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Tankless water heaters: pros and cons

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Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Sheep Dog Hollow is a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut that is being renovated with both the environment and the family budget in mind. Currently being decided: tankless water heaters or conventional ones?

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One of the great gifts in undertaking this attempt to renovate Sheep Dog Hollow in a green and economical manner is the way the project has changed and challenged the way I think.

So many things that I used to take for granted – water, for instance, both hot in the house and cold out in the pond – I look at quite differently. I see now – in a way that I hadn’t before – that it’s imperative to protect and conserve both whenever possible to ensure that they’ll be plenty for generations to come – even if it’s going to cost me a bit more upfront.

I know, I know, I’m an antediluvian greenie newbie who should have known that all along. But as I mentioned about the “green intimidation factor," some of us just didn’t get it before.

That brings me back to the discussion of tankless water heaters and the bottom-line, cost-benefit analysis approach to them that prompted Consumer Reports magazine to conclude that it’s “probably not” time to switch from conventional models. The reason is that they’re “efficient but not necessarily economical," primarily because their upfront costs are so much higher than conventional-storage water heater tanks:

The tankless water heaters we tested cost $800 to $1,150, compared with $300 to $480 for the regular storage-tank types. Tankless models need electrical outlets for their fan and electronics, upgraded gas pipes, and a new ventilation system. That can bring average installation costs to $1,200, compared with $300 for storage-tank models.

By their calculations, a tankless model is “22 percent more energy-efficient” than a conventional one, which translates into “a savings of around $70 to $80” a year. But “it can take up to 22 years to break even — longer than the 20-year life of many models.”

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