Tankless Water Heater Maintenance
Efficiency and saving money are practices anyone can get behind. A common instance where those practices get overlooked is with your water heater.
Banned to the back of a closet or basement, your water heater gives you hot water but is it wasting your money?
While that’s not always the case, just to be sure, we’re covering all water heater bases — from different types to maintenance and replacement.
We’ll break it all down here. Even if you know nothing about plumbing or think “sump pump” is something that happens in the clubs, you’ll learn water heater basics (and may even save some money in the process).
4 Different Types of Water Heaters
Tank, tankless, heat pump, solar …
Do you know what kind of water heater is in your home?
Tanks, or conventional water heaters, used to be the most popular. They range in size from 30 to 75 gallons. Typically, the larger the house, the larger the water heater.
These are the popular choice because they are inexpensive and perform well in all climates.
The downside to these water heaters is if you live in a large household and someone uses all the hot water. If multiple appliances are running simultaneously, you may have to wait for the water in the tank to heat up again before taking a bubble bath.
Traditional tanks last 10 to 15 years. Sometimes when they fail, they end up causing extensive water damage to the floor, walls, and personal property as they flood your home.
Warming up the water and keeping it hot also wastes energy (i.e., money).
Tankless water heaters deliver hot water on demand. This means no more running the faucet and feeling guilty for wasting all that water while you wait for it to heat up.
Tankless water heaters are smaller, taking up much less space than a water tank. Plus, the energy efficiency of a tankless heater is hard to beat.
One downside to tankless water heaters is that they are more expensive. Further, they have a harder time providing on-demand hot water if running multiple appliances simultaneously.
Heat pump water heaters are also money-saving, using about 60% less energy than conventional tanks. They require less maintenance, yet, most last only ten years or so before you’ll need to replace them.
They only work in certain climates where temperatures range from 40 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need a minimum of 1,000 cubic feet to set up and operate a heat pump safely.
Solar water heaters are an eco-friendly solution and significantly reduce your monthly bill.
Of course, solar is only a viable option if you live in a year-round sunny climate. Additionally, both the units and the installation are expensive and require roof or yard space to prop up the panels.
Benefits of a Tankless Hot Water Heater
Tankless water heaters are an excellent all-around choice since they don’t need a particular climate or a lot of space in order to operate.
They provide on-demand hot water through high-powered burners. The water heats as it passes through a heat exchanger — usually electricity or gas powers tankless water heaters.
You will pay more upfront costs for a tankless unit than a traditional tank, but tankless systems last longer, usually 20 to 30 years.
There’s no getting around it: having hot water on demand is great.
Monthly Cost of Tankless
Homes that use 41 gallons or less of water per day can save 24%-34% more on their monthly utility bill by switching to a tankless system.
Homes that use more than 41 gallons per day can save 8%-14% by ditching their old tank.
Tankless Water Heater Replacement
If you currently have a tank water heater and you’re hoping to replace it — how much does it cost to replace it with a tankless one?
The price for tankless ranges from around $600 to $4,000.
The price depends on:
- Fuel source (whether it’s a natural gas water heater, propane, or electric)
- Flow rate
Assessing your hot water needs will help you decide how much to spend on a tankless water heater.
One way to determine that is to look at your current water heater. If the storage tank can hold 50 gallons, the tankless equivalent would be something that produces seven to ten gallons per minute (GPM).
Factoring in the number of people in your household and appliances that use hot water will help better determine your water heater needs.
Switching from a tank to a tankless water heater is quite an involved process. Since it includes wiring the electric, most people opt to have theirs installed by a plumber. These plumbing services cost anywhere from $800 to $3,500.
Want more home maintenance DIY guides? Check out our article for AC Repair: Your Step-By-Step Troubleshooting Guide for Fixing AC Issues
Steps for Installing Your Tankless Water Heater
As a homeowner, these upfront costs can be a little steep.
It is possible to do most of the installation yourself. We’ve included all the steps — except for the electrical wiring, which you’ll need a licensed electrician to do.
As stated in this DIY installation article by H20 Bungalow, to do the bulk of the work yourself, you will need:
- PVC pipe cutter
- Plumbers tape
- Yellow CPVC glue (indoor rated)
- CPVC pipe (3/4 rated)
- (4) 3/4″ CPVC 90 elbows
- (2) 3/4″ CPVC straight coupling
- (2) 3/4″ CPVC female adapter (metal pc twisted onto heater)
- Shut-off valve 3/4″ brass threaded ball valves (only if you need new ones)
- (2) 3/4″ male adapters (metal)
- Channel-lock wrench
- Garden hose (long enough to reach outside)
- Optional – Transfer pump for sediment at the bottom of the tank. Rather than invest in one, you can rent one for a few dollars per day.
Step 1: Remove Old Tank
Before you do anything, turn off the water heater breaker on your electrical panel and shut down the water line. If it’s gas-powered, turn the gas off.
