Dear PoP – Seeking instant hot water heater and plumber Recs

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“Dear PoP,

I would like to get the instant hot water heater installed in my house to replace old system. I would like to hear reviews from those who got them installed and or have an existing system in their house. My system will be Gas powered. I also would like to hear recommendation for certified plumbers who can install such systems.”

Does anyone have one of the water heaters? Also this’ll be a good spot to compile plumber recs as I’m asked this question fairly frequently. If you happen to have contact info in addition to name that’d be great.

29 Comment

  • Do you mean a tankless heater? Or Instant Hot, the thing next to your kitchen sink. FOr the former, I have one in DC and one in my weekend place. You need to get a good brand like Rinnai,not the ones they sell at Home Depot. Anyway, for plumbing and AC stuff, use Stephen Ali, you can email him at [email protected]. Tell him Gregg referred you. He basically charges you wholesale on the equipment and then for his time. I’ve used him for years and years, top shelf.

  • I’ve been wondering the very same thing (about tankless water heaters). Is the system upgrade worth the money, though?

    I’m all about saving energy and being efficient, but some ‘greening’ projects around the home are just too cost prohibitive to justify.

  • I can’t for the life of me remember the name of his company, but we use Greg for all our plumbing needs. You can call his cell at 202-355-4646. I can’t say enough good things about him … ALWAYS available and will come any time of the day or night. I have had zero problems with his work and he has even helped me over the phone with a few minor issues free of charge. Just make sure you make good coffee … he loves coffee … and dogs. Our German shepherd loves him almost as much as we love his work!!

  • Additional Question: To thouse with the thankless system in their homes, did you have to replace your gas line to accommodate thankless system or was the existing line big enough. Also what did you do about venting? How is it during winter time when the ground water is cooler?

    In my case I must replace since the thank water heater started leaking… a good excuse

  • bought a house with a tankless water heater already in it (oh the shame of buying a house redone!). It is Rinnai; heated with gas. You will never ever run out of hot water which is the good news. Also, you will save a ton of space since it’s amazingly small. The down side is that I find it takes awhile for hot water to get up two floors to the upstairs bathroom and you have to waste a lot of water until the warm/hot stuff comes out, esp in winter. If I had to make the decision though, I would most definitely go tankless. Good luck.

    • this would be the same for either system. The hot water resides in your tank, or only is generated when you ‘call’ for it. Either way, there isn’t any hot water circulating through the house like at a hotel.

  • I used to build houses for Habitat for Humanity in Denver about 8 years ago, and we were often used as a showcase for new green technologies (donate to us, get a headline). We began installing tankless waterheaters during my second year there. What we found was that they generally saved money in gas, but not a lot if you get a high E tank system (still, it is more efficient to heat a little water at a time, than keep a huge tank hot all the time, particularly overnight). The one complaint we recieved was that they sometimes weren’t hot enough. In the time since, I’ll bet this isn’t the case as much because: a) technology has improved, b) many more water systems are designed to prevent scalding and don’t get as hot as they used to.

    If you’re worried about hot showers, install the heater near your shower, and it won’t lose heat on the way to you, you also won’t have to run the water and wait for the cold water to get out of the system.


  • Throw in: from a greenhouse gas perspective, direct use natural gas is always going to be better than an electric water heater, unless you’re getting all your electricity from renewables and/or nuclear. It’s crazy to burn coal to produce heat to turn a turbine to produce an electron, to then ship that electron along a wire for miles and miles, and to then use that electron to heat water.

  • Aplogies for the length of this post, but I knowing the below would’ve saved me some time and worry, so I throw it out in case others find it useful.

    I had Grayton Plumbing install an Eemax tankless system in my apartment (a tiny one bedroom). I was very happy with them – they came back a few times to adjust settings and fix things for me until I was happy with it. I don’t know whether they do gas systems, though. The eemax is electric, so the following may or may not apply to the gas system.

