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Replacement Hot Water Heater
Old 02-04-2017, 06:48 PM   #1
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Replacement Hot Water Heater

Our hot water heaters are 15 years old and ready for replacement. We have two 40 gallons heaters, which seems like overkill for just the two of us. I've been reading about the tankless water heaters and opinions seem to be equally divided over whether to go with them or stay with traditional models. Our home is three stories, and we've always had problems with the hot water taking a long time to get to the third floor shower. We did install a recirculation pump 15 years ago, and I think it generally worked fine. But it rusted out years ago and so we haven't been using it any more.

What have other people experienced with tankless versus tank heaters? And while I'm doing this, should I install a water softening system as well? I assume we have hard water as I see crusty deposits all over the fixtures and lots of green stuff that has built up over the years as well. We live at the beach, so some of it may be the salt in the air, if that makes any difference.

I know nothing about plumbing and am reluctant to just take the advice of the local plumber without getting some input from others.

Thanks!
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Old 02-04-2017, 07:16 PM   #2
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The tankless heaters can have very high installation costs depending on your situation (gas/electric, availability of sufficient current, availability of gas piping of sufficient size where you need it, etc). They aren't as simple as a regular water heater with a tank (they have flow sensors, etc to break), so you should anticipated higher long-term costs of ownership. Utility savings? Sometimes, but not always.

Water softener? Get a water hardness test (Sears does them for free, or at least they used to). If you aren't bothered by the water at present and it isn't killing your appliances or causing a lot of maintenance, then it's probably not something worth addressing.

Recirculating pump: You might also address the issue in your third floor bathroom with a small (5 gal) electric water heater in that bathroom. They go in a cabinet and will give you nearly instant hot water until the hot water from your main water heater arrives through the pipes. Combined with an auto-tempering or constant-temp shower valve, it should work well. Also, you may be able to recirculate the water to an upper bathroom using thermosiphoning without using a pump at all, if your WH is lower than that bathroom. Just install a small (1/4") return line before the hot water valve at the top, let the (heavier, somewhat cooled-off) water fall back to the intake of the WH and be replaced by hotter (lighter) water flowing up from the WH. No pump (or additional water heater) to wear out.
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Old 02-04-2017, 07:36 PM   #3
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We have had a single 40G water heater ( sorry, but the term "hot water heater" is a pet peeve of mine - no need to heat the water if it is already hot) with a family of 5 for many years. As long as you don't take long showers and can spread them in time a little no problem. 40 G should be plenty for two people.

Plus, I bet our ground water is cooler than yours - straight from our well, ~ 55~ 60F.

Tank is simple. You could run into issues with the far bath with a tankless. Turn the faucet full hot to get things going, then adjusting the faucet to warm can reduce the flow enough to turn the tankless off, then it gets cold, so you increase the faucet - and it cycles back and forth.

-ERD50
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Old 02-04-2017, 07:58 PM   #4
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I had a tankless and my problem was it had a high flow rate to turn on.... did not work on my low flow showerhead... even with a normal head it keep going between being too hot and COLD (no hat water at all)...

IF you get one, make sure it will heat on a low flow or you will hate it...


Also, it does take a bit longer to get the first of the hot water... so if you have a problem on the third floor, it will hurt the process, not help it... NOW, if you want you can put in a small tankless just for the bathroom or shower... when I was in Europe a few years ago they had one inside the shower!!! It only took a few seconds to get hot water...

I would not go with two heater.... if you need more hot water, get a faster recovery heater... my dad put one in when we were young... 6 kids and 2 adults... seemed to always have hot water with a 40 gal tank...
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Old 02-04-2017, 08:07 PM   #5
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I investigated tankless heaters in 2014 when we had our water heater replaced due to a leak (which turned out to be in a pipe in the wall behind the water heater, rather than the water heater itself, but we didn't find that out until after the new water heater was installed.)

Anyway, the traditional tank cost us under $1200 to purchase, install and have the old one hauled away. The energy star sticker that's still on the tank says it costs approximately $282/year to operate.

If I recall correctly, the tankless would have cost about $3500 to buy and have installed, and the estimated annual operating cost would have been about $200. Using these numbers, the payback time for installing the tankless heater would have been far longer than its expected lifespan.

In actuality, the gas portion of our SDG&E bill currently averages about $10/mo, and that includes the clothes dryer, so the traditional tank system was definitely the right one for us.

The plumber also warned us that the tankless systems take a few seconds longer to deliver hot water to the faucets, because the gas has to start flowing, ignite and then heat the water; so if you have to wait 5 to 10 seconds longer than you wait now, that extra cold water you run is usually going to waste.

