School me on tankless water heaters please.

17 Replies

I have a 4-plex, C property, 2/1, built in mid 60's on a slab with very little insulation.  They currently have 30 gallon low boy electric tank heaters located in the kitchen.  I'm thinking about making the move to electric tankless here, and would like some advice.  I used to have a large gas tankless in a home and loved it, but I've never used electric.  The property is two stories.  One shower, a washing machine, no dishwasher.  Only two sinks.  I anticipate max water flow demand to be around 4 GPM, with low flow fixtures installed.  That would be a shower and a sink, or washing machine.  

I'm trying to get by on the cheap, so am looking for budget models.  Problem is, there seems to be a lot of exaggeration in the marketing of these units.  Some advertise they will increase temperature 20 degrees over ambient at max flow rate.  Given 50 degree temp from the street(located in Charlotte, NC), that would mean they may have to shower in 70 degree water if the washing machine is also being used.  That will not work.  Units I've seen online advertise up to two showers and two sinks at once, which sounds like a no brainer.  Then I read reviews saying to expect half of that when it's really cold, which still may be okay, or maybe not.  A tank runs me $300-$400.  I'm looking for something under $350 for tankless.  Ecosmart seems to be a good budget brand, but it's more like $450.  I understand you get what you pay for, and I plan to retire with these apartments, but just going back on my own with my property management company, I need to be very cost conscious.  I don't mind upgrading later.  I just need something that will work well enough for the next tenant, and I won't get calls that the water did not stay hot for the entire shower.  

I found this model for example:

https://www.amazon.com/Electric-Tankless-ThermoPro...

And another:

https://www.amazon.com/Electric-Tankless-ECO180-Ce...

 Does anyone have any insight or tips on how to proceed with a purchase?  Thanks in advance.

Steve 

First Investor Realty & Management

I have not used them in my rentals; but did switch to tankless in my primary. We went through 3 heaters in 5 years-all top of the line makes. One leaked, the other two had to be reset all the time. I am told others have had good experiences but I can only give you mine. I planned to go back to a tank heater since the venting was still in place; but we ended up moving instead, I hope the new owner fared better. In my current primary I have tank heaters and no plans on changing. Based on my experience I see no reason to change to a tankless heater in a rental, or primary for that matter. Again, this is just my personal experience and others may have had a better one-I hope so.

Paying anything less than a grand you are betting on getting nothing than warranty issues. The price you are paying is for the coil tubing thickness. Cu is not cheap. Rinnai is what I use paid over $2K …. They used to last about 15-20 years but not any more.

Stay away from these el cheapo water heaters. Even with rentals I suggest you get longer warranty type. Not worth getting a call coldest night of the year from all tenants.

why not a tank w/ warranty then you don't have to deal w/ it and let the tenants call in and get it fixed.... tankless seems like you're paying a premium for something that could just cause more headache (from breaking to tenant complaints etc).  If you're doing 4 at once you might be able to get a discount or financing... and if you buy from big box store you can always buy discounted gift cards for a discount ..

@Matt K.   in our Charleston new builds and every new build I have seen there they all have tankless water heaters standard on the outside of the house.. in Oregon its an upgrade.

the reason I was told in SC to have them is the water rusts out the ones with tanks so they leak and so that's why they want them out doors.. 

In many rental areas were all our brothers and sisters are buying cash flow rentals outside tankless water heaters would be stolen just like condenser units LOL

I have a Takagi gas tankless that i installed in my personal house, 15 years old, and still runs like a champ. one thing to consider and is recommended with Tankless heaters is to get a whole house filter water system, this keeps parts inside from corroding or getting ruined by hard water. I have not installed electric ones anywhere and always hear mixed reviews about Tankless heaters. The life span of Tankless heaters are supposed to be longer than Tanks and give you an endless supply of hot water. I am surprised they are running out of hot water fast, the smaller tanks should heat the water faster than the larger 50 gallon tanks, maybe look into small tank heaters with more heating coils to heat the water even faster. take a look at this one, available from HD too https://www.rheem.com/product/marathon-30-gallon-e...

that one may deliver enough hot water for your tenants.

Originally posted by @Jay Hinrichs :

@Matt K.  in our Charleston new builds and every new build I have seen there they all have tankless water heaters standard on the outside of the house.. in Oregon its an upgrade.

the reason I was told in SC to have them is the water rusts out the ones with tanks so they leak and so that's why they want them out doors.. 

In many rental areas were all our brothers and sisters are buying cash flow rentals outside tankless water heaters would be stolen just like condenser units LOL

 My parents just did a new build w/ tankless outside also (in a locking closet), it's nice.... but not sure these types of upgrades fit a

"4-plex, C property, 2/1, built in mid 60's on a slab with very little insulation" 

and 

"I understand you get what you pay for, and I plan to retire with these apartments, but just going back on my own with my property management company, I need to be very cost conscious. I don't mind upgrading later. I just need something that will work well enough for the next tenant, and I won't get calls that the water did not stay hot for the entire shower."


Logic/assumption being that a cheap tankless water heater will be of worse quality than equivalent priced electric water heater based... and that a 5 yr warranty would eliminate many of the headaches and has been proven to work so far (assuming people haven't complained about hot water all along, rather this is new thing as the heaters are starting to fail).