    1. Water pressure: I had to switch out my old showerhead because it pumped out 2.5 gpm (the max allowed) and, in the winter, when the incoming water is colder, the heater could not keep up with that pressure. The water got warm, but not hot, and I take VERY hot showers. I bought a showerhead with adjustable pressure and in the winter I just turn it down a bit until I get the temperature I want. It’s still a good pressure, and this year I’m keeping it at that same setting to save water. (I love very hot, high pressure showers, so I think if I’m ok with the required winter settings, most other people probably will be too.) Learning to adjust not just the temperature setting but also the pressure setting in order to get the temperature I want took a little getting used to, but it’s fine now.

    2. Time for hot water: It takes a while for the water to heat up, like at least a minute or two. I feel bad watching all that water rush down the drain but I don’t have plants or anything else so I don’t know what to do with it. This can be annoying in the winter when you just want to wash something quick, like your hands or whatever, and the ground water is too cold. Winter water is too cold for me to rinse my mouth after I brush, for example. So, what I do is brush my teeth after I take a shower, when there’s still hot water in the pipe and I can use it right away. Like adjusting the pressure, you develop little habits like this to work with the system. It’s definitely a different way of having water. Not better or worse, just different.

    This timing issue might also have an effect on washing machines and dishwashers, but I wash all my stuff in cold so I don’t know. Something to think about.

    Like I said, I have a small apartment – live by myself, have a dishwasher, a w/d, and a standing shower. I can’t have the washer going while I take a shower, but I couldn’t really do that before, either. My parents have larger systems (also electric) in their house in Florida, but the ground water is much warmer there so they don’t have these issues. They have a big house with lots of bathrooms and when I’m home for the holidays you can run several showers and a washing machine at once without a problem.

    Everyone says gas is better, but that wasn’t an option for me. I needed a new water heater and opted for the tankless to save space. If it weren’t for that I probably would’ve just stayed with an old fashioned tank. The tankless cost a little over 1k more than a new tank would’ve cost, and everything I’ve read says electric tankless systems don’t save that much more energy over a good tank (you don’t get a tax break for the electric ones). They may not be as good as gas but, considering how I use water in general, I just can’t believe I’m not saving energy. I use very little hot water in the summer, for example, and it just seems like it’s more efficient to not have that tank sitting there keeping the water hot for me. But who knows.

    Anyway, while I’m perfectly happy with the tankless, to be honest my main worry is that it’ll be an issue whenever I sell the place. I don’t know how many people would still consider a tankless system weird, or would want to deal with a new way of getting their water. It makes me feel better to read that so many other people have them/are getting them.

  • I recently got a Rinnai tankless water heater when my old tank water heater died. There were several things that took me by surprise. First off, the new Tankless Water heater takes a LOT more GAS. I have a gas stove, a gas fireplace and a gas tanked water heater. You should be sure that you have enough BTU (British Thermal Units) coming to your gas line. You may want to call an experienced gas plumber and estimate first whether or not you have enough gas coming into your home. Having documentation/literature on the BTU of your existing applicance will really help your plumber estimate accurately. So a little advanced research on the Internet will help.
    I am in Petworth/14 st Heights, and am in a “low pressure” neighborhood. The addition of the Tankless Water Heater puts BTU for all my gas appliances right at the level that Washington Gas provides my neighborhood. Because of the amount of BTU I get, my plans to later on to add a gas furnace, and possibly a gas clothes dryer may be hindered. And Washington Gas can’t just flip a switch and make my gas line pump out more BTU.

    A few things to note.

    1) The new gas tankless water heater has to be vented, but most likely cannot reuse your existing tanked water heaters venting system. As such, the plumber had to drill another hole through my foundation or wherever to vent it appropriately. Something like “high pressure exhaust”, don’t remember the term he used.

    2) The greatest cost for installing a Tankless Water Heater might not be the Tankless water heater itself, but may be the installation of new gas lines. The Tankless Water Heater uses a lot more gas, but in smaller bursts than a traditional gas water heater. As a result, the existing gas line from your gas meter to where you want your new tankless water heater will be may likely be insufficient.

    3) Take the time to look at where you are placing your water heater. Because you may have do a new vent and your existing gas lines may be insufficient, consider placement elsewhere. My old tanked water heater was in the basement on the west side of my house directly under the fireplace and vented out the chimney. All my water fixtures were on the east side of my house, so early morning showers required a LONG time to get hot water to the second floor bathroom (across the basement and up two floors). I had the new tankless water heater installed on the east side of the basement underneath all my fixtures. Now hot water comes a bit faster. And less water is wasted.

