Consumer demand for tankless water heaters is rising, and more contractors are learning that they can be a great fit in the right application. Learning how to talk to homeowners about the pluses and minuses of tankless is important.
Phc News spoke to Gil Jo, senior manager of strategy and business development at Easyflex. Jo shared some of the advantages of and considerations for going tankless.
Phc: What do you see as the advantages of a tankless water heater?
GJ: There are several very clear advantages of a tankless water heater versus storage water heater. First, a tankless water heater will only heat water as it’s needed. So, this reduces the expense incurred by keeping large quantities of water constantly hot. It’s actually not uncommon to see a reduction of up to 50 percent in a homeowner’s energy usage. This will obviously have a huge impact on their wallet.
Tankless water heaters are also wall mountable, which will save space since they occupy no floor space. They are also very portable, which eliminates heavy lifting involved with the old storage water heater models. Physically putting a tank water heater in a basement can get very heavy at times.
Tankless water heaters typically have a life span of about 20 years, compared to about 10 years for the storage water heater. That’s a huge difference. Also, rusted tanks and flooded floors are pretty much no longer an issue where a properly sized tankless water heater is installed.
For me, another interesting feature is that our tankless water heaters are installed with a remote control that allows the user to essentially manipulate the set point temperature of the unit. I, for one, am very particular about the water temperature of my morning showers, so for me this is a very useful feature.
Phc: Are you saying that tankless water heaters will never rust?
GJ: Not exactly – let me explain. The acidity of hard water affects all water heaters, both tankless and storage models. Faucets, fixtures, appliances, and everything that’s connected to a water system distributing that water will have problems. Staining, calcium, lime buildup, and erosion of the metal.
Acidic water is actually very harmful to copper and brass, and basically every other type of metallic components associated with a water heater. The reason is because hard water contains particles that are dissolved in it. These are pretty much microscopic particles, so when held in water they tend to build on surfaces and they can cause lime and calcium scale build up. When this happens, the water actually becomes heavier. And, in a traditional storage water heater where there’s very little water flow, this hardening builds up at the bottom of the water heater and what happens is it insulates from the burner below and it causes a less efficient water heat transfer and it hampers its ability to recover. And, what essentially happens is you have a leaking boiler. So, it’s not that it will never rust, it’s just that there are all these harmful elements associated with a home’s water. And, in tandem with a bad distribution system you will have other types of problem such as calcium and lime seal build up, etc.
Phc: You have an improved isolation valve kit. What is this and how does it help with problems?
GJ: To put it briefly, an isolation valve kit consists of two valves: one for a cold water connection and one for a hot water connection. And, unlike the rest of the world, the U.S. requires a pressure relief valve for tankless water heaters. Isolation valves provide a very simple solution to a potentially very expensive problem. They just aid in the scaling of the internal portion of the tankless water heater they flush out the harmful elements. If these elements are left untreated, this buildup can overheat the heat exchanger, which will cause problems with the sensor and then eventually the system is going to lock out. When this occurs, a professional will need to go to the customer’s home and reset the tankless water heater. So, in a nutshell, this can be easily avoided by having an isolation valve kit.
Phc: Can you tell us a bit about Easyflex?
GJ: Our parent company Kofulso is actually a South Korea based company. We’ve been a market leader for more than 25 years now in Asia, Europe, Middle East and Latin America. Easyflex, the U.S. subsidiary, has actually been in the states since 2005.
Very recently we just had a very aggressive expansion into the eastern half of the country and our special products are actually pretty diverse. It ranges from gas connectors, water connectors, gas and water CSST and, as you mentioned, corrugated stainless steel tubing.
We also make solar thermal tubing and expansion tanks. In a nutshell, we make a lot of products. Our client base includes many of the major national HVAC wholesalers, distributors, and obviously we can’t leave out the local retail stores. We do a lot of great things, such as OEM, private labeling, for several of the very known companies in this industry, and we’re also in a lot of buildings, such as transportation terminals.
Phc: Can you give us a little background on tankless?
GJ: It’s worth pointing out that tankless water heater systems are very widely used throughout the rest of world, especially in Asia and Europe. They’re not as commonplace here in the U.S., where the majority of the households actually still use storage water heaters. It’s pretty amazing when you consider that tankless water heaters have actually been around since the late 1800s in the States. The first model was actually created in 1868 in England, and predates the water storage model. In a nutshell, the old models had a valve that turned on the burner when a water faucet was open. And then, in the 1920s a cast iron copper heater exchanger became too expensive due to the high raw material costs. During that period, the U.S. was essentially introduced to a new galvanized steel tank and then in the 1940s glass lined tanks, and it’s kind of been that way ever since until now. Actually, within the past five years there’s been a very huge growth spurt in the popularity of the tankless water heaters. There are a lot of people in the industry feel that in the next 10 to 15 years, close to half of all U.S. homes are actually going to have a tankless water heater. It’s a very exciting new item right now for a lot of people. We see a lot of potential with this new model in the coming future.
Phc: How is a tankless water heater different from a regular storage water heater?
GJ: First of all, I feel I need to clear up a very common misconception about tankless water heaters. They’re not exactly instantaneous. It actually takes about 2 seconds to go from their off mode to circulating hot water at the set temp. A tankless water heater is actually self-modulating, which essentially means it works on demand by using sensors and a computer board to monitor the flow rate of water and change the rate of heating to supply just the right amount of water required to the current demand. Since it doesn’t store water in anticipation of any demand there’s no storage tank, thus the term tankless water heater. The more commonly used storage water heater on the other hand stores water, which is kept hot 24/7. So, that’s really essence of the difference between a tankless water heater and the more commonly used storage water model.