage will have more scale, but Risinger says
he's noticed no significant difference between homes with well water or city
water. Many modern tankless water heaters will notify the owner when they need
to be flushed, or can even be set up to notify a technician when maintenance is
"Maintain it, and it'll last twice
Regardless of the water source, a water
softener can greatly reduce the scale created, allowing for much longer
intervals between flushing. But Risinger believes that like a finely tuned car
engine, the regular maintenance is a positive, not a downside. "Maintain it,
and it'll last twice as long," he says.