What's the Difference Between a Tank and Tankless Water Heater?

saving money on water - Mr. Plumber by Metzler & Hallam

Tank vs. tankless water heaters – that’s the big question Indianapolis homeowners must ask when it’s time to replace their home water heating system. For decades, the tank style water heater was the go-to choice for Central Indiana homeowners, but over the past few, tankless models have grown in popularity.

There is no one right answer to the tank vs. tankless water heaters question – the right solution for your Indianapolis area home’s needs depends on a number of factors unique to your household. To help you make a well-informed purchase decision, our Indianapolis plumbers take a look at tank vs. tankless water heaters – read on as we tell you a bit about both styles and compare the two on multiple criteria important to homeowners.

No matter what side of the tank vs. tankless water heaters question you come out on, Mr. Plumber of Indianapolis is here to help! Talk with our licensed plumbers to learn more about how each style of water heater is suited to meet your family’s needs. Turn to Mr. Plumber for skilled and safe installation for any hot water system – tank vs. tankless water heaters, no matter what you choose, we have you covered!

About Tank Water Heaters

When you think water heater, your mind most likely envisions the tank style – this is what homeowners are usually familiar with, as they have been used in area homes for many years. Tank water heaters are also referred to as traditional water heaters or conventional water heaters for the same reason – the tank style is what more people are used to.

This style of water heater gets its name from its most recognizable feature – the tank! Tank water heaters have a storage tank that holds heated water so it is ready for use when a shower, hot wash cycle, or faucet calls for it in the home. Most residential tank water heaters have a capacity of 30 to 50 gallons. They are powered by gas or electricity in most Indianapolis homes.

About Tankless Water Heaters

When it comes to tank vs. tankless water heaters, the two equipment types couldn’t be more different when it comes to the tank element. A tankless water heater does not have a holding tank – did the name give it away? Instead of keeping a reserve of hot water, a tankless water heater simply warms water to the desired temperature whenever hot water applications in the home demand it.

Because of this, you sometimes hear a tank water heater referred to as an on-demand water heater. These water heaters are also commonly powered by gas or electricity.

Comparison of Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters

With the basics of how tank vs. tankless water heaters work, you are able to see these models have some distinct differences. Now, let’s take a look at what these differences mean to homeowners on the factors that matter most when you need to purchase a new water heater.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters: Installation

Tank vs. tankless water heaters – which one do you imagine is bigger? If you said a tank water heater, you’re right. The tank volume of a tank model water heater clearly needs some space. If you have a 30-gallon tank water heater, imagine the space needed to store 30 gallons of milk, or 6 5-gallon jugs of drinking water!

A tank model water heater needs some room for installation. Most tank water heaters have a base diameter of two to three feet, with the tank extending up vertically four to five feet – these are approximate sizes, the actual size depends on the model and capacity of tank water heater you choose. So, for the tank water heater alone, you need several square feet of available space for installation – plus a possible few more inches away from walls to accommodate plumbing lines.

Tankless water heaters on the other hand are much smaller because there is no need for space to hold heated water. These water heaters are much smaller, and many models are installed directly on walls with no floor space required!

The choice between tank vs. tankless water heaters when installation space is limited is clear. A tankless water heater wins because it needs so much less space, and with the ability to be affixed to a wall, you have the potential to lose zero floor space when you choose this model. While tank water heaters are often installed in out of the way spaces, like utility closets or in a basement, they still consume square footage that would otherwise be available for different uses in your home.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters: Energy Efficiency

Both tank vs. tankless water heaters use an efficiency measure known as EF, which stands for energy factor. This rates the unit’s total energy efficiency for amount of hot water it produces for every unit of energy it consumes in a day.

Water heater efficiency involves a few energy factors, including:

  • Recovery efficiency: This is the efficiency of how heat from the water heater’s energy source is transferred to the water it warms.
  • Standby loss: Standby losses concern tank water heaters, and this measure covers how much heat is lost each hour from water stored in the tank compared to the water’s heat content.
  • Cycling losses: Cycling loss concerns the amount of heat lost from hot water as it circulates through the water heater as well as the inlet and outlet plumbing pipes of the unit.