    4) The tankless water heater also requires electricity. The last few days, I’ve experienced some power outages. The one on Thursday morning lasted from approx 3:00 AM to 8:00 AM, right when I’m normally getting ready for work. Without electricity, the water heater won’t run. I had to take the UPS Battery off my computer, and plug my water heater into it to take a hot shower. I’m leaving it there and getting another UPS for my computer. Consider a $150 UPS (uninterrupted power supply with battery backup) is a worthwhile investment.

    5) Be prepared if the installation takes more than one day. Mine took three days to be exact. The plumber installed everything in two days, but at the end of the second day realized there was a BTU problem (see above) and Washington Gas had to come the third day and do something to my gas meter. So good time to make sure your gym membership is current… 🙂 Had there not been any problems with my BTU/Gas meter, it would have been done in two days for me.

    6) Sandwich effect. If you don’t know what it is, put it into your favorite search engine. It does happen, and is only a minor inconvenience. I generally wash my face, then get into the shower, and there’s always just a momentary jolt of lukewarm water at the beginning of hot water usage.

    7) Specific things about the Rinnai water heater. I got the Rinnai R50LSi. The model number I got has a cap on the highest temperature of the device, 140 F (I think this is a stupid California overly intrusive nanny-state rule). When my plumber first told me this, I thought, yeah no big deal. Then after about a week or so, I started to realize that I actually kept the water much higher on my old tanked water heater and kind of missed that. I have no kids and so burns were not a concern. If you have any idea what your current average temperature is for your water, keep this in mind.

    8) Tankless Water Heater is NOT an investment. Yes, you will use less gas in the long run, and less your gas bill will be less each month, but it will take close to approx 15-20 years to make that up in the initial cost of the thing. And 15-20 years is the average expected lifespan of one of these devices anyway. Now, I’m a computer consultant, so I love anything with a power switch and am willing to pay a premium for a new toy with that one feature, so when my old power-switch-less water heater died, I knew I wanted a tankless water heater and was willing to pay for it. As a matter of fact, certain friends who knew me well enough even accused me a sabotage of my tanked water heater. Now, there is a $1500 tax credit this year for it, but that’s NOT a reason to replace a perfectly good working water heater with a tankless one. Take a good look at the entire cost (don’t forget running new gas lines), plus the cost of the device, labor and so on, and make sure it makes sense. I have had a few of my friends with sticker shock, “you paid WHAT for that?”

    • This post is on point. Just to add, venting the unit is very important. DC has strict codes on where you can vent to and how far away the vent has to be from windows and doors. They are direct vented which means they have to generall shoot outside from a sidewall and usually require a powervent. If you live in a small rowhouse like I do, there really isnt much space to do it and it won’t save you much.

    • Oooo… a few other things, in case my original post wasn’t long enough.

      Rinnai makes a Tankless water heater that can go outside. Vents directly outside, I considered that as well. Especially if inside space is a premium for you, might want to consider that.

      I used John C. Flood. They were great. Got everything done just as they said they would. Might be a little more expensive than if you had an individual like other people in this thread have posted, but I’m just a little nervous when it comes to dealing with natural gas, and be sure that I’m working with a company or someone who is licensed and bonded, JUST IN CASE.

      Here’s my current BTU calculations:

      Stove/Range: 60,000 BTU
      Fireplace: 90,000 BTU
      Water Heater: 150,000 BTU

      The new water heater is 150K BTU, the old one (tanked) was 40K BTU.

      Total that’s approx 300K BTU required to run all three devices at once. But my plumber told me that 300 K is what Washington Gas provides a low pressure neighborhood.

      Now, my original plans were to add a Gas Furnace (to replace an electric heat pump) and a Gas Clothes dryer to replace an electric clothes dryer.

      That would add approx

      120-150K BTU for Furnace
      30-50K BTU for dryer

      Requiring a total of 500 BTU. So probably not going to happen. So lesson learned, if you have to make a choice between a furnace and a tankless water heater, be sure you’re aware of what Washington Gas will provide your home.

  • The last place I rented had a Stiebel electric tankless that I really liked. It did take a bit to get the hot water to the shower, but other than that it was great. I’d have put one in my current house if I’d remodeled it myself.