Pricing and technology could have changed in the past 2.5 years, so YMMV, but this is what I recall from the research I did back then.
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Old 02-04-2017, 08:08 PM   #6
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Are the two 40 gal water heaters right next to each other, or does each serve a separate part of the house? Are they gas or electric? Be advised that new water heaters have thicker insulation around the outside due to new government regulations, and a new 40 gal tank might not fit in the same closet/spot as an older 40 gal tank, because the new ones have a larger diameter.
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Old 02-04-2017, 08:27 PM   #7
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You got your money out of that 15 year old heater. Lol I also had two at about 15 years old also. I have the tank kind and it is a 50Gal. A couple years ago I had it replaced and I had a 40 Gal and they installed a 50 Gal. I wasn't happy they did that but it was done so I accepted it.
One thing that everyone should do is have them replaced before they start to leak. It will happen when you least expect it and then try to find someone to do it.
They told me they have a life of about 7 years. I got double that two times now maybe the next time I won't be so lucky.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:07 PM   #8
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Ready,
Are the two 40 gal water heaters right next to each other, or does each serve a separate part of the house? Are they gas or electric? Be advised that new water heaters have thicker insulation around the outside due to new government regulations, and a new 40 gal tank might not fit in the same closet/spot as an older 40 gal tank, because the new ones have a larger diameter.
The two heaters are right next to each other, and I believe there is a pipe that connects them to each other as well. I think the builder installed two because our house is 4,000 square feet, so he just assumed we would need a lot of hot water. But with just the two of us, I think he oversized it. If we go with a tank, I would think a single one would be fine.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:11 PM   #9
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If I recall correctly, the tankless would have cost about $3500 to buy and have installed, and the estimated annual operating cost would have been about $200. Using these numbers, the payback time for installing the tankless heater would have been far longer than its expected lifespan.
I've heard others quote high numbers like these as well for the tankless systems. But when I look at them on Amazon, they range in price from about $300-$700.

This one is a well rated model, on the high end of the price range:

https://www.amazon.com/Rheem-RTG-64X...ter+heater+gas

They quote installation of $324.95, so just over $1,100 installed. Does this seem too low? I would guess a tank would cost about the same installed?
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:31 PM   #10
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I've heard others quote high numbers like these as well for the tankless systems. But when I look at them on Amazon, they range in price from about $300-$700.

This one is a well rated model, on the high end of the price range:

https://www.amazon.com/Rheem-RTG-64X...ter+heater+gas

They quote installation of $324.95, so just over $1,100 installed. Does this seem too low? I would guess a tank would cost about the same installed?
Installation was going to be a lot for us because the tankless heater required an electric circuit, which we don't have in that space; and also a special gas line because it would burn gas faster than our current line could supply it (or something like that). I believe there would also have been city inspections, and possibly a permit, required for the gas line. So the high installation cost for us was more about making the space ready than about putting the actual water heater into it.

If you have a professional installer who is saying he'll do it for $324.95 and he's looked at the current space and confirmed that it meets the gas and electric requirements, I would take him at his word. You might just want to confirm that amount includes hauling away and disposing of the old tanks though.

edit: I just clicked through your link, and for me it says item is $700 and installation is +$529.95. I wonder if that changes based on your zip code. It also says "Some areas require special permits for this service. Depending on your location, pro may need to acquire proper documents at an additional cost."
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:33 PM   #11
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I've heard others quote high numbers like these as well for the tankless systems. But when I look at them on Amazon, they range in price from about $300-$700.

This one is a well rated model, on the high end of the price range:

https://www.amazon.com/Rheem-RTG-64X...ter+heater+gas

They quote installation of $324.95, so just over $1,100 installed. Does this seem too low? I would guess a tank would cost about the same installed?

It matters if you have the 'stuff' there to support it... they need a LOT of gas... I was fortunate to have a big line in the wall going to my heater (IIRC it was 3/4 inch), but they did have to put in a larger line from the wall to the system... also, you need to vent that heat... which requires a larger and better vent... I was also fortunate that it was in my garage and there was not a second story over it... so running that exhaust pipe was easy...

If it is electric, you will probably have to run a wire from your box to where it is... I do not know of houses that have a 220 sitting next to the HWH.... than again, I have not see electric HWHs, so maybe they do have it....


I would NOT recommend someone getting a tankless to try and save money... the payback just does not happen... the benefit is having as much hot water as you want.. nothing else....
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:42 PM   #12
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I would NOT recommend someone getting a tankless to try and save money... the payback just does not happen... the benefit is having as much hot water as you want.. nothing else....
+1. Usually more trouble, too.

