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11:50 PM Fri, Dec. 14th

Choosing the right water heater

A tank-less water heater, left, installed by The Plumbing Store in a quad-city area resident’s home. At right is a storage water heater sitting outside The Plumbing Store in Prescott.

Courtesy photo

A tank-less water heater, left, installed by The Plumbing Store in a quad-city area resident’s home. At right is a storage water heater sitting outside The Plumbing Store in Prescott.

You don’t have too look far to find polar disagreement when it comes to tank-less water heaters.

“I love tank-less,” said Kim Gagnon, co-owner and manager of The Plumbing Store in Prescott.

“I refuse to work on them,” said Joe Diemert, owner of Miracle Man Plumbing Inc. in Prescott Valley.

Also called instantaneous, continuous flow, inline, flash, on-demand, or instant-on, tank-less water heaters have been around for decades but really only starting picking up speed as a demanded product about six years ago, said Gagnon, who has worked in the plumbing industry about 21 years alongside her husband.

Her business sells and repairs both tank-less and storage water heaters.

The big difference between the two is the price point and energy consumption, she explained.

Where a 50-gallon storage water heater might cost $1,500 to purchase and install, the average tank-less can be about $2,800 or more.

On the flip side, a tank-less doesn’t produce the standby energy losses associated with storage water heaters, which can save money on monthly gas or electric bills.

“A tank-less water heater is 96 percent efficient on up these days,” Gagnon said. “A tank water heater is below 60 percent.”

This is because a storage water heater has a pilot running 24/7 to keep the water continuously hot in the container, whereas a tank-less only heats the water when it’s needed.

Diemert, who has been in the business for 25 years, stopped working on tank-less systems about 10 years ago. He said they were nothing but migraines for him and his customers.

“When I worked on them, it was like working on a bomb,” Diemert said.

He commonly ran into situations where he’d try to fix a customer’s system for a reasonable price, but he couldn’t always guarantee a quick fix.

“Sometimes it can be simple, but sometimes it’s not, and you just don’t have that satisfaction of the plumber saying ‘oh I can fix that and have you up and running’; there’s always that question of whether or not a simple fix is going to do it or whether or not an additional part needs to be ordered,” Diemert said.

Granted, tank-less systems are much more complex and rely heavily on technology working smoothly, but Gagnon said a lot has changed since a decade ago.

“A good tank-less water heater rarely has any problems,” she said.

Longevity also comes into play when comparing storage to tank-less. Tank-less water heaters are projected to last about 20 or more years, whereas tank water heaters more commonly last between 10 and 15 years, according to energy.gov.

“We have seen tank-less water heaters that are over 30 years old and that are still working fine with no problems,” Gagnon said.

The trick to this longevity is having some form of water treatment system in your home, such as a water softener or a descaling system.

“What kills a tank-less water heater is mineral buildup,” Gagnon said.

And no matter where you get your water from in the quad-cities area, Gagnon said you’re going to have what’s referred to as ‘hard water’, or water that has a large amount of dissolved minerals such as calcium, magnesium and manganese in it — soap scum in sinks and bathtubs is a good indicator of this.

Full-scale water softener systems for a home may cost someone about $1,000-to-$1,500 depending on the size of the home, but no matter what system you have, it will prolong the life by about six years, Gagnon said.

A slightly cheaper route to dealing with this ‘hard water’ issue is to put in a pre-filter at the source of the system for about $250-to-$350. Once installed, the filter requires a cartridge change about once a year, which Gagnon said costs about $80-to-$100.

If a filter of some kind is not installed, it’s recommended that the system be flushed out at least five or six times a year.

This can be done by the owner of the system either using a commercial solution or distilled white vinegar. If the owner rather hire a plumber to do the maintenance, it will cost about $200-to-$300 per visit, said Gagnon.

Though it is recommended that standard water heaters also be flushed at least once a year, very few homeowners do this, Diemert said.

“I recommend flushing them out a couple times a year, but it’s not dependent on that as much as tank-less systems are,” he said. “Of course, it can collect sediment over the years, but it won’t affect it as fast and as badly. So even if people do forget to flush it, the results are not as drastic.”

Overall, the general consensus between most sources both online and in person is that if you care about being green, saving energy, having a high tech system that will provide constant hot water and paying a little more to have all of this, then tank-less is the way to go. But if you’re looking for the cheapest deal in town, you can’t quite beat the affordability of a good ol’ boiler.