If it was different asset class or he was flipping it... I'd 100% agree w/ you all day long. Even just different asset class so he could toss that fancy word in his ads when looking for new tenants...


Example

https://www.lowes.com/pd/A-O-Smith-Signature-28-Ga...

warranty an extra 60 bucks, but 26 gallons...

or

https://www.lowes.com/pd/A-O-Smith-Signature-38-Ga...

or even "better"

https://www.lowes.com/pd/A-O-Smith-Signature-38-Ga...

Thanks everyone for the feedback.  I guess my main motivation for wanting to go with the tankless is space and mounting options.  The lowboys in place currently are either in those metal cabinet enclosures or just sitting in the kitchen next to the countertop.  They take up so much space and look horrible, especially when I'm trying to maximize rents.  With the tankless, I should be able to install inside a base cabinet or at least a false front cabinet and extend the countertop.  We also now require expansion tanks, so that makes the tank heaters even more obtrusive.  Here's a pic of one unit without the expansion tank.  I think anyone would agree it would look much better with a tankless, enclosed by cabinet and countertop:


I completely agree you get what you pay for, and I would be better suited to install a $1K heater, but again,  I just want something to last until I get back on my feet and can afford to invest more in to quality fixtures.  So does anyone have any positive reviews on budget heaters?  Thanks again.  

I have the same question for a couple of '70s duplexes I own.  THe existing water heaters are in the attic and I'd like them out of there.   They aren't big places and don't have extra space so my options are a tank heater outside in a shed or a tankless.   

There's gas at the street but not to the building so that would mean hiring a gas-licensed contractor to install which, on top of the cost of the heater, would rule it out for me.

@Steve Maginnis   Looking at the electric in your first link, I see that you need three 40A breakers to feed the juice it needs.  I can't remember what size the panels are in my duplexes but I doubt they can handle that additional load.  If I have to add replacing the panel and possibly the service wire, it again becomes cost prohibitive. 

Looking at it for customers in the past, I have not seen much if any savings with the tankless water heaters.  Especially when you consider the yearly flushing that most of them call for.   Afaict, space savings and endless hot water are the only reasons to install them. (also as an upgrade when selling a property)

@Steve Maginnis ,

No advice on tank versus tankless, as I haven't made the leap to tankless.  I may later this month with a rehab, but I have no experience yet.

However, I agree that having an exposed tank in a living area is not aesthetically pleasing.  I would pay a handyman a few bucks to cut up a couple of sheets of plywood to create a pantry-sized cabinet to house the tanks in the same place they currently are.  Once you paint them and close the doors, it will look a lot better.  Depending on your carpentry skills, you could do this yourself and save money.

Hi @Steve Maginnis - I've heard good things about Combi-boilers, which are on-demand heating and domestic hot water in a single unit. I haven't tried one yet, but I'm looking into it for a studio I'm renovating. I think it's about the most space efficient you can get, plus there are likely energy efficiency benefits(or at least utility cost improvements) compared to your current set up. It looks more expensive than what you're contemplating, and you'll need natural gas(though some work on propane,) here's an example:

Combi Boiler

Inherited a unit with one. Nothing but problems, and none of my plumber buddies know how to work on it. It’s like a Ferrari, but nobody knows how to drive it.
@Steve Maginnis I did rehab a 1930 duplex about an year ago and had the same debate. While, for me the switch was more motivated by space saving and looks. In the end I went for the tank whatever heater. Here are my .02 cents. 1. This is an rental (not a primary residence) reliability, simplicity and easy repair. An electric water heater does not require any special maintenance (only drain) once per year (any handyman can do it). Any repairs are simple to preform. 2. My water heaters are located in the kitchens the same as yours. While I had a huge desier to move them to the attic. A plumber friend advised me against it and I left them in the kitchen. The reason was that if it ever leaks or there is an issue the tenant will tell me right away it is in everyday view so an issue will be notices imidietly (no celling to repair or paint). 3. Do not forget price. While there are savings with the tankless heaters after few years. I think the additional maintenance and complexity kills the use for a rental. Hope this helps.

Electric tankless is a horrible idea. Gas tankless is fine, its my preferred.

If you dont have gas service, get a tanked heater.

From an engineering perspective electric on demand heaters are a joke. They will also consume so much more electricity i will shock you. You also will need additional circuits ran to support them.

As per Ron - never do electric tankless unless you are in South Florida or equivalent.  Why?  Physics.

Ignore the rated flow and base your calculation on your actual JANUARY water temps.  Mostly that's going to be 50/55 north of Florida.    You are going to see a lot less flow than the 30 degree delta they use for marketing.

I do tankless in higher end places to free up space/nicer looks/ advertise unlimited hot water.   And my own house.   I wouldn't do them where I could get a tank in easily.  But nice looking places get better tenants.

I'm thinking going tankless, in one of my properties that will have an Airbnb slant to it.  the point there is if the home is empty, not water being heated. 

I did use one years ago on a flip, for space purposes, worked great, allowed me to grow the kitchen.

I am looking into getting one of the Ecosmart hot water heaters. We have a 20x40 cabin with 1 bath in the south. It'll have shower (no tub), bath sink, kitchen sink, washing machine, and dishwasher. I get insanely confused with the graphs and diagrams that ecosmart has for their heaters. Could I get away with the Ecosmart 11 or do I need to get the Ecosmart 18? Thanks for the advice beforehand.