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real estate review
By Ethan C. Nobles, director of media relations for Arkansas Realtors Association

One item that’s becoming more popular among homeowners is the tankless hot water heater.

Those nifty little units, of course, heat water as it’s needed and, in theory, can provide a perpetual supply of hot water. Also, there is some energy savings that comes with them.

Of course, the main difference between a tankless water heater and a conventional one has to do with storage. A conventional water heater stores several gallons of water and keeps it hot. That means the unit is always maintaining water at a set temperature, regardless of whether there’s a demand for hot water or not.

So, when you’re at work, sleeping or doing anything besides using hot water, the unit is still using energy to maintain a constant temperature. That adds up to some energy losses – a problem that tankless heaters don’t have. The energy conservation component is attractive to people who want to save money, protect the environment or realize both goals.

Also, there’s the convenience factor of a tankless water heater to consider. Let’s say you’ve got a family of four people and that all take showers in the morning. Will the person who gets in the shower last have enough hot water?

The manufacturers and proponents of tankless water heaters say that’s not an issue with their preferred systems. A tankless heater supplies water on demand and can provide enough for everyone – a major advantage over conventional heaters that hold a limited supply of water.

But how popular are tankless water heaters? Realtors in the Jonesboro area say they are becoming popular items in homes that cost $200,000 or more, but not so much in houses that cost less than that.

In this day and age, sellers are finding themselves throwing in a few bells and whistles that attract buyers. Some builders are finding that some buyers are attracted to the convenience and fuel efficiency of tankless hot water heaters, but those are pricier items that people tend to add when building more expensive homes.

Also, some sellers are adding tankless water heaters to pricier homes in hopes of attracting buyers, realtors say. Apparently, those are popular items for buyers, but how many homeowners are purchasing tankless water heaters for themselves?

Doing things that are good for the environment often boils down to a matter of dollars and cents – if a homeowner purchases a tankless water heater, will that person be able to recoup the extra expense of the unit through lower natural gas bills? Also, is the convenience of a tankless water heater worth the expense of the unit and can a unit really supply the hot water needs for an entire household?

Randy Knuckles of Mid-South Plumbing & Electrical Supply in Jonesboro, said a lot of questions about tankless heaters can be answered by their suppliers. Mid-South sells the popular Rinnai units, and he said choosing a tankless water heater often boils down to choosing one that will provide enough water to meet the needs of a household.

Tankless water heaters can get overburdened as they can only supply a fixed, maximum number of gallons per minute. The Rinnai units at Mid-South, Knuckles said, are designed to provide enough water to supply the needs of a 2.5 bedroom house – that means the unit can supply enough water to meet the demands of two showers with standard heads, a clothes washer and a dishwasher all running at the same time.

The lowest cost of the Rinnai unit at Mid-South is around $1,200 with installation, Knuckles said. Complex installations can run a bit more, but costs vary with different situations.

In short, having a tankless hot water heater installed may cost up to twice as much as the price and installation of a standard unit, but that extra expense may be countered by energy savings. The exact amount of savings, however, varies from household to household.

Of course, the savings with a tankless hot water heater are directly related to the cost of natural gas, a commodity that has been increasing in cost lately.

Like all major appliances, there are some clear advantages to tankless water heaters, but one needs to assess both household needs and energy savings before purchasing one. Fortunately, dealers like Mid-South are always happy to help consumers figure out whether tankless water heaters will be a benefit to their homes.