To catch up on our Pimp the PoP’s Garage Series, feel free to start here.
A pretty water heater? Really? We paid off all of our non-mortgage debt and now our priorities have shifted so much that we’re picking a water heater based on how pretty it is?
Go ahead, Carly Simon. Take it away. “You’re so vain…”
It’s Not Really Pretty, Per Se
Just to clarify, when we talk with about picking a pretty water heater, we mean one that is going to make the rest of the garage pretty. ‘Cause let’s face it, the before pictures showed a pretty ugly space.
So aesthetics and functionality are really what we mean when we’re looking at picking out a “pretty” water heater. We want to take the space that is currently occupied by this, and turn it into a clean and yes, “pretty”, and functional space. (Plus, I seem to have a thing for “P” words lately.)
Water Heater Comparison-Three Pretty Options
The way we saw it, we had three possible options in this endeavor that would be significant improvements in terms of the looks and functionality of the water heater space.
1 – (Mr PoP’s initial idea) – Move everything to the attic. We could shift the piping and electrical supplies that currently serve the water heater in the garage to the attic almost immediately over this space. We’d be left with a super clean space to use as we desired since that attic space is currently unoccupied.
2 – (Mrs. PoP’s initial idea) – Go tankless electric. We’d have to upgrade the 240V circuit to increase the amp load, and we’d end up with a box sticking out of the wall at a height where we could easily mount a functional work countertop underneath it.
3 – (What Papa PoP had done in their rental duplex) – Install a lowboy and build a cabinet around it with a counter space on top. (Lowboy is the industry term for a water heater with a short, fat tank – usually a little over 30″ tall.) The piping would have to be changed slightly, and the 240V outlet moved a little bit to accommodate the shorter tank, but no biggie. But, this would violate our goal of having NOTHING on the floor.
Then We Talked To A Professional
We talked to both a plumber as well as a friend of ours, D, who was the one that gave us the idea for the update to our ugly fluorescent lights. They both basically said the same thing.
1 – Don’t even think about moving a water heater to the attic. It’s asking for trouble. Not only would we need to move the piping and electric lines, we’d have to have a floor installed where the water heater would sit that would need to be able to hold A LOT of weight. Empty, a water heater easily weighs 100+ lbs; then fill it with 40 gallons of water and all of the sudden you’ve got something that weighs close to 450lbs.
Add to all that the additional risk that we likely wouldn’t know about any leaks until damage was done… and this is a really bad plan.
- Cost – $1800 in parts and labor for a professional install including attic build-out (and the plumber hated even giving an estimate he thought this was such a bad idea)
- Water Capacity – Same as what we currently have, 40 gallons, though we could increase that, too.
- Ongoing Electric Costs – about the same as now
2 – Tankless is for folks that need to have the latest and greatest in technology, but you’re going to pay for it. Again, and again, and again. Initially, a tankless install of this Stiebel Eltron was going to be about $2K, which includes the cost of the electric work needed. (Both a certified plumber and electrician are required for this install otherwise the warranty is voided.) So it’s expensive up front.
But then you add the maintenance. Yearly descaling would be needed (the plumber charges clients $150/year for this service call), though we would likely learn how to do it ourselves and would just have the cost of about $20 in de-scaler per year as maintenance.
- Cost – $2000 upfront in parts and installation
- Water Capacity – Theoretically unlimited, but actually throttled and the model we were considering couldn’t have run two hot showers at once (max flow 3.5 gal/min). Not to mention, when the electricity goes out, so does the hot water.
- Ongoing Electric Costs – Max savings of ~20% over current cost to run, some sites ballpark actual electricity savings as significantly lower. (Energy savings costs are 2010 estimated values from CA Energy Commission.)
3 – Lowboys are where it’s at. They’re easy, they’re effective, and they’re pretty darned cheap. Sure, they’re not pretty like the tankless variety, but build a nice little cabinet with a countertop around them and you’ll never know the difference.
- Cost – ~$300 for us to DIY, ~$500 to have the plumber install (warranty not affected by a DIY install)
- Water Capacity – same as now, 40 gallