Two 50 gallon LP or one 199K tankless LP water heaters?

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by noone, Aug 14, 2013.

  1. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    I have a plumbing problem for you.

    A house currently has 2 50 gallon LP tanks which service the house as shown in the attached pic.

    The home has 2 adults and one baby on the way with the occasional in-law overnight guests.

    We are looking into replacing the 2 50 gallon LP tanks with a single Rannai **or** Rheem 199K indoor tankless LP unit. However, doing this will create an additional 45 foot run to the hot water branch at the point where a water heater will be removed.

    2 tankless units is too costly, although that would probably be ideal.

    Is this advisable? The furthest fixture takes 60 seconds to receive hot water. How much --time-- will be added with an additional 45 feet?

    Would adding a hot water recirculator essentially null out any energy savings $$$$ being gained with just one on demand unit servicing the entire house?

    Or would a traditional 2 tank setup be the way to go?

    We are looking at providing the cheapest route. LP gas here is around $3.10/gallon and currently these two tanks use approximately 30 gallons per month with just 2 people.

    Thanks for your input folks.

    Attached Files:

  2. dj2

    dj2 Member

    Messages:
    399
    Location:
    California
    I would stick to 2 traditional tanks.

    You don't really need 50 gallon tanks for 2 people + one on the way + guests every once in a while. 40 gallon tanks will do.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,263
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Your LP gas basically just heats the water you use, with a small amount of heat loss from the tanks, so your gas bill will not vary too much regardless of how you do the heating. The added distance and recirculation pump will cause more heat loss than the standby amount of the conventional tanks. One possibly small consideration is that there is a lot of questions about whether a tankless heater actually is more efficient than a tank type. The only one I have seen which probably is, is one which has a "preheat heat exchanger" to warm the incoming water and extract heat from the usually wasted hot gas going up the flue. Is the gas supply to that location adequate for the higher demand of the tankless and can you change the flue to the stainless steel one usually required.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  4. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    Location:
    01609
    A condensing tankless is a lot more efficient for low-volume users than a standard efficiency tank, but whether it has any "payback" depends on the cost of LP in your area. The gas plumbing would likely have to be upgraded significantly to run a tankless too, and even at $3/gallon propane it would take a very long time to make up the difference in fuel savings.

    If the LP units are really toast and NEED replacing, in a FL location you'll be much better off with a better-class heat pump water heater like the AirTap ATI66, since it reduces your cooling load by putting the heat into the water. No matter what your electric rates are (unless you're on an island with a diesel powered local grid) it'll be far cheaper to heat water with a heat pump water heater than with tankless propane.

    If the 50 gallon units are still in pretty good shape, installing a recirc loop that only runs on demand (not a timer) would fix the delay issues, and insulating all accessible distribution plumbing (including the return path on the recirc) as well as all near-tank plumbing (including the cold-feed, and pressure & temperature overflow plumbing within 10' of the tanks) with R4 pipe insulation dramatically reduces standby loss & abandoned tepid water losses. The crummy 3/8" wall stuff sold in box stores is only R2- you may have to buy online or through a plumbing supply house, or Graingers to get the 5/8"-3/4" wall closed cell goods, but it's payback will be sub-1 year at $3/gallon propane. Buy the pre-slit stuff if you can find it, but be sure to get the right size, and seal up the seam as you go.

    Insulating the pipes reduces the recirculation and abandoned-water losses between draws very dramatically, since the water in the pipes is still at a usable temp 10s of minutes after the recirc fires off:


    [​IMG]

    With long distribution runs and no pipe insulation the abandoned heat in the distribution plumbing is well into double-digit percentages of all hot water heating energy use.

    If you're primarily a showering (rather than tub-bathing) family, and have a full basement (or if the showers are on the second floor of a 2-story) putting a drainwater heat recovery heat exchanger downstream of the main shower drain, feeding the output to the cold side of the water heater serving that shower as well as the cold side of the shower can also cut dramatically in to propane use. A 3" x 60" or 4" x 48" unit typically recovers ~50% of the energy used in a shower at 2.5gpm flow, more like 60% of the energy at a low-flow showerhead rates:

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    They don't do anything for tub-fills though, since the drain has to be flowing as the hot water is drawn to get the energy recovery.

