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Traditional or Tankless, You’ll Eventually Need a New Hot Water Tank

Apr 26, 2016 | Plumbing Advice

Choosing a water heater can be a moving target depending on the type of water heating needs you have. However, if you’re asking me who makes the best conventional water heater, I’m going to toss in the towel and say I don’t have an answer to that question.

Conventional tank water heaters all seem to perform about the same in terms of thermal efficiency ratings, recovery and how long the tank lasts. What I look for when replacing or upgrading a residential water heater is whether or not it’s up to current code and the specific needs of the household.

In your traditional San Francisco home, you likely have the traditional tank-style water heater. And one thing you can bank on is that water heater will break. It’s by design that modern water heaters rupture. And by modern, we’re talking about those manufactured after the 1950s — which narrows it down to almost all water heaters in existence.

Each of these modern tanks features a glass lining inside the metal exterior, and when that goes you’ll most likely see rust-colored water come out of the faucet. This is a sign from the Plumbing Gods that the water heater is on its way out.

This is a good time to begin conducting research for a replacement. It’s also an opportunity to look at floor plan options. For instance, if your water heater is located in your kitchen or back porch, you might want to have it moved. And believe me when I say a surprising number of flats in San Francisco feature water heaters shoved into a kitchen or cramping the style of an attached porch.

Here are three reasons why you should consider moving the tank:

  1. The potential for exposure to carbon monoxide gases.
  2. The likelihood there is no pan or drain under your existing water tank, which means liquid chaos when the tank bursts — and it will.
  3. A move offers an opportunity to free us some much-needed space in the kitchen or out on the porch area.

Which raises the question of where to relocate the new water heater. If you’re considering the basement, make sure there’s an adequate flue pipe. Otherwise, you’ll have to have one put in that goes to the roof in most instances.

There’s also the concern of how long it takes to get hot water to the point of use, and with that, the potential of needing a recirculation line. This might provide an opportunity to upsize the gas and install a tankless water heater on the exterior of the residence closest to the point of use so there’s no down time waiting for hot water.

Tankless water heaters are a great alternative that enables you to clean up code issues and get an upgrade for about the same price you’d pay to install a primitive design that has a higher annual cost burden than a tankless water heater.

Also out there on the market are tank-style water heaters that are highly efficient and work similar to a tankless water heater. But many of these are pricey and will rupture after 15 to 20 years. If you’re thinking of installing a high-efficiency tank, you might just want to go the extra mile and get a tankless water heater.

Here at O’Grady Plumbing, we are authorized service representative for Takagi and Rheem, which means we understand the differences and we know how to comply with the manufacturers’ specifications. That’s important when you consider that nearly all the calls we receive for what may be a warranty issue with a new tankless water heater turns out to be something wrong with the install. Tankless water heaters are very reliable and rarely fail when installed correctly.

When it comes to a water heater upgrade, there’s always a solution as well as a number of variables to consider. It requires a little homework on the part of the homeowner. The easy way out might appear to be a consultation with your know-it-all neighbor who breaks all the rules but has a tankless system in place.

Somewhere down the line, a poorly planned tankless water heater upgrade results in someone coming in and completely re-doing the work. Hopefully, that neighbor will call me. For your own piece of mind, always consult a professional who is up to speed on what is on the market and knows exactly how to address your water heating needs with the best or multiple options to consider.

About The Author: Paul O’Grady is the founder and general manager of O’Grady Plumbing — San Francisco’s multi-generational residential and commercial plumbing company. Mr. O’Grady grew up in the plumbing business and is backed by three generations of plumbers. At O’Grady Plumbing, he manages a team of Master plumbers who build, repair, maintain and retrofit plumbing systems and equipment throughout San Francisco and San Mateo.

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