Tank vs. tankless heaters: Why tankless is not always the best choice

When it comes time to rent or buy a new home or to make smart renovations to your current home, it may feel like you have a million decisions to make. What type of flooring should you pick? What is more important to have in your kitchen: more space or nicer finishes? With all of the cosmetic choices, it’s easy to overlook practical decisions like what type of water heater to choose.

A water heater can impact your life more than you realize, though. You probably know what it’s like to be in the middle of taking a shower, hair covered with shampoo, and all of the sudden the water turns freezing cold. If you have a large family or several roommates living under one roof, some of you may even have to schedule showers around the hot water supply. Your water heater can also affect your utility bills, and maybe even your home storage and decor choices (“I want to use this space in my kitchen, but there’s a giant water heater located there”).

Because tankless water heaters — including the Heatworks Model 3 — are known for being efficient and smaller in terms of their size, many people think tankless is always better. But, in some cases, tankless is not the best way to go, and a tank water heater is a more prudent choice, especially when there are devices like Sunnovation’s Aquanta available. Check out our guide on tank vs. tankless water heaters for everything you need to know.

Looking to upgrade your home? We’ve also put together guides outlining the best dishwashersbest refrigerators, and best dryers, along with other appliances.

Tank Storage Water Heaters

tank vs tankless water heaters 67037021  heater in bathroom

Price with installation: Varies widely depending on the type, size, and the specifics of your home. Home advisor reports the average cost for a 40- to 50-gallon tank at about $900.

Installation: Tank water heaters (or traditional water heaters) are relatively easy to install, and installation typically only takes a few hours. You generally have to install a tank water heater indoors as they cannot tolerate harsh weather conditions. People often choose inconspicuous locations like closets or garages to install them. However, in older homes especially, you may find a tank water heater in a kitchen. The tanks come in electric, natural gas, and propane models. The gas models will still work during a power outage.

Lifespan: Between 10 and 15 years

How they work: Tank water heaters typically hold between 20 and 80 gallons of hot water (around 120 degrees Fahrenheit) in a storage tank. They are fairly large and require a bit of space within your home. But, if you manage to deplete what is in the tank, you have to wait until your water heater produces more hot water.

According to Home Depot, the chart below can help you determine how big of a tank water heater you need for your household.

Household Size Tank Size
1-2 26-36 Gallons
2-4 36-46 Gallons
3-5 46-56 Gallons
5 or More 56 or More Gallons

Benefits:

  • More affordable upfront cost
  • Easy installation
  • Tried and true system
  • In an emergency, you have a fresh water supply in the tank
  • You can often install an electric tank water heater without making major changes to your home’s electrical system or purchasing expensive additional equipment

Drawbacks:

  • Energy waste from “standby loss.” That is, the energy you waste on keeping a tank full of hot water at all times.
  • Shorter lifespan
  • If the heater malfunctions, gallons of water could leak or escape from the tank
  • If you empty the tank, you have to wait for more hot water

Who should buy a tank water heater: If you have a timeline or budget constraints that prevent you from getting a tankless system, a tank heater may be the way to go. If your home runs strictly on electricity, you have to carefully consider whether going tankless is really worth it. The average household capacity is around 200 amps, which may not be enough to support a tankless electric heater. If you have gas, you have to factor in the costs of venting systems and additional gas lines. According to Energystar.gov, a tankless water heater is probably going to save you (at most) $1,800 over the life of the system. If the extra costs of installing a tankless system are going to outweigh your potential savings, you may want to consider a tank system or a high-efficiency tank system.

The data in the chart below from Energystar.gov compares the energy and cost savings on the various types of water heaters.

Type of Water Heater Energy Savings vs. Minimum Standards Expected Energy Savings Over Equipment Lifetime
High-Efficiency Tank Systems 10 to 20 percent up to $500
Tankless (Gas or Electric) 45 to 60 percent up to $1,800
Heat Pump 65 percent (compared to electric resistance) up to $900
Solar With Electric Backup 70 to 90 percent up to $2,200
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