    If you do all of the above- insulate pipes, add recirculators that work only when called by a switch, and install a drainwater heat recovery unit your improvment on net efficiency will be comparable to installing a tankless, but the installed cost will probably come in less than half. You call EFI to open an account with a credit card to get wholesale prices on the drainwater heat recovery units. The biggest one that actually fits is the right one, both fatter & taller = better, the marginal upcharge paid back rapidly, and the installation would be the same for any of them. It's an easy DIY if you have PVC drains, a bit messier if you have antique cast-iron, but well worth it for $3.10/gallon propane (whether you eventually buy a tankless or not!)
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  5. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    Great discussion here.

    My tanks are currently 17+ years old. They aren't leaking, but they sound like a gun fight while they are recovering, due to the hard water build up that probably covers the bottom of these tanks.

    I live in North Florida, so no basements, just in-slab / in-wall CPVC piping for the most part. All my walls are insulated.

    It sounds like I should either go with one of the following-

    1. 2 tankless units (expensive)
    2. 1 tankless unit + recirc pump + 2.5 gallon electric tank (expensive)
    3. 1 Navien unit which includes all of #2 (expensive)
    4. 2 50 gallon tanks (inexpensive)

    Unless i'm missing something here, and the fact that the gas savings by using tankless is small, or at least sounds small, it sounds like I need to go with #4. It just seems like it makes more sense economically. I want something highly reliable and I think, correct me if i'm wrong, even one out of warranty breakage on a tankless would pretty much negate any savings, if any, I may gain in energy savings through options 1-3.

    Thoughts?
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  6. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    2,785
    Location:
    01609
    Don't rule out the heat pump water heaters, especially the all-stainless versions with lifetime warrantys. A 66 gallon AirGenerate with a recirc loop and insulating all of the distribution lines will still come under the installed cost of a propane fired tankless, and will cost something like 1/3 of what you're paying to run a propane tankless, 1/4 or less to of what it costs to run TWO 50 gallon propane tanks.

    Half the heat going into the hot water comes directly off the cooling bill(!), so you're in fact getting a double-whammy benefit. This isn't the case in most of the country, but certainly is for YOU.

    At low volume use like yours a gas-fired propane tank runs at about 35% efficiency, no more, no matter what the EF test ratings say. (T be at the EF test levels you'd have to be using 64.3 gallons PER TANK per day, or about 130 gallons per day (are you filling large soaking tubs daily? Taking multiple 20 minute showers?), whereas you're probably running less than 50 gallons total, and it's split between two tanks. Double the tanks, double the standby losses, which are THE BULK of it.

    The first 20% of the source fuel energy went up the flue, another 40-50% is lost as standby leakage of heat into the room (most of which is convection through the center heat exchanger, not conduction out the sidewalls) which ADDS to your cooling load.

    At 35% average efficiency that means only 32,000 of the 91,500 source fuel BTUs get delivered to the distribution plumbing, at a cost of $3.10, which is $97/MMBTU for the hot water.

    The standby losses of electric HW heaters are very low, since they have no center flues to convect heat away. The heat pump water heaters tend to be even better insulated, for even lower losses. Something like the AirTap series has an EF of 2.25 (225% efficiency), but let's round that down to 2.0, since you're a lower volume user. Electricity in FL is running 11-12 cents per kwh, but let's assume you're a greenie paying a surcharge for green source energy or something and paying 15 cents. At at an EF of 2.0 that means you're getting (2.0 x 3412 BTU/kwh = ) 6824 BTU for 15 cents. That's 146 kwh/MMBTU that cost you (146 x $0.15=) $21.

    What's more, during the cooling season (which is most of the year), half of those BTUs are coming from your reduced cooling bill. Assuming your cooling runs at a coefficient of performance of about 3, that means that you can knock ~$3 off that for your annualized average $/MMBTU for water heating, but let's assume the worst, call it a buck.

