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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.


Are Tankless Water Heaters Too Expensive?Do Tankless Water Heaters Require Natural Gas?Do Tankless Water Heaters Require Complicated Venting?Do Tankless Water Heaters Work With Well Water?

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 heater myths.

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 situation."


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 common."


"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 required


"Maintain it, and it'll last twice as long."


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.


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