QUESTION: I'm usually the last one to shower in the morning, and the water is not hot enough. Will installing one of the European-style tankless water heaters provide enough hot water for all of us?
ANSWER: Tankless (also called instantaneous or flow-through) water heaters are no longer just specialty European products. Many gas, propane and electric models are available in the United States and are quickly gaining popularity.
A tankless water heater can provide endless hot water for 100 showers and can cut your water-heating costs by 25%. Some whole-house models can produce hot-water flow rates up to three gallons per minute.
Tankless water heaters offer many advantages over conventional tank-type water heaters: endless hot water, small size, long life and lower operating costs. Although installing one costs more initially, the energy savings will easily pay back its higher cost.
A tankless water heater can last a lifetime. The highest-quality models use stainless steel, copper and brass for all parts that contact the water. If a part malfunctions, it can be repaired. There is no tank to rust out, so you never have to trash the entire unit.
The newest designs of tankless water heaters have more sophisticated electronic controls to maintain constant water temperatures. Some older models had problems with varying hot-water temperatures.
The newest designs (Italia and Splash 'N Dash) are small electric integrated heater/shower-head models. These are ideal for an existing shower or when adding an extra shower to your home. You have to run only a cold water line to the shower. They have contemporary styling with a built-in grab/towel bar.
Another new high-tech design, Instant-Temp, has a precision temperature control with a digital readout that is mounted flush in the wall. A mini-tankless water heater is located under the sink. The water temperature is checked 7,200 times each minute to maintain the desired water temperature.
Tankless water heaters are extremely efficient because they come on only when you open a hot water faucet (sensing the water flow). There is no wasteful huge tank of hot water sitting in your utility room or basement.
Most units are small (only 36 inches high) and hang on a wall. Installing one of the direct-vent, through-the-wall models provides an excellent opportunity to switch from electricity to gas. This can save hundreds of dollars per year.
Don't just select the cheapest model. Look for ones that have modulating gas valves or electric heat output. These designs maintain a constant water temperature from a trickle to a full-force shower.
Write for (or instantly download at http://www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 560, a buyer's guide of 12 gas and electric tankless water heaters, heat outputs, flow rates and features. Please include $3 and a business-size self-addressed envelope; mail to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.
Don't Waste Time on Clocks' Energy Bills
Q: It seems like we have clocks in every room of the house. I was wondering how much electricity they use and does it make sense to unplug some of them?
A: Many of these small electric appliances are still a bargain to use. The typical electric clock uses less than $2 of electricity each year. Other continuously used appliances, such as an answering machine and fax machine, cost less than $10 annually to use.
It is wiser to focus on reducing the use of more powerful appliances (irons, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners). These cost up to 14 cents per hour to use.
Change Filter Often for Peak Efficiency
Q: I have been told that it is really not necessary to change the furnace filter often because the dirtier it is, the better it cleans. Does this make any sense to you?
A: The person who told you this is technically correct but practically wrong. As a filter gets dirty, the microscopic openings in it get even smaller, so it will actually filter better to a certain point.
The problem with applying this logic to a furnace and air-conditioner filter is that the resistance to air flow also increases dramatically as it gets dirty. This lowers overall system efficiency. Change it every month or two.
Letters and questions for James Dulley, a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant, may be sent to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.