Looking for new water heater - done my reaserch, but need advice!

Discussion in 'Water Heater Forum, Tanks' started by Little Tim, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. Little Tim

    Little Tim New Member

    Toronto, ON
    Lots of great contributors in this forum, so I hope I can tap into your knowledge and get some advice!

    I have done lots of research, discussed options with my plumber, but I'm still stumped.

    Here is all the information I've got:

    Toronto, Canada

    1949 one and a half story (typical postwar double-brick house). 7 people currently living here. My wife and I, our two kids (4-year old twins), my wife's sister (temporary while studying), and our tenants (couple) in a basement apartment. The house has three bathrooms (three showers plus one bathtub - regular 5' soaker tub), two washing machines, one dishwasher.

    The house has 1/2" copper plumbing throughout, including supply from city. Not great water pressure or flow, which means rarely will two showers run simultaneously.

    Reasons for needing new water heater:
    Current water heater is 18 years old, has some signs of rust and has probably never seen any maintenance (old rental house that we bought 4 years ago). Also, we are going to put in a new roof this summer, which give us the opportunity to get rid of the chimney which is in bad shape. The only appliance currently venting out the chimney is the water heater.

    Current water heater:
    Natural gas powered Rheem 60 gallon, 55,000 BTU, 48 gallon recovery rate located in utility room in basement. Location is next to outer wall where gas meter is.


    • Want to get rid of chimney which means no atmospheric vent tank models
    • Utility room is next to two bedrooms, which means we would like a water heater that is quiet (have heard horror stories about noise from power vent fans)
    • Planning to stay in house forever, so looking for long term reliable solution
    • Basement is finished which means limited access to plumbing except in utility room (this means a waste water heat recovery system is out of the question
    • Wife hates the thought of the "cold water sandwich" experienced with tankless. We like to preserve water, so we often stop the shower to lather soap, and then turn on again to rinse, so this would be a real issue
    • We do not take baths often - really only for the kids
    • It would be a bonus to have a system with a smaller footprint since we could then shrink the utility room and make one of the bedrooms larger
    • I'm reasonably handy and can handle annual water heater maintenance tasks

    Options considered:

    • Direct vent tank. We are looking for long term reliability, so we have only really considered Bradford White. My plumber has recommended a 50 gallon model that is pretty basic, but has also quoted us a 48 gallon model with higher input (faster recovery). There is also a 65 gallon model, but I think that is too big. Like the fact that a direct vent needs no electricity and would continue working during a power outage
    • Our plumber also has a very good deal currently for a Rinnai RC80 tankless water heater. It's only $550 more than the 50 gallon BW and $150 more than the 48 gallon high input model. However, the cold water sandwich is a real concern, so I would probably want to add something like a 6 gallon electric tank as a buffer. However, then the energy savings wouldn't be as great, and the cost would be considerably higher.
    • With these two options in mind I started thinking about alternatives since with the tankless with buffer we are suddenly in a different price range. I came across mention of condensing water heaters (BW has some commercial models, there's the Polaris from GSW and the Vertex from AO Smith). I do not know too much about how these work, how reliable they are, and whether they would be noisy (power vent)

    That's about as much information as I've got, so if you've bothered reading this far, I would truly appreciate some feedback and advice.
    Which solution do you think makes sense considering the factors mentioned above?
    Are there options I haven't considered and are there pros and cons that I'm overlooking?

    Thank you!
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    A condensing WH is very similar to a boiler. On those, the fan is often pressurizing the air/fuel mixture rather than trying to vent the exhaust, so it is sort of like a turbo charger on a car...it's function is significantly muffled. A good boiler is virtually silent a few feet from it. You didn't say how you heat the house, or I missed it. If you have a boiler, then an indirect WH is the way to go, plumbed as a zone to the boiler. Obviously, doesn't work with a furnace, though. I've lived in several houses with (older) tankless systems, and know how they worked...didn't like them, so maybe I'm biased...I'm sure the new ones are a lot better, but they still have their problems, especially when living as far north as you do where incoming winter water temperatures are near freezing at times. Heating the water as you use it those extra 10-20 degrees or more means significant size grades, or multiple units over what those living much further south require. Then, you may need to upgrade your gas service, and don't think about a big electrical one where you live. Given that you have a rental unit, and you can't control their use, you are probably best off with a bigger tank to minimize complaints. Two modest users at the same time is probably all you could expect out of 1/2" supply lines to the house. If you run the WH at a higher temperature and then use a tempering valve on the outlet (required by code where I live), that can make the WH tank 'look' larger since it's mixing cold to bring the temp down, at least when the tank is still hot. By going to any closed combustion, where you're drawing combustion air from outside rather than inside, you'll notice an increase in comfort and economy in the home.
  3. cacher_chick

    cacher_chick Test, Don't Guess!

    Land of Cheese
    I would really look at the feasibility of replacing the supply line from the street and main runs in the house. 1/2 pipe throughout is no good for a one bath house, and you have 3 times that.

    As for heating, the tankless would likely require upgrading your gas service and has a high initial cost, not to forget regular upkeep for descaling.

    Just the two of us in a house run a 40 gallon heater down every time we shower. Increasing the size of the tank to 65-75 gallons does very little to increase energy consumption and will ensure that everyone can shower and wash clothes without worry about lacking hot water.
  4. Little Tim

    Little Tim New Member

    Toronto, ON
    Thanks for the replies. I can certainly see that a bigger tank might be the way to go.

    As mentioned, our current tank is 60 gallons, 55,000 btu with a 46 gallon recovery rate (I think I said 48 before). If I'm calculating properly, that gives it roughly a 94 gallon first hour recovery rate (fhr).

    The 50 gallon BW model would have an fhr of roughly 87. Now, as I said, the current tank is from 1994 and has hardly seen any tlc. Does the performance of such a tank deteriorate over time? Are there other factors that would make a new tank work better than an old one? Or, do I really need to make sure I get a new tank with better fhr if the old tank doesn't fully meet our hot water needs?

    I've also been quoted on a 65 gallon model with higher input (55,000 btu - same as old one) that would have fhr of 110. That would obviously make a difference.

    The price with install for that one is $2,699. That's where I'm wondering if I might get into condensing territory. However, I have heard some bad stories about reliability with condensing units.

    Btw, we have a regular forced air natural gas furnace, so no synergies to be had with using a condensing tank for space heating.

    Anyway, any additional input would be appreciated. Any options I'm missing?
  5. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    When you start adding controls and complexity to anything, it costs more, and to maintain optimum operation, they cost more. There's probably nothing much simpler than a typical WH where most will continue to operate with no maintenance for years. But, they also can function for a long time with minimal maintenance. You're lucky yours has lasted as long as it has...the average is much shorter. Depends somewhat on the water quality and luck of the draw, though. Don't have enough personal experience to give you much more...hopefully, others can help further.
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