During one of our last remodeling projects we had the Perfect Storm for change: a desire for lower energy bills, a need for more space, and bad pipes.
Our house was built in 1954 and then updated in the mid-70s. That modernization effort happened 30 some years before we moved in. On our first walk-through before we bought the house we got to see what happens when a burnt orange 1970’s Sear’s makeover is mashed up with Mallard Duck wallpaper borders, Pepto-Bismo pink paint, and bright yellow saloon doors. In a word, “blech.”
The guest bath had a wallpaper print with drawings of toilets of every shape and size done in an aged, antiquey kind of style. Words cannot describe my glee upon finally removing it. If this is something you like I don’t mean to be offensive, it’s just really not my style. At all.
As horrific as the decorating appeared, our house was functionally in a worse state of repair than the interior design. Every major system needed to be rebuild, which for budget reasons we did when they failed.
Our galvanized steel pipes were so corroded that barely a trickle of nasty orange water would dribble out of the tap, and there was no such thing as “hot” water. And in our 1,100 square foot house I started to eye the 4×4′ water heater closet as potential usable space.
When the plumbing failed we decided to make the change. For us this meant relocating the heater to an outside wall and re-piping the house for this new configuration.
Here’s what I would do differently.
- Our only ‘unused’ wall is on the opposite side of the house from where the kitchen ended up in the next remodel, so the hot water takes longer than it should to get to the kitchen. As with any type of water heater, make sure to put it in the most central location. We’re now considering putting a small, tankless, electric water heater under the sink.
- There were NO rebates when we bought ours. Recently I heard our utility company is offering rebates on this kind of upgrade. Take every rebate you can get because it can take a real investment to be more sustainable.
- Our unit was at least twice as expensive as the new tankless heaters, but it was still the least expensive in it’s class at the time. We have frequent hot water anomalies like the temperature changing when the water pressure drops from a flushed toilet or someone turning on the tap. Don’t go cheap, this is a long term investment.
- The side of our house with the heater also has both bathrooms, so having two heaters to eliminate the ‘travel’ may ultimately be best for us. Your house may work better with multiple units, or you might start by having just some of your interior services handled by a tankless.
- The heater is directly behind the headboard of our bed, and the “instant on” gas heating system can be just loud enough to wake me up. It makes just a small noise, but if you can avoid it, don’t put the heater next to your head where it’s amplified by the wall cavity.
When you consider all the variables of this project, like piping for the natural gas, location for the device, and unit sizing for proper hot water delivery, this is the kind of project where it’s worth consulting an expert. Never feel like an eco-dummy when you need help, especially when you’re working on improvements and you’re going to give someone some business.
Having said all this, I would gladly do it all over again.
Nearly instant hot water in the shower and lower utility bills are things that can go together. And if I was making the decision today, I’d be able to add to that the potential rebates, lower cost, hot water that doesn’t run out, higher quality and smaller size heater, net-net this should be a no-brainer for eco conscious folks looking to make the change.
Tankless Water Heater Revisited by Brad Rowland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.