This is What You Need to Know About Tank Water Heaters vs. Tankless

Are you thinking about replacing your old water heater, upgrading to a more efficient one, or choosing the best unit for your new home? A question we often hear from Denver-area clients like you is whether to install a traditional tank water heater or a tankless water heater.

Not sure the difference between a tank water heater and a tankless one? We’ll compare the two types of units so that you’ll be more prepared when it comes time to choose the best water heater for your home. After all, it’s an investment you’ll be living with for probably ten years or more, so it’s smart to weigh all your options. Keep reading to learn more!

(And while you’re at it, check out our ultimate guide to all things water heater-related: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Your Water Heater.)

Tankless Water Heaters vs. Tank Water Heaters

You’re probably familiar with the traditional tank water heater. They’re a common sight in a lot of garages and utility closets. Tank water heaters heat 30 to 50 gallons of hot water all at once and store it in an insulated tank until you need the hot water for your sinks, showers, and other appliances.

A more space-efficient, cost-effective, and energy-efficient alternative is a tankless water heater. Using gas or electricity, tankless water heaters rapidly heat your water as it moves through a heat exchanger. The hot water is delivered through your pipes, directly to your faucets, showers, and other fixtures without first being stored in a tank.

Want a visual? Here’s what the inside of a tankless water heater looks like.

inside of a tankless water heater with the front panel removed looks like the inside of a computer with copper pipes

The inside of a recent tankless water heater installation © High 5 Plumbing

Differences in Efficiency

If you’re looking for a more cost-effective, energy-efficient water heater, a high-efficiency tank water heater will certainly perform better for you than a standard-efficiency tank water heater.

But let’s take things a step further. Tankless water heaters are more efficient than all tank water heaters—by a long shot. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “for homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, demand [tankless] water heaters can be 24%–34% more energy efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters.”

What does that mean for your monthly energy bill?

Here’s what you can expect to save over the lifetime of your high-efficiency water heater, according to Energy Star:

  • High-efficiency storage (tank) water heaters: up to $500

  • On-demand (tankless) water heaters: up to $1,800

While the up-front cost of a tankless water heater may be more than that of a tank water heater, a tankless unit will save you more money over time on your energy bills. Tankless units also produce fewer carbon emissions, so they’re better for the environment.

Consider Your Space and Water Needs

Are you tight on space? Is your water heater in a more conspicuous area of your home? If so, you might prefer the more minimalist look of a tankless water heater. The low-profile design is a great space saver, and it’s an attractive alternative to a larger hot water tank.

Additionally, tankless water heaters provide endless hot water because they heat your water as you need it. You’ll never have to worry about running out of hot water mid-shower again!

Customer Story: Gas Tankless Water Heater Installation

One of our customers requested that we install a gas tankless water heater in their home earlier this year. We had to disconnect and remove the old unit. Then we capped the gas and water lines in their crawl space that supplied the old water heater.

newly installed tankless water heater; a small silver box is mounted to wall with pipes running through floorboards

The tankless replacement unit also got a new home! © High 5 Plumbing

Once we’d run water and gas piping to the customer’s preferred new location, we installed the tankless unit. We were even able to run the venting for this unit to the exterior of the home via the existing hole for the water heater vent, minimizing costs for the customer!

two white PVC pipes exit the roof of a home for water heater venting; they run straight up for about two feet and then curve

Gas venting utilizing existing water heater vents © High 5 Plumbing

There are just a couple drawbacks to choosing a tankless water heater if yours is gas-powered.

There are restrictions on where a tankless water heater can be installed because all gas water heaters require exterior venting; your tankless unit may require additional venting. As such, installation of a tankless unit can be expensive if the required venting is not immediately available.

Customer Story: Upgrade from Tanked to Tankless

One of our clients, Andrew, had a 50-gallon, two-vent power-vent tank water heater. He wanted to replace it with a tankless water heater system.

Our technician drained Andrew’s old water heater, then disconnected the vents, the water lines, and the gas. Once the heater was drained, he removed the unit from the home.

To prep the area for the new tankless water heater, the tech moved the water line, the gas and the vents to the desired location of the new heater. Then, he installed the new tankless water heater and connected the gas, the water lines and the vents.

After turning the water on to test the system and cleaning up the work area, our tech’s installation was complete!

Here’s the before-and-after of Andrew’s water heater setup:

before-and-after graphic featuring a client’s old tank water heater and the new tankless replacement that was installed

© High 5 Plumbing

On the other hand, if space isn’t an issue, a tank water heater might be right for you. Depending on how much hot water your family needs, you can even upgrade from a smaller tank water heater to a larger one.

Just remember that your hot water supply is limited to the size of your unit. If your family typically uses a lot of hot water all at once (like showering while running the dishwasher and washing machine), you stand the chance of running out of hot water.

Related: Are You Tired of Waiting on Hot Water?

Customer Story: Upgrade to a Larger Unit

Below is a before-and-after of a recent installation. This customer upgraded from an old 40-gallon tank to a 50-gallon tanked water heater system.

before-and-after of a client’s upgraded tank water heater, from smaller and old to larger and new

Out with the old, and in with the new! © High 5 Plumbing

Maintenance Needs

Tank water heaters need less maintenance than tankless water heaters.

If you choose a tanked unit:

  • Flush the unit annually

  • Replace the anode rod every one to three years

If you choose a tankless unit:

  • Flush the unit annually

  • Use a descaling solution during the flush

  • Clean your inducer motor

For a complete guide to keeping your water heater in great shape (no matter the type), check out Everything You Need to Know About Water Heater Maintenance.

Trust the Professionals

Choosing the right water heater for your home can be a tricky process. We always recommend you have your water heater installed by one of our experienced certified technicians.

Customer Story: Leaky Unit in a Tight Space

technician Caleb shares an “air five” with client Ken; both wear face masks

One of our technicians, Caleb, recently installed a new tank water heater for our client, Ken, whose old water heater had sprung a leak. Water was spraying from the top of the old unit and needed to be replaced.

You can see from the photo below that sometimes, space is tight!

a tank water heater installed in a very tight closet space with little room for maneuvering

© High 5 Plumbing

Quick Recap

Here’s a brief review of how tankless and tank water heaters compare.

Tankless water heaters:

  • Provide endless hot water (but not on demand)

  • Need more maintenance

  • Have restrictions on where they can be installed due to gas venting requirements

  • Can be expensive to install if the required venting is not immediately available

  • Save you money over time on energy bills

  • Produce fewer carbon emissions

  • Are smaller and take up much less space

Tank water heaters:

  • Are less efficient than tankless water heaters

  • More affordable (up front) than tankless water heaters

  • Take up more space than tankless water heaters

  • Do not provide an endless supply of hot water

While the decision to install a tank water heater or tankless water heater is ultimately up to you, we’re happy to assess your current situation and help you choose the water heater that’s best for you.

We will say that if your current setup allows, going tankless is an extremely popular upgrade. We get a lot of requests to replace tanked units with tankless ones based on all the benefits they provide.

Our customers love that their tankless systems can often pay for themselves in savings (when compared to a tank water heater). Plus, tankless is the more environmentally friendly option! What’s not to love?

We’d say that’s worthy of a High 5!

Request an Estimate Today!

At High 5 Plumbing, our trustworthy, reliable experts can help you select the perfect water heater system for your home. Call us today at 720-330-4868 or contact us online to get your expert estimatefair and honest every time!

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