  • What do these systems generally go for? Equipment, not installation.

  • Stephen Ali (see first reply) charged me $2815 for all labor and materials. Some venting and such was required. This was 2-3 years ago. We got a $300 federal tax credit. I think DC offers some credits now too. I’ve had no problems, no issues.

  • Apologies in advance for geeking out this late on a Friday…

    The stimulus package extended the energy efficiency tax credits for home owners for systems installed by the end of 2010. You get a tax credit of 30% of the equipment cost (not installed cost) up to $1,500 for gas tankless water heaters.

    At this time, I don’t think Pepco offers significant rebates for tankless.

    Likely coming soon through job legislation is a program called Home Star, which will allow home owners to get a point of sale rebate for certain types of equipment or a larger rebate (I think on the order of the lesser of $4K or 50% of the project cost) for homes that do a retrofits that get a total of 20% to 30% energy savings.

    So, there may be some compelling financial reasons to make the switch, particularly if you were in the market to replace equipment anyway.

  • Tankless is great for saving space and energy. If electric may require electrical upgrade which can be costly. I found that water doesn’t get as hot on very cold winter days. Odd since I don’t have exposed outdoor pipes in my building.

    I can recommend a great general contractor who specializes in all things green and has installed several of these.
    Emilio Guerra, Green Dwellings, [email protected]

  • I have a bosch, and really like it.

    They work by raising the temp of the water X degress at Z flowrate, so the colder the incoming water (say, in Jan and Feb) they less hot it is in your shower. On the upside, you never run out.

    Existing gas line was fine. If you have a 3/4 from the meter, you should be ok. Unless you’re trying to run your 18,000 btu thermador flat out at the same time you are taking a shower and running other gas apps, you should be ok.

    Venting: you can get the high eff ones that vent vapor thru a pvc pipe. easy. the really nice ones even have a digital thermostat to keep the water from getting too hot.

    if you get one, they come in different sizes, which basically gives you a high X for a greater Z. also consumes more gas to do this. It’s like a blast furnace coming on. Mt suggestion is to get one that is rated for 2 showers at a time.

    • I was able to fix the problem of “not hot enough” winter water with an adjustable pressure showerhead from the local hardware store. If you reduce the flowrate a bit in winter you can get hotter water at a still decent pressure.

  • There’s a new tankless Bosch gas fired wall mounted hot water heater that needs no electricity at all. It requires only natural gas and generates the little electricity it needs using the water pressure running through it prior to heating.

    Really cool. It’s hot water on demand, shuts off when you’re not drawing hot water. Wall mounted space saver, too.

    $1,500 with Federal Tax credits available as well.

  • What about noise? I’ve heard that some of these water heaters actually generate a sound; like a ‘whirring’ sound. I live in a smallish – medium sized rowhouse and the water heater will essentially be located in a closet immediately outside of my bedroom door. Anybody have any comments on the noise that the tankless makes either while operating or standing?

    • I’d say that the sound that it makes is no worse than say that of a CD spinning in a CD Player and only lasts as long as the water is demanded plus a few seconds after the water demand ceases.

  • I don’t have a tankless water heater so I can’t comment on that, but I do have a strong plumber rec. I have used John Barry ( a couple of times for a couple of different types of projects and have always been pleased. The last time, after taking a look at the problem, they even told me how I could solve it at low cost myself instead of having them do major work that would have cost several thousand dollars. These guys are honest plumbers. Really.

  • If space is not an issue and you are willing to spend a little more to save on your utility bills, check out GE’s “hybrid” water heater. See the following pages:

  • Thank you all so much for your posts and plumber recommendations. I have major decision ahead of me.

  • Just occurred to me: how would I add a timer to a tank water heater so that it would turn off automatically for a period of time during the night? And if I was able to do that, wonder if I would actually save anything as the water would need to be heated up more in the morning for my morning shower? 🙂

  • Phantom, what was the cost for your setup? I am considering the same system as yours or the r75lsi and would love to hear the cost, if possible tell me the breakdown. Thanks

  • Truxton K, do you know more about Home Star? if I were to get the tankless installed now, could I benefit from Home Start when it passes in the future?

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