Going tankless to save energy

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Don Drury is on a mission to reduce the amount of energy Canadians use to heat water in their homes, starting with his own neighbours. His methods may be primitive, but they're proving quite effective.

The 78-year-old Torontonian has whipped up a hand-written flyer and has been distributing it in mailboxes throughout his neighbourhood.

"Do you want to help the environment and save money?" the flyer asks. "It is possible, and I can prove it!"

Drury purchased a tankless hot water heater about a year ago. Unlike conventional hot water tanks, which store a large volume of water (between 40 to 60 gallons) and use natural gas or electricity to keep it constantly heated, a tankless system doesn't store water. Instead, it rapidly heats the water as it flows, on demand, when you need it.

We work, we travel, we shop and go to school, and all this time the conventional hot water tank in most of our homes is working, turning on and off, keeping the water in the tank heated even when nobody is around to use it. A huge amount of energy is being used in the process, for no good reason.

Even when we are at home, we're not always using the hot water. "But you are paying for that," Drury's flyer emphasizes.

There are major advantages to using tankless systems. For one, they take up far less space and zero floor space. They also last twice as long – up to 20 years. And while more expensive than a tank system, the added cost of a tankless unit is recovered through energy savings over its operational life.

Home Depot carries a number of Bosch tankless systems that cost anywhere from $628 to $1,248 when purchased online. Price depends on the volume of hot water flow you require.

The smaller systems handle 3.5 gallons per minute, usually enough to handle one shower or some other water application, like a dishwasher, at a time. The larger systems handle nearly double the volume, meaning constant hot water even during two simultaneous showers.

Energy savings depend on how much hot water you use in a given day. That is, the more you use, the more you save. I've seen companies promote energy savings ranging from 20 to 50 per cent. If we assume 25 per cent, and consider that the average home in Ontario spends about $400 on water heating, we see savings in the order of $100 a year.

But tankless systems aren't for everybody. Installation isn't a simple task. Complaints about water pressure and temperature do occasionally surface, and there's a contingent of folks out there who challenge the true cost-savings being claimed by manufacturers. The savings for electric-powered systems are also considered lower.

What's required is a case-by-case analysis. Homeowners need to assess their own hot water needs and patterns of use to get a true sense of the benefits.

So far, three of Drury's neighbours have dropped by his house to see the system, and one even went ahead and bought one. Drury, in a letter sent to Clean Break, says he's eager to see the technology go mainstream.

"I am hoping some federal or provincial politician will mandate that all new homes constructed must have one of these installed," he writes. "Think of the savings of greenhouse gases, natural gas, and money for the homeowner multiplied by tens of thousands countrywide."

The economics are better when you consider that the province and federal government each offer a $200 grant – or $400 in total – for the purchase and installation of a tankless hot water system.


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