Coming out of the closet: technology replaces water heaters |

Coming out of the closet: technology replaces water heaters

Nearly every home in Nevada County has a white elephant hidden in a closet or garage. This 325-pound behemoth takes up valuable floor space and consumes an endless amount of energy, heating tens of gallons of water for spas, showers, cooking or cleaning.

Out of sight and out of mind, it silently soaks up 20 percent or more of our household energy budget, pollutes our environment, and, like a hidden landmine, can cause serious injury – even death – from fire, explosions and severe scalding.

What is it? Your home’s water heater. Ever since prehistoric man soaked in a natural hot spring, mankind has sought innovative ways to deliver hot water to where we live. And little has changed in domestic hot water technology since a Norwegian mechanical engineer by the name of Edwin Ruud invented the automatic storage water heater in 1889. Its basic design is to heat and reheat large – but limited – quantities of stored water.

While the invention of a flow-through water heating system (where water passes through heated copper coils) has been around since the Victorian era, the technology needed to control water flow, temperature and safety has only been developed within the last 50 years and hasn’t been available to the average homeowner, due to high costs, for the last 25 years.

But that is changing. A combination of new environmental and safety laws along with cheaper computer technology has driven the price of conventional tank-type water heaters up and the cost of tankless water heaters down to where the two systems now cost about the same.

Kristin Donnelly, manager of Ferguson Enterprises’ satellite store in Grass Valley, says the tankless water heaters of the past were “horrible.”

“They didn’t perform, and when they broke down, nobody could fix them, and the warranty service was atrocious. So for a long time, people got into them and then quickly got out of them,” she said. “But now because of our science and all the technology, we’ve got units now out that are wonderfully performing, high energy efficient and the price is now coming down to where it’s very reasonable.”

There are many brands out there to choose from, but the brand Donnelly has chosen to distribute in Grass Valley is a tankless water heater manufactured by the Noritz America Corporation in Lake Forest, because it offers more benefits and features than many other brands.

The most important consideration when buying a tankless unit is to match the appropriately-sized unit to the flow demand of a homeowner’s particular lifestyle. “The flow is very, very important,” Donnelly said. “Nowadays we have so many people that do these ‘shower experiences.’ They have these massive tubs … that take 75 gallons of water and you have a 50-gallon hot water heater. It’s not going to work.”

With the right-sized unit, the most obvious advantage to the homeowner is an endless supply of hot water. “You can stand in a shower for three days and never run out of water,” Donnelly said. “The minute you turn on an appliance in your house or a fixture or anything that demands hot water … that’s when the tankless unit goes on. … And as long as you have that device on, it’s going to keep giving you hot water.”

Another benefit of the tankless system may be seen in that monthly gas bill. Water-heating accounts for 20 percent or more of an average household’s annual energy cost, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, averaging from $200 to $450 per year. Because tank-type water heaters raise and maintain the water temperature (usually between 120 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit), heated water must stay on “stand by” even when not being used. This “standby loss” represents 10 to 20 percent of a household’s annual water heating costs. The federal agency recommends reducing this loss by using a tankless water heater.

“You can save up to 50 percent of your gas bill,” Donnelly said, paying for the unit with monthly energy savings in a couple of years.

There are also some measurable benefits to the environment. According to another tankless manufacturer, Seisco, there are an estimated 60 million gas water heaters in the U.S. today that are pumping out carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and unburned residues hourly from each of their 3-inch diameter vents, and an average of 7 million worn out tank-type water heaters are disposed in landfills each year.

When it comes to size and location, the tankless water heater is a house designer’s dream. Weighing in at only 38 pounds, it’s about the size of a suitcase and can be mounted on a wall inside as well as outside a home. Venting isn’t a problem either – it can be vented directly to an outside wall. No more valuable floor space wasted building closets to hide that huge water storage tank.

And because there is no open-flame pilot light, it’s safer than conventional gas water heaters, which causes thousands of injuries each year.

A computerized control panel with self-diagnostics eliminates many service calls, too. “With this computer-chip technology, these things can tell you if there’s something wrong,” Donnelly said. “On the control panel there’s a code and a 24-hour, 800-number that you can call.”

Tankless water heaters also come out ahead of tank-type heaters on life expectancy and warranty. “The tank-type warranty only has a one-year warranty on parts and a five-year warranty on the tank,” Donnelly said. “The Noritz unit that we distribute here in Grass Valley has a 10-year warranty on the heat exchanger and a three-year warranty on the rest of the unit.”

But if a service call is required, Nevada County has three technicians that have been factory-trained in this brand, Donnelly said. Yet, after selling about 25 units a month in the last year and a half, “I’ve never had to call them once.”

Noritz America Corporation

25172 Arctic Ocean Drive, Ste. 102

Lake Forest, CA 92630

(866) 766-7489

Tankless Water Heater Distributor

Ferguson Enterprises

819 Whispering Pines Lane

Grass Valley, CA 95945

(530) 272-1045

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