There are few things more annoying than to turn on the hot water tap and have to stand there until it finally condescends to give you some hot water. Not a major annoyance but a frequent one--like the legendary "Chinese water torture."
As with so many other problems, tiny to massive, modern technology has provided a solution. Generally termed the tankless or point-of-use water heater, often called "instant hot water," it consists of devices that start heating the water when you turn on the tap, rather than heating a whole tankful and keeping it hot until you happen to need it.
In other words, it's not only a way of avoiding annoyance but a way of conserving the nation's limited supply of energy and saving money as well. Convenience plus patriotism--and thrift to boot!
There are two types, gas and electric, corresponding to the two principal ways of heating domestic water. About all they have in common physically is that they have no storage tanks but heat water within a second or two on demand; they differ greatly in size, installation and best usages.
The electric type is probably best for average or small-sized houses, apartments or condominiums. One of several brands available in this area is marketed as Instant-Flow; it is manufactured in Carson by Chronomite Laboratories Inc. and distributed from that company's office at 21011 S. Figueroa St., Carson.
(The various brands of both types are similar in such aspects as size, cost and installation but, within each type, the various brands differ among themselves in various details and a shopper should compare several.)
Instant-Flow is compact; Chronomite President Robert G. Russell said it is "about the size of Webster's desk dictionary." Specifically, it is in a casing that measures 6x9x2 1/2 inches. It can be installed beneath a kitchen sink, needing only a cold-water supply pipe, a hot-water outflow faucet and a 220-volt electrical connection.
Russell said almost every home in California has 220-volt current coming in from the power line so what has to be done is to arrange a 30-amp circuit in the breaker box and run a line to wherever the heater is installed.
The heater costs about $185 and installation usually about $315, Russell said, for a total cost of about $500. Against that, he cites a study that "shows the average household can save up to $3,500 over a 10-year period in combined energy and plumbing costs. The savings represent 40% on energy costs and 60% on the projected replacement costs of heaters and piping, due to extended life."
Most water heaters are set at 140 to 160 degrees, principally because the dishwasher needs water that hot, so that for bathing and most other uses the hot water has to be tempered with cold. Russell said installation of an Instant-Flow unit for the dishwater allows the main tank to be set at 105 to 110 degrees, a temperature much easier on the heater and the piping--and on the utility bills.
Used As Booster
As can be seen, Russell does not promote the tankless water heater as a home's sole hot-water source (although it could be) but rather as a booster serving the appliances that need extremely hot water and allowing the temperature setting on the main tank to be turned down.
The other type of tankless water heater, gas, is considerably different. A half a dozen brands, most manufactured in Europe, are available in Southern California. One of them is the Aquavac 42, manufactured in France and imported and distributed by H2OT Inc., 10966 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.
Alex Spataru, principal of H2OT, agreed that his gas unit is not particularly suitable for the small home although it will serve well in a large house. Right now such home installations account for about a quarter of the firm's workload but he sees its best use in businesses such as restaurants, laundries or motels.
The unit itself, in its casing, measures 33 1/2x17 3/4x11 1/2 inches. Installation requires a gas line and a 5-inch vent to the outside.
Jonathan Africk, director of operations and finance, pointed out that most of the installations in houses replace the existing tank-type heater. Of course, in most such cases the gas line and vent already exist.
Still, three-quarters of the company's business is commercial/industrial, which doesn't bother them a bit. Africk said many of their sales are to energy companies that install systems using the Aquavac as a component.
The Aquavac retails in the range of $470 to $500, Spataru said, which does not include installation. If it replaces a tank heater, installation would cost about the same as it would to put in another tank heater--about $75, Spataru estimated--while in the case of new construction or a complete remodeling, where it can be planned in from the start, it should cost no more than installing a conventional tank.