For two people, a 40 gal gas WH is usually enough, unless there are unusual requirements (giant garden tub, multi-head shower, a typical teenager, etc). But if you sell, buyers of a big house like this may expect to see a setup like you have now. I'd at least take a picture of the present setup, if a buyer wants the same thing, show the picture to let em know it will work there, and then it becomes a matters for negotiation.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:47 PM   #13
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I went tankless last time I had my old water heater went. I needed a through the wall coaxial vent to replace it and they were only special order at that time. I went with a condensing tankless rated at 96% efficient. While they cost more as others noted, from what I've heard they last longer which makes up part of the cost. It does take a little longer for the hot water to get from my basement to second floor, but not much. The one I have will start heating on relatively low flow... that has not been a issue for me. Others may not have this feature. Mine is a gas unit.
If I wanted to get hot water faster to the upper floors, I would install an electric instant heater on the upper floor and set it's temperature a bit lower than the main one in the basement. This way there is hot water much faster than even the tank version, but most water is heated by the main more efficient one.
If you do go with a water softener and stay with the tank version, change the anode periodically. The salts from the softener will erode the anode more quickly and shorten the life of the tank unit.
I sized my tankless for running both showers and at least one more appliance.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:53 PM   #14
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You got your money out of that 15 year old heater. Lol I also had two at about 15 years old also. I have the tank kind and it is a 50Gal. A couple years ago I had it replaced and I had a 40 Gal and they installed a 50 Gal. I wasn't happy they did that but it was done so I accepted it.
One thing that everyone should do is have them replaced before they start to leak. It will happen when you least expect it and then try to find someone to do it.
They told me they have a life of about 7 years. I got double that two times now maybe the next time I won't be so lucky.
My 50 Gal is still going strong at 20 years.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:58 PM   #15
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It matters if you have the 'stuff' there to support it... they need a LOT of gas... I was fortunate to have a big line in the wall going to my heater (IIRC it was 3/4 inch), but they did have to put in a larger line from the wall to the system... also, you need to vent that heat... which requires a larger and better vent... I was also fortunate that it was in my garage and there was not a second story over it... so running that exhaust pipe was easy...

If it is electric, you will probably have to run a wire from your box to where it is... I do not know of houses that have a 220 sitting next to the HWH.... than again, I have not see electric HWHs, so maybe they do have it....


I would NOT recommend someone getting a tankless to try and save money... the payback just does not happen... the benefit is having as much hot water as you want.. nothing else....
Depending on the max flow you want, you might have to install a larger electric service entrance and box, if you go electric. If you do the math you find out that heating water takes alot of power if you want to use 1.5 or more gallons per minute.
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Old 02-05-2017, 05:54 AM   #16
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My BIL has a tankless and he tells me they have gotten in the habit of using the cold water tap when they only need a small amount of water. This is to avoid firing up the tankless heater unnecessarily.
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Old 02-05-2017, 07:07 AM   #17
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Tankless hot water heaters just cost too much. And electric versions require 3-4 220 volt circuits--and few 200 circuit breaker boxes have that much room left in them. That leaves gas tankless as the only thing to install, and they've got to have direct venting to an outside wall. And they make noise when sitting not being used.

I'd just go with one conventional 50 gallon heater to replace your others--same manner of heating (electric or gas).

The previous owner of my house installed 2 50 gallon electric how water heaters. One just does the kitchen and 1 bath and the other just handles 3 baths--only 1 of which is ever used. It's total overkill and a waste of electricity to keep so much water hot.
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Old 02-05-2017, 07:30 AM   #18
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Agree with others - I'd just install one new conventional 40 gallon tank heater and leave room for a second if needed in the future.

Running a hot water return line from the farthest fixture to the bottom of the heater tank really works well. That can be easy or a major task depending on how your house is laid out. You might be able to bypass the rusted out pump and let it flow by convection. If impractical, the little heater under the cabinet will work.

I installed a catch pan under my heater with a pipe to a floor drain. That way if and when the tank leaks, it does not flood the basement.
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Old 02-05-2017, 07:59 AM   #19
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We are probably the weird ones but we have a house with a water tank in the city and when I built my house in the country I bought an Electric Tankless. heater. I paid just over 400.00 for the tankless water heater I mounted it in the wall so if things did go wrong it would be an easy fix . This water heater is about the size of a Houston phone book supplies water to one bathroom a laundry room a kitchen without a problem . We are on well water and never have had any pressure problems . We do run a Parker filter to keep things right going into the heater. We did have the electrician wire in a 220 breaker and the correct wiring . Beyond that the hookup took less then an hour. It does take maybe a minute for the water to become hot to the bathroom but it has to flow over the heating elements ...no problem for us. Once again my opinion if this thing goes bad once it is installed I can replace it myself . We have had it for 4 years . They really are worth looking into .
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Old 02-05-2017, 09:11 AM   #20
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We have a tankless, and agree with previous posts that the only benefit I see is that there is endless hot water. They are much more complicated than a standard water heater, and if you have hard or dirty water, can be a pain to maintain. Hard water will coat the servos and thermocouples with calcium and other deposits that need to be cleaned via purging the system with CLR or vinegar once a year or more. I recently had to learn the complicated system, trouble shoot error codes, to find a severely coated Thermocouple that resulted in inaccurate temperature feedback to the computer. This error would shut the hot water off mid shower!!!!! Talk about being pissed off. Would I buy a tankless again---NOPE. They are way too complicated just for heating water.

One more thing. Your average plumber will not know how to trouble shoot the error codes. Only way to do this is look up the manufacturers website, and dig.
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