Tankless vs. Traditional: Which Water Heater Is Right for You?

For many decades, traditional water heaters with tanks have been the standard method of heating water. However, tankless water heaters are starting to catch on. This newer style of water heater warms water on demand and doesn’t require a tank. It has some advantages, but tankless heaters won’t work for everyone. To consider whether you should get a tankless or traditional water heater, you will need to consider these factors.

Heating Method

To understand how tankless heaters differ from traditional ones, it is helpful to learn a little about how they work. First of all, warm water rises, and cooler water falls. Standard water heaters with tanks work by placing one or two heating elements inside a big tank of water. This heating element slowly yet steadily warms the water, and then the tank releases it from the top when you are ready to use it. As you use it, more cold water flows into the tank from another pipe on the top and settles to the bottom, where it is gradually heated up as well.

Meanwhile, a tankless heater looks like a small, rectangular device. It has a very powerful heating element that can rapidly heat water. When you turn on a hot water tap, cold water flows through the tankless heater, warms up quickly, and then travels to the desired location.

Purchase Price

Tankless water heaters tend to be a little pricier than traditional water heater tanks because of their electronic components. On average, a tankless model costs around $400 more than a traditional water heater. Furthermore, installation for tankless water heaters is more complex. Therefore, installation can cost at least $200 extra.

If you’re on a tight budget right now, you might consider purchasing a traditional water heater tank. Especially for those who aren’t financing their water heater, getting a traditional model lets them buy a heater without using up all their savings. Just keep in mind that bigger tanks cost more, so if your household needs an oversized water tank, you might not save all that much on your purchase.

Energy Use

One of the main perks of tankless heaters is that they are more energy efficient. A traditional water heater has to constantly expend energy to keep your big tank of water warm. Even if you aren’t using the water, your tank will be consuming energy to heat water. Meanwhile, tankless heaters only warm water as you use it. Overall, they end up using less gas or electricity to produce a comparable amount of water.

This energy efficiency makes tankless heaters a wise choice for those who care about eco-friendliness. Tankless models require less fuel, so they are less wasteful. Due to their reputation as sustainable, environmentally friendly heaters, tankless heaters are especially popular in modern homes that use green building practices.

All of this efficient water heating can result in big savings. The average gas or electric water heater costs about $50 more to run per year than a comparable tankless model. Over time, these savings can add up. Even though a tankless heater costs more initially, it can actually end up saving you money in the long run. As long as you keep the same tankless model for more than 12 years, you end up recouping the extra cost you spent to purchase the model.


The most common complaint with traditional water heaters is that they run out of hot water. Due to the way they work, if a lot of people use hot water at once, there is a notable decline in water temperature. Doing something like running a dishwasher and washing machine while showering can end up emptying the tank of preheated water. If this happens, you may need to wait for an hour for more hot water to be available.

Tankless heaters don’t have this performance issue, so they can be helpful for people who hate having to wait several minutes for the water to warm up again. However, they have their own quirks that can bother some homeowners. Many models can take a few seconds to heat up, so you don’t get instant hot water when you turn on the tank. Furthermore, if you are turning your hot water off and on rapidly, such as switching on the tap to wash dishes, there will be intermittent bursts of cold water. This happens when you end up alternating between the hot water sitting at the end of your pipe and the cold water pumped out right when the system switches on.


Tankless and traditional water heaters usually use different measurements for capacity. Tank heaters measure their size in the gallons of water they can hold while tankless heater sizes are usually focused on the number of gallons of hot water they can provide per minute. Traditional water heaters can come in very large sizes, so it’s possible to find tanks that suit even big families. Theoretically, tankless heaters can work for big families, but there are fewer options to choose from if you need a model with a high flow rate.

When it comes to size, you also need to consider the physical size of the unit. Water heater tanks are usually around 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, so they take up a lot of space. Meanwhile, tankless heaters are about 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide. If your home is already low on space, a tankless water heater can be more useful. You don’t have to set aside a closet for it indoors or in the garage. Tankless heaters can be mounted on walls, so you can tuck them in an out-of-the-way spot such as above your washing machine.

Gas vs. Electric

Technically, both tankless and traditional water heaters come in gas or electric versions. Gas heaters run on natural gas, which is often a little cheaper than electrical power. However, gas requires the installation of special gas lines, so if your home’s not already outfitted for gas, it can be very expensive to add this power form to your house. Meanwhile, electrical heaters cost a little more to run, but they have a power source that you can find anywhere.

Both gas and electric traditional water heaters are very reliable. They perform almost the same and use about the same levels of energy overall. Meanwhile, tankless heaters tend to perform a little worse when they’re electrical. Many electric tankless heaters aren’t Energy-Star related because they struggle in areas with chillier groundwater.

Call Our Professional Team at High 5 Plumbing, Heating & Cooling

Ultimately, tankless heaters can be ideal for those who want an efficient, compact heater while traditional water heaters are great if you want to save money upfront. If you’re considering installing a new water heater, High 5 Plumbing, Heating & Cooling is happy to help you choose between tankless and traditional water heater styles.

We can discuss your needs, analyze your plumbing system, and recommend the right model for your home. In addition to water heater installations, our technicians also perform a variety of other services, including drain cleaning, home repiping, and toilet repair.

Contact High 5 Plumbing, Heating & Cooling of Denver today to learn more about our services.

Heather Ripley

Media Contact

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