If you’ve ever had a hot water heater leak or think your heater might be on its last leg, consider replacing it when the time comes with a tankless heater. Lots of homes in our area have hot water heaters on the second story or in an attic – both locations in the home that can sustain major damage if there’s a big leak. Luckily, heater leaks are usually contained to the drain pan they sit on but if you don’t want to take that chance, a tankless heater might be the way to go.

Tankless, or “on-demand” hot water heaters have become more popular in recent years. This is because of their ability to provide a continuous stream of hot water since there is no tank to drain and refill. A tankless heater is a relatively small unit installed near a point of use (such as the bathroom or kitchen). Cold water flows into the unit, passes through a coil heater, and comes out hot in a continuous flow. Very little water is stored inside, just what is in the coil.

Tankless heaters are more energy efficient than traditional tank heaters because they do not have to heat, store, and re-heat water. The California Energy Commission estimates that hot water heaters account for about 20-25% of a household’s energy usage, and tankless systems can cut this almost in half. The heaters themselves also last much longer than a tank heater.

A few disadvantages of tankless heaters include their high initial costs. Typically, tankless heaters can cost up to two to four times as much as a tank heater, plus they have a higher installation price tag. Another negative is that there may be a more noticeable delay in getting hot water to flow from the faucet. Not only does the cold water stored in the pipes have to come out, but the heater is turned on by recognizing the water flow, so it takes another one to three seconds for the system to begin functioning.

A tankless water heating system might be right for you if you can afford the higher up-front costs and wait for the energy cost savings down the road (tankless systems have almost double the lifespan of tank heaters, too). Tankless systems are also great for larger families who use hot water in multiple locations at the same time.