Which Type of Water Heater is Best for Your Home?

tankless water heater

Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters

Which type of water heater would be best for your home? Tank (sometimes also called “storage”) or tankless?

As it turns out, the answer is not that simple. There is no one right choice—the best selection for your home depends on several variables specific to your household and hot water needs.

This blog is a comparison of storage water heaters and tankless water heaters to help homeowners and contractors decide which type of water heater is best for their specific situation and needs. Specifically, we cover:

  • What a tank water heater is
  • What a tankless water heater is
  • How the two types of water heaters compare in terms of:
    • Cost
    • Energy savings
    • Hot water usage
    • Equipment life
    • Installation restrictions
    • Advantages and disadvantages

Tank Water Heaters

Because tank water heaters have been around for so many years, this is the type of water heater most people think of when they think of water heaters at all. (Of course, we at Ongaro and Sons think about water heaters all the time.) It is also why tank water heaters are also called conventional or traditional water heaters.

It is called a tank water heater because it stores heated water in a tank for use as needed. Tank sizes typically range from 30 to 75 gallons. They can be as tall as five feet or taller and two feet wide or wider. The size you need depends on your household size and hot water demands. Even the smaller sizes take up space; these are not small appliances. Which is why tank heaters are commonly installed in basements, utility closets and garages. 

Tank water heaters are powered by either electricity or gas to heat water at a set desired temperature. To have heated water available on-demand at any time, a water heater is always on, consuming energy around the clock.

Ever wonder why you sometimes have a cold shower, usually after someone has taken a hot one before or during yours? That is because the tank was drained of all the hot water. Until water in the tank can be reheated to the proper temperature, your shower is not going to get any hotter. This does not improve energy efficiency.

Tankless Water Heaters

To improve energy efficiency, tankless water heaters employ newer technology to heat water and deliver it as soon as you open a faucet. Which is why they are sometimes called on-demand heaters. Since they do not need to hold heated water in reserve, no tank is required. 

No tank means it does not take up a lot of space. So, they can be installed on a wall where other household appliances are kept, such as a laundry room, or even in a closet.

Like tank water heaters, tankless water heaters are powered by either electricity or gas. Unlike tank water heaters, they only heat as needed and consequently consume less energy.

Comparing Tank vs. Tankless Water Heaters

So why would you use one type of water heater as opposed to another? Here are the factors to consider:

1. Initial Cost

Whether tank or tankless, gas heaters generally cost more than electric.  Overall, tankless water heaters cost more upfront than a tank water heater, because it uses newer technology to heat on demand.

2. Energy Savings

While tankless water heaters cost more upfront, that savings is recovered with lower utility costs due to increased energy savings. Of course, actual cost savings depend on how the tankless water heater is used.

Keep in mind that some tank water heaters are more energy-efficient than others due to better insulation and more efficient components.  A high-efficiency tank water heater uses up to 8 percent less energy to do its job versus lower efficiency options. 

Overall, however, a tankless water heater saves more energy and has lower operating costs.

On average, a tankless water heater (if installed correctly) can save up to 30 percent off of heating costs because they only heat water when you’re using it. 

3. Hot Water Usage

You might think that because tankless water heaters deliver hot water on demand, cold showers are now a thing of the past. Alas, not necessarily. If you have several people taking a shower at the same time, or other appliances are running that are drawing hot water, a tankless water heater can be output challenged and there might not be adequate hot water. If this is likely to be more typical than not, you may need multiple tankless water heaters, which of course drives up the cost compared to a tank water heater. Although, of course, even the largest tank water heater might still be insufficient to provide sufficient hot water in this scenario.

Then in situations where it is common to run more than one hot water application at a time, tank water heaters are typically recommended. If it is the case where rarely more than one hot water application is simultaneously in use, a tankless water heater does simply fine comfort-wise.

4. Equipment Life

According to Bob Vila, a traditional tank-type water heater lasts on average eight to twelve years. A tankless water heater, in comparison, has an operating lifespan of 15 to 20 years, according to Charles Bryant writing in How Stuff Works.

Factors such as maintenance and water hardness affect the service life of both types. 

5. Installation Restrictions

Tank water heaters are bigger and require more space. If space is a primary consideration, tankless options can fit into tight spaces. 

If you install a tankless hot water heater to replace a tank model, installation is a more involved process. Such a retrofit, according to Consumer Reports, “Switching to tankless from a storage tank water heater is no easy swap because it requires a plumbing retrofit and possibly an upgrade to your electric service or gas lines to increase capacity.” 

Of course, when you should consider replacing your water heater depends on several factors.

Consult your plumber for when you know that time has come and what your options may be.

6. Advantages and Disadvantages

Often, water heaters are replaced when they break, which usually requires an emergency call to a plumber. There are several problems that could be caused by a tank water heater when it breaks. One is water damage from flooding caused by leakage from the holding tanks. With a tankless, you are more protected against water damage or worse in the event of equipment failure.

While the initial cost of a tankless water heater is more, they also last longer and have lower operating and energy costs. They also have easily replaceable parts that extend their life by many more years. 

Along with the manufacturer’s warranty, our installation guarantee, and scheduled tune-ups, a new tankless water heater can last you for over twenty years. However, there are many situations where a tank water heater might be the better option. 

Tank water heaters can run out of hot water and may not deliver hot water immediately when called upon. In addition, they may not always be as energy efficient as advertised. 

As with any plumbing or appliance issue, different home situations and needs determine how to weigh these advantages and disadvantages.  Ongaro and Sons plumbers are knowledgeable in all the latest technology and installation techniques of both types of water heaters. When it’s time to maintain, repair or replace your water heater, Ongaro and Sons offers quality service from experienced plumbers who can explain the differences between tank and tankless and help you make the best choice for your home and family.