Once you are sure you’ve disconnected the power from your water heater, disconnect any electrical connections as well.
Next, hook a hose to the bottom of the tank, and allow the water to drain out. Once that’s done, you can unmount and remove it.
Step 2: Mount Your New Tank
Follow the instructions, which should guide you through mounting your particular unit properly. Be sure to leave at least a foot of space around the unit.
Step 3: Connect the Pipes
Use the plumber’s tape and CPVC glue to adhere the CPVC ¾” female metal adapter to your tankless unit’s hot and cold pipes. Use the CPVC pipe to connect your new unit to the existing water pipes in your home.
Use the “elbow,” the 90-degree piece, to help guide the pipes.
Step 4: Call an Electrician
A licensed electrician will be able to connect your unit to the appropriate breakers.
Step 5: Flush the System
Before powering up your new tank, turn on the water and flush the system.
Turn on multiple spigots in the home, open both valves, and let the water run through. This will eliminate any air bubbles and allow you to check for any leaks.
Step 6: Turn on the Unit & Set the Temperature
You’re all set! Turn on your new heater, set the temperature, and take a nice hot shower or relaxing bubble bath.
Tankless Water Heater Maintenance
After investing in your new appliance, you’ll want to ensure you’re doing everything you can to see it through the duration of its lifespan. Here are some preventative measures you can take to guarantee it continues to run well, plus tips for routine maintenance.
If you feel out of your comfort zone with any of this, call a professional plumber who will be able to take care of it for you.
Flush the System
You should flush the system yearly. This is vital, as it prolongs the lifespan of your water heater.
It’s even more crucial if you live in an area with hard water. Calcium and magnesium tend to build up, and the residual mineral deposits can damage the heat exchanger. This may compromise the overall efficiency, and you’ll pay the price when you get a higher energy bill each month.
Even worse, the whole system could fail.
So, how do you flush your tankless system?
You will need:
- A mixture of white vinegar and water (the vinegar dissolves any mineral buildup and is an excellent descaling solution)
- Two short hoses
- A sump-pump
Before you start, turn off all the power to your water heater, and turn off the water supply line to the pump.
Attach the two hoses, and use the sump pump to push the water and vinegar mixture through the system. Once that’s completed, use the same process to pump just water through, rinsing out the rest of the vinegar.
If you don’t own a sump pump or hoses, you can buy a descaling kit from Amazon with all the necessary equipment. All you have to supply is the water and vinegar solution.
Clean the Air Filter
As with any unit that has an air filter, cleaning that filter is necessary to ensure optimal efficiency. Your tankless system is no different.
Some experts recommend doing this every month. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll have a better indication of how fast it gets dirty and can clean it accordingly.
Remove the air filter. If you’re unsure how there are a ton of YouTube videos that will walk you through the process.
Clean the filter with a soapy water solution, using a sponge or soft brush to remove debris. Rinse and allow it to dry thoroughly before slipping it back in place.
Cleaning the Water Filter
The water filter keeps sediment and other bits from flowing through, doing its best to ensure you only get clean water. Locate where the water filter is on your tank — an easy way to do this is to search your tank by model online.
Before removing it, ensure you cut off the water supply to your heater. You can use soapy water, or if it isn’t too bad, wipe it down with a cloth.
Too much buildup on the filter can compromise its efficiency and may even cause it to fail prematurely.
Common Problems with Tankless Water Heaters
As with any appliance, there are still things that can hamper the unit that may require maintenance. Some may be easy to spot, such as turning on the hot water faucet and being blasted with ice-cold water.
Others may appear slowly over time.
Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Flame or Ignition Failure
Check to make sure there’s still propane in your tank and that none of the valves have been accidentally shut off.
Flame failure usually points to an electrical problem or an issue with the gas pressure. In cases such as these, it’s best to contact the manufacturer’s technical support. They should be able to walk you through some troubleshooting steps and, if that doesn’t work, point you in the direction of help.
As mentioned before, most tankless water heaters are not multitaskers. You don’t want to have a load going in the washing machine and decide it’s time for a shower or bath at the same time.
How to Lower Your Energy Bill Without Replacing Your Water Heater
If your tank water heater is working fine and you’re not ready to upgrade to a tankless just yet, you can save a little money by adjusting the thermostat to a lower temperature. It will still heat water; it just won’t be quite as scorching — and it will save money on your energy bill by not having to work so hard to keep the water hot.
On average, for every 10 degrees you lower your water heater temperature, you’ll save 5% on your energy bill.
So, there you have it: a newfound understanding of water heaters.
Knowledge is power, and if your current tank starts to fail, you’re more likely to catch it early — or prevent it from happening. Now, you probably have a better idea of what you’d like to replace it with too.
All of which is great – it will save you from landing in hot water.