I apologize up front that there are no pretty pictures of flowers, beautiful wood work, or hot water heaters to make this more enticing. Hopefully you'll still find it informative.
After several weeks of researching info about tankless hot water systems, my research seems to be going nowhere. Oh, I’ve gathered a lot of information and I know a lot more now than I did a month ago about tankless hot water systems but I haven’t gotten any closer to deciding to actually install one in my home. The long-term savings are obvious. It will be cheaper to run on a day to day basis but what about the up front costs. How do I get a handle on those?
“Who would be dumb enough to install a tank system these days?”
That’s a paraphrase of a question I heard someone blurt out at a USGBC Residential Green Building Committee last week. Of course, isn’t that a logical question? If you have the opportunity to save money on your energy costs AND have the federal government subsidize some of the cost of installation, why not? The response is difficult. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that it is hard to get a solid estimate on what it will cost to install the tankless system. The obvious costs are the cost of the water heater and the labor to install it. The costs get fuzzy from there. The next cost is a new gas line because in older homes, the tiny bungalow included, the gas pressure is not great enough for these units. How much is that? Well, it varies, depending on size and location in the house.
Next up on the cost checklist is the exhaust. Currently the hot water heater vents out the chimney. This isn’t recommended for new models because the heat is a lot greater and there is better chance for condensation and moisture issues in the chimney. I could get a liner for the chimney but God knows what that will cost. In lieu of this, you can vent out the side of the house or “direct vent”. Ooops! You can’t actually do that at the tiny bungalow because the house is six feet from the lot line and by code, you are required to have twelve. I guess we could vent out the back of the house but the vent pipe is pricey and this would be a pretty long run, if it is possible. On top of that, we may want to put on a rear addition in the relatively near future so you figure out what problems there are in that. Either way, we’ll have to get a cost for the venting.
“That’s great; you can take advantage of the tax break”
The up side of putting in this system is that there are some monetary incentives from the government and local utilities. The first rebate comes from People’s Gas. Actually, it comes from the folks that pay to People’s Gas and since I pay People’s Gas, I am actually giving this rebate to myself, right? The program is called the Chicagoland Natural Gas Savings Program. From this program, I will likely get a $400.00 rebate. The heater I am looking at costs roughly $1100 so it would actually only cost me only $700.00 after the rebate.
The second incentive we have is a 30% cost of installation and heater up to $1,500.00 from the federal government. Again, I am getting the money from me, since I pay taxes to the federal government but I won’t belabor the point. How much do I spend up front then? I have no clue due to the lack of clarity on cost of the items under the first section. For fun, let’s say that the gas line install costs $1,300 and the venting costs me an additional $500. Throw the $1,100 for the heater and a day’s labor of $500 and the total comes to $3,400 for the new tankless heater. Take off the 30% and that drops the price to $2,380. Subtract the $400 and we are at a grand total of $1,980. Now let’s pretend that I have two thousand bucks to spend on a water heater…
“We stopped installing them because the service callbacks got to be too much”
Yes, a local plumber actually said this to me. Could you possibly hear anything more disconcerting from a plumber? Well, maybe, “you’ll be without water for a month while we re-route your water service” might be worse. The point is that these systems are not without their problems. I’ve spoken with four people with such systems. I know, not a staggering number but its not like there are a ton of you out there but it is all I could get. Only one person has had a practically flawless experience with tankless systems. I have to add that that this person also has a solar pre-heat on their system and they are mechanically inclined so installation, upkeep, repairs, etc. are all done by the owner. I don’t have such luck or time or patience.
The most common problem is that you have to run the water a little bit before it gets hot. I don’t consider this a problem unless I am concerned about water conservation (which I am). Oh, by the way, there is a cure for this, a recirculating pump, but I am tired of adding things onto my install bill so I won’t be getting one. Some folks have experienced a drop in water temp when more than one person showers. That won’t be an issue either, since that rarely occurs at the Tiny Bungalow. I guess when it comes down to it; there are not many “cons” that I can’t deal with if I could get my head around the cost a bit more. Of course, it would be great to hear several more glowing reports from people with their own tankless systems (and I don’t want to hear that you have a solar pre-heat) but I don’t expect that to happen. If anyone has more light to shed, I'd love to hear the comments.
Right now, I am still leaning towards an Energy Star rated tank system and am very sad about that. I very much want to put my money where my mouth is on this issue but it just doesn’t seem possible as I can’t handle the initial cost. I have a plumber coming by to walk through all of this once more on Friday. Let’s hope that the meeting goes well. Regardless, I should have more to say on the subject so stay tuned.