    So if you're currently paying ~$97/month for hot water (and it sounds like you ARE), with a heat pump water heater you'd be paying $20.

    A condensing tankless will run between 75-85% efficiency (not the 98% advertised, due to short-cycling losses) which would get your monthly cost down to the $35-40 range, still 2x the cost of running a heat pump water heater with 12 cent electricity, and at a higher installed price too, most of the time.

    If you insulate the pipes, there will be no efficiency penalty for the recirculation loop compared to running with out the circulation and not insulating, since you'd be throwing away far more tepid water than you'd lose as heat through insulated pipes.

    If you think 50-66 gallons of the ATI50 or ATI66 isn't enough, they have an 80 gallon version too.

    They are back ordered all over the Northwest (where they are heavily subsided by rebate programs)- you might have to wait 6 months to get one, but it's a far better choice than replacing your 50 gallon propane tanks with more 50 gallon propane tanks, and at the ~$1000/year operating cost savings you'd be crazy to go with anything else (unless they're installing a gas main on your street.)


    The Steibel Eltron's are pretty good too, at a street price of ~$2400 for the 80 gallon unit.

    The GE Geospring heat pump water heaters are quite a bit cheaper at ~$1200 and more available, but are also noisy, and have a history of manufacturing related failure problems (hopefully solved, now that production has moved back to the US, but I'm still a bit leery- waiting for more feedback. )

    I'm less sure about the Rheem EcoSense units competing on price with the GeoSpring.

    The ATIxx lifetime warranty and stainless construction make them worth the wait, as long as you think you can get another half-year out of the existing fossil-burners.
  7. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    Interesting food for thought there Dana. So are you saying buy the 80 gallon unit and install in the garage and also run pipe to connect to the attic hot water branch, + add recirc pump and recirc line? I also have to consider the added cost of adding a new breaker and 240amp service to the equation as well and figure out my break even cost from there.

    At a $3000 cost just for the 80 gallon unit, plus installation and cost of a recirc pump and piping and electrical service, it sounds like I am looking at an easy $6000 install, which translates into roughly a 5 year break even point when taking into effect an $80/month savings, assuming i'm really saving $80 a month.

    I know I can get into 2 new fossil fuel burners for about $1300 installed, done, out the door.

    Thoughts?
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  8. nukeman

    nukeman Nuclear Engineer

    Messages:
    706
    Location:
    VA
    I think that more info on the planned/past use would be helpful. Two 50-gal tanks is a ton for a family of two + a little one. Do you have a large tub to fill? Shower with lots of jets? It seems like if we know how it will be used, we can better say which option is better.

    Gas would be great if you could get it. If you are stuck with LP, you'll have to run some numbers. Straight electric heaters are simple and may be less expensive to run compared to your LP units. Recovery is slower, so this is why demand info is important. The heat pump style that Dana mentions is probably ideal in your location in terms of operating cost, but these also have a slower recovery than your typical fossil burners.

    So, let's hear more about the needs and then we can see what fits the bill. I didn't see anything specific in your posts about any large demand items(unless I overlooked it), but I suspect there must be something for needing 2 50 gal units.
  9. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    Good point.

    The 50 gallon in the attic upstairs serves 3 full baths, one of which is the master and has a garden tub. We do plan on upgrading this master with body sprays and a rainshower. Currently, this shower has just two sprays. Occasionally, 3 showers may be in use at once, but generally just two are used at once. The tub is hardly used.

    The 50 gallon in the garage serves a jack and Jill bath with a tub that has a shower in it as well that will be used for a baby and the occasional overnight guest. This tank also serves a kitchen with one sink, soon to have an additional prep sink, and a dishwasher. A washer machine and laundry sink as well as garage sink is also served by this.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2013
  10. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    2,785
    Location:
    01609
    With a big tub or a master bath with side sprays an 80-100 gallon tank would serve you better than a 199K tankless, even at the high incoming water temps of northern FL. The fill rates on big tubs gets tedious at tankless gpm rates, which maxed out are still sub 10gpm. A 3 gpm rain-gusher with six 2 gpm side sprays will bring a tankless to it's knees, and would drain a 50 gallon tank pretty fast.