As mentioned, a tank water heater holds hot water for whenever you need to use it. This means it keeps water hot throughout the day, so energy is constantly consumed to maintain the temperature of water held in the tank. This means more cycling losses due to more operation to keep water warmed, as well as standby losses as water sits in the tank. Insulation of the storage tank and inlet/outlet piping is a common DIY project that helps you cut standby heat losses.

Tankless water heaters are typically more efficient than tank style water heaters, so if energy efficiency is what you base your tank vs. tankless water heaters decision on, tankless is your top choice. According to the Department of Energy, tankless water heaters can be 24 to 34 percent more efficient than tank models. Of course, high efficiency tank water heaters are available, so there are more energy efficient options available if you want to go tank model.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters: Cost

If price is your deciding factor on tank vs. tankless water heaters, you want to go tank model. Tank water heaters cost as little as around $1,000 to buy and have installed, depending on the model (higher efficiency models cost more than lower-rated units). On the other hand, installation of a tankless water heater runs a homeowner a few thousand dollars – the units are more expensive and installation can be a more involved process, especially if you switch from a tank to tankless water heater.

As far as fuel source goes for tank vs. tankless water heaters, gas models usually are more expensive than electric models of both water heater types. Gas water heaters are almost always cheaper to operate than electric models, because gas utility prices are typically lower than electric utility prices. But, if you don’t already have gas lines installed in your home, a gas model, whether it be tank vs. tankless water heaters, may not be cost effective once you figure in the expense of gas line installation.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters: Service Life

Tank water heaters deliver an average of 10 to 15 useful years. Tankless water heaters give homeowners an average service life between 20 to 30 years. Keep in mind that water heater maintenance and the hardness of your home’s water effect water heater service life.

While a tank model is likely cheaper to install, expect to replace it twice when you’d likely only need to replace a tankless water heater once. Depending on the price of tank vs. tankless water heaters, the extra replacement expenses and hassle of a tank water heater may not be worth it to you.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters: Comfort

No one wants to be left without hot water when you turn on the shower or need to wash dishes – with a tank water heater, that is a very real possibility. The tank only holds so much hot water, and once it runs out due to use in other areas of the home, you are left to wait for it to refill. An upgrade to a larger tank model solves this issue for many households, but larger capacity units do have a higher initial cost.

While the issue of running out of hot water is real, the advantage to a tank water heater is that multiple hot water applications are accommodated at the same time. Run both showers in the home, do a load of hot water laundry while you run the dishwasher – as long as the tank holds enough hot water for each application, each application receives the same temperature water (not accounting for heat loss as water travels different distances through plumbing).

Tankless water heaters don’t store hot water, they create it when you call for it. When you run more than one hot water application at the same time, one typically receives lower temperatures than the other. If you try to take a shower while the washing machine runs, you may not be as comfortable as you like. 

The answer to the tank vs. tankless water heaters question on comfort comes down to how your household consumes hot water. If you’re in a small household where hot water use is easily staggered, a tankless water heater is a fine choice. In larger households with more simultaneous hot water demands, a larger capacity tank style water heater is often a smart choice.

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters with Mr. Plumber

Tank vs. tankless water heaters are a big decision for Indianapolis homeowners – your choice impacts how long your new water heater is projected to serve your home, how comfortable you’ll be with hot water consumption, and costs, both installation and operation-wise.

Mr. Plumber helps Indianapolis homeowners make the right call on tank vs. tankless water heaters. We evaluate your home and needs, and discuss your options so you are able to make an informed decision. Once you decide between tank vs. tankless water heaters, we supply you with high-quality equipment as well as skilled installation to get your new water heater in service right away.

For installation as well as information on tank vs. tankless water heaters, call Mr. Plumber of Indianapolis now!

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