BUILDING GREEN - Through the many houses and places I've lived in over the years,I've experienced quite a few different hot water systems.Everything from a kettle when I was a fisherman (that was rough),to the solar shower bag and wood stove when I was in the outbackand the more traditional types - electric tank, gas tank andtankless water heaters. I haven't had the pleasure of owning asolar hot water service as yet, but I regularly drool over myneighbor's!
If your hot water service is on its last legs and solar is outof your reach too; consider a tankless water heater.
Traditional tank systems have a couple of major drawbacks -firstly, they tend to wear out in under a decade; so millions ofthese things wind up in landfill annually. Another biggieenvironmentally speaking, not to mention ongoing costs - is energyconsumption. Heating water accounts for over 20% of residentialenergy use in the USA and up to 40% of energy used in Australianhomes.
All that energy has to come from somewhere and usually it's fromfossil fuels (gas) or coal-fired electricity generation. For eachkilowatt of electricity produced from coal, around 1.5 pounds ofcarbon emissions emissions are created. Then there's mercury,nitrous oxide and sulfur and all sorts of other toxic goodiesthrown in as well.
The energy hog aspect of tank based hot water systems is due tothe fact that much of the time they are cycling on and off tomaintain water temperature. While you can reduce/retard the amountof heat escaping using a water heater blanket; you (and theenvironment) is basically paying for heating water that you aren'tusing at that moment - this is called standby heat loss.
Additionally, each time you use the hot water, cold water isflowing into the tank which lowers the temperature of water thathad been heated; therefore even more energy is then required forreheating.
The tankless water heater
Tankless water systems work very differently by heating water ondemand. A tankless hot water service applies heat directly to thepipe after being automatically activated when a hot water valve isopened. Once engaged, the heater delivers a constant supply of hotwater. Tankless water heaters are continuing to gain popularity andnow account for over 50% of all the new domestic systems installedin Britain.
Tankless hot water savings
While the initial outlay for a tankless water heater can bedouble the cost of a standard tank water heater - sometimes more;it should pay for itself in just a few years or less. The hardwareshould also last twice as long as a tank system. The average familycan expect to save between 30 and 50% on water heating relatedenergy bills each year. Both these points make it not only good foryour wallet to switch to a tankless system, but good for theenvironment too.
Disadvantages of tankless
Aside from the initial cost, there are a few other commondisadvantages of a tankless system.
a) Tankless systems are somewhat limited in the quantity of hotwater that can be produced simultaneously. I don't remember thisbeing an issue with the gas tankless system that we had in our lasthouse (family of four).
b) I've read reports that hot water can take longer to reachfaucets that are some distance away from the unit. Again, this issomething I didn't experience with our system.
Something very important to check into if you're replacing anexisting system is if your plumbing, gas/electricity systems arecompatible with a tankless setup. While there are energy savings inusing a tankless, they do use a lot of energy in a short space oftime in order to produce "instant" hot water. This may mean some(expensive) modifications are required to your hourse - so it'sbest to get professional advice from a plumber first beforepurchasing.
Unless your current water heater is a voracious energy hog;given that a tankless system isn't cheap; consider keeping it untilthe end of its service life. There's plenty of other things you cando around your home to minimize environmental impact in themeantime.
Something else I noticed when researching this article is thatwithin the water heating industry, there's definite sides - thosein the industry who love tankless and those who seem to absolutelyhate it. Reading some of the debates was a bit like readingarguments between car lovers over different manufacturers. Myadvice is that if you are considering replacing your hot waterservice with a tankless system - make the plumber you consult isnot prejudiced either way so you'll get a balanced professionalview of what's best in your circumstances.
Source: Michael Bloch |
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