    At FL style power rates, even a standard electric tank would be cheaper to run than a tankless. For the intermittent-use unit in the garage you might rationally drop in a cheap 40-50 gallon electric tank in it's place, which will have a tiny fraction of the standby loss/cost of a propane-tank, and an 80 gallon heat pump replacing the unit for serving the master bath & garden tub. In a hot attic it's net efficiency would SOAR in heat pump mode, and still reduce the cooling load some (but not as much as if it were installed inside of conditioned space.)

    Most heat pump HW heaters are hybrid, and you can set it up to use resistance elements to speed up recovery times, but recovery times will be much slower than propane burners no matter what. Bigger storage volume (80 gallons should do it) and higher storage setpoints (140F, not 120F) will usually be enough. If you plan on taking endless showers in new-improved master bath with side sprays you'd probably have to resort to a 300-400,000BTU/hr finned copper water-tube type pool-heater type boiler (such as a Laars or RayPak), and a ~50 gallon buffering heat exchanger (like an ErgoMax E44) to keep the thing from short-cycling itself to an early death, and plan really big propane bills!
  11. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    Ok, the idea that I can save almost $960/year is really starting to grow on me. I mean, what's not to like??

    I can essentially recoup the extra cost of this single unit in 1-1.5 years **and** get $300 back from Uncle Sam for going green.


    Questions i'm hoping can be answered:

    Does anyone know how the A.O. Smith Voltex PHPT-80 hybrid ranks?

    What has been your experiences with the reliability of electric heat pump water heaters in general? I know new technology is a gamble, but in general, i'm not reading good things about hybrids, at least the GE hybrid model, and this scares the hell out of me. I definitely don't want to have to worry about fixing this thing all the time.

    How loud are the fans on these? This is a real concern for me since my baby's crib will be on the other side of the insulated wall.

    When I connect to the attic hot water branch from the hot water heater I install in the garage, I will be adding a 45 foot run of 3/4" pipe. Does anyone know how much extra time this would add to what currently takes 60 seconds to draw hot water?

    If I were to add a recirc pump, is an open loop recirc system advisable?
  12. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,263
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    ONe option you did not mention would be to connect the hot water outlet of the less used tank to the inlet of the one with the big tub. That would effecively double your capacity, without altering your energy usage.
  13. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Messages:
    2,785
    Location:
    01609
    Hooking up the output of one tank to the cold input of the other would likely double or even triple the amount of heat abandoned in the distribution plumbing on draws from the main tank, given that they're 45' apart. (It would give you more showering & tub-fill capacity on the remote end though.) Given that in "typical" water usage in homes monitored by PG & E in CA something like 15-20% of all hot water energy gets abandoned in the distribution plumbing, I'm not sure you'd really want to go there. If the tanks were side-by-side, maybe.

    Between the fan and compressor they can be pretty noisy compared to a refrigerator, but not much louder than a window air-conditioner. The 80 gallon Stiebel Eltron specs say 65dB, the comparable AirTap Ati-80 is 58dB, the GeoSpring is 55dB, AirTap Ati-50 is 48dB . Bigger volumes need bigger compressors to have reasonable recovery times, and they're understandably louder. For comparison, typical refrigerator is about ~45dB. A small 6000 BTU window-shakers run ~55-60dB, 12,000 BTU window ACs run ~60-65dB.

    If the unit is on the other side of a an uninsulated partition wall, adding insulation in the wall and blocking any ceiling/floor joist-bays that cross that partition will reduce the noise factor significantly. If you take that route, adding fatter wallboard or double-layering the wall board using a vibration absorptive adhesive like Green Glue (tm) it get's even quieter.

    A recirculation system is really called for here for reducing the delay and reducing water waste. Using a version that senses flow or gets activated by a button/switch rather than merely temperature keeps the standby and abandoned heat losses to a minimum.

    Without much direct experience with them (they're primarily useful in warm-weather states, not New England) I would have to rely on internet searches to sort out the good dogs from the pack, on the growing number of available models out there. Reliablity reports on both the AirTap and Stiebel Eltron have been favorable, the GeoSpring mixed to negative, but beyond that I'd be reluctant to guess. (Read the warranty stuff on any of them online before you buy, and search the internet for problems with the model.)
  14. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    I'm talking about going down from 2 gas water heaters to 1 single 80 gallon hybrid electric. Therefore I would need to get hot water from the new 80 gallon to where the old hot water heater was to service that side of the house. Am I missing something here? I would assume that that 45 feet of piping would be insulated.


    Dana- Do you think these options would also save me significant $$$$?

    ***unless I am missing something, this is what electricity costs here in Jacksonville - Energy Charge ($0.06624 per kWh)***

    1. Use 1 50 gallon electric in the garage. Use 1 50 gallon LP in the attic.
    2. Use 1 85 gallon Marathon electric in the garage to service entire house.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  15. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Messages:
    2,785
    Location:
    01609
    Routing the recirculation loop over to where the other tank USED to be isn't a huge hit, the way routing the output of one tank to the other over to the input of another would be. With the 2-tank interconnect sceneario every short-draw out of the local tank would pull fully hot water out of the remote tank, but abandon that heat in the interconnect. With a demand-only recirc loop that interconnect only gets hot water when there's an actual call for hot water at the remote end.

    With most utilities there is both an energy charge, as well as a distribution charge, and in some locations other charges for other stuff (like green energy porfolio energy etc.) Take the total bill, divide by the power use, and you have the per-kwh charge. In some utilities you get a break on the charge above some minimum, with others you get a surcharge, but in your location the water-heating portion using a heat pump water heater would be quite modest compared to the air-conditioning bill- you will have already crossed any step thresholds.

    The average all-charges-included retail residiential price you pay in Florida (statewide average) is about 11-12 cents/kwh, according to EIA data. I upped it to 15 cents in my analysis for good measure.

    The #1 option isn't really an option- there's no way you'd be able to take a decent shower with the new-improved master shower you have planned.

    #2 works, and even if you end up abandoning more heat in the recirc loop, it's more than made up by the lower standby losses, and lower energy costs.

    But it's still more cost effective with 11-12 cent electricity to put an 80 gallon Stiebel Eletron or AirTap ATI-80 in the garage instead of an 85 gallon Marathon of only modestly better hot water performance. The first-hour ratings aren't all that different:

    ATI-80: 79 gallons

    Stiebel Eltron: 78.6 gallons

    Marathon 85: 91 gallons

    That's ~12 more first-hour gallons, but only a 15% improvement in performance. But the operating costs are more than double. If the 80 gallon heat pump water heaters run short at 120F storage temps, you'll get more than a 15% improvement by bumping it to 135-140F, at a very modest uptick in operating cost.

    You save about $1.2-1.4K up front, but the Marathon will be costing you ~$300/year more to run (more than $300/year if you start using that planned for gusher shower), and you will making up the difference WELL before the warranty period is up. If you plan to live there 5 years the cost delta will be more than paid off in operating cost savings.
  16. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    I like your thinking Dana.

    First off- I'm now strongly thinking about getting into a single 85 gallon system without a recirc pump. My only concern is the additional 45 foot hot water pipe run that will be needed to reach the 3 bathrooms. How much longer is 45 feet going to add to my wait for hot water when I am already waiting 60 seconds for it?

    The savings that may be gained from the Heat Pump Hybrid are all only realized **as long as costly repairs are not needed**. From what I have read, the GE Hybrid sucks and has had a lot of issues. I haven't heard a lot, positive or negative about the AO Smith Hybrid or other brands. I assume you are a plumber Dana. What is your real world reliability experience with these? It seems the guys at PlumbingZone.com don't like them and that they don't seem reliable.

    Ok, here are my latest options I think.....

    1. I can get the AO Smith for about 2K out the door. Less 300 from the government cheese energy rebate and that takes my real world cost to about 1700 plus installation costs. - It's long-term reliability is questionable.

    2. I can get the Marathon 85 gallon for about $910 out the door with no rebates + installation costs - It's long term reliability I would say is pretty solid.

    ***Calculations***
    Unit Estimated Yearly Energy Use
    AO Smith XCV-50 284 Gallons
    AO Smith PHPT-80 1884 kwh
    Rheem Marathon 85 4770 kwh

    JEA Rate = $.13/kwh
    Liquid Propane = $3.10/gallon

    So with 2 new AO Smith XCV-50 units, i'm looking at $1760 yearly cost, although I know that with my use, it's actually lower at around $1200/year.

    1 new AO Smith PHPT-80 unit is a $245/year cost.

    1 new Rheem Marathon 85 gallon is a $620/year cost.

    It does really sound like I should got with the AO Smith PHPT-80. That unit theoretically stands to save a ton of money, if it DOES NOT BREAK DOWN!!!

    Thanks again for this great discussion- It has really made me think about things from a lot of different angles.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  17. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    So I have been looking for several hours for bad reviews of the Stiebel Eltron Accelera300.

    I can't find ANY. In fact, I even found a comment from a plumber that said they are well built like a Porsche, which does seem believable since it is German engineered. There aren't tons of reviews out there, but every one of the reviews I read we're absolutely positive.

    I'm still worried about the noise, but I guess I could always return it if absolutely necessary.

    I think I will be placing my order soon for this.
  18. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    I found a YouTube video which showed how loud one of these heat pump types of water heaters can be. Way too loud for me. i'm not sure I can have something like that against a wall where a baby will be sleeping. If it was on the other side of the garage......maybe. The way I see it's basically $25 extra a month to NOT have to hear sounds like this with a good old fashioned electric water heater.....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rXFVoEa3Ac&desktop_uri=/watch?v=0rXFVoEa3Ac

    So this is an insulated wall it's against. I did a quick test and ran a box fan on high sitting on top of the current water heater and could hear it faintly through the insulated wall. Is this a good comparison of 65 decimals? The Steibel-Eltron says it's 65 decibels at 1 yard.

    I really want the Steibel Eltron, but I am concerned with the noise.

    Help me overcome this concern....
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2013
  19. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Messages:
    2,785
    Location:
    01609
    If it's in the garage on the other side of an insulated wall you probably won't hear it at all until/unless it's very quiet in both the house AND neighborhood.

    I have a direct vent gas-burner rated 55dB in the basement directly below a bedroom, with nothing but the hardwood floor & plank subfloor between it and the bedroom. I can hear it in the basement pretty clearly, but in the bedroom only when it's very quiet in my house if I stop and really listen for it. A car driving down the street is more obvious.

    The Stiebel Eltron Accelera300 would be more noticable than my gas burner, but it's not a screamey. You probably wouldn't have to stop breathing to hear it through an uninsulated 2 x 4 wall with gypsum both sides. But it's one thing to be standing right next to it in the garage, vs. the other side of a wall, and the sound transmission of the wall can be usually be reduced considerably without much cost.

    What is the wall construction like?

    Also, regarding operating costs, those are VERY conservative numbers, given that the EF is at an average ambient temperature of 67.5, and I'd be willing to bet your garage temp will average well above that- 67.5F is probably your outdoor mean temperature in January, and your garage probably averages well into the 70s.

    But if you can put in indoors it'll be even more efficient, since it reduces your cooling load measurably. You may want to reconsider and go with the AirTap, put it in a closet and duct the "coolth" where you want it, rather than the garage, for even better net efficiency. Take a peek at this video for one such installation .
  20. noone

    noone New Member

    Messages:
    15
    Location:
    North Florida
    I wish I could hear the Steibel Eltron in person.

    If I buy this and it turns out its too loud, it's going to be tough to haul this up to Home Depot to return, but at least I have that option.

    Online, it says that 65 decimals is 10 times louder than 55 decibels. If true, that sounds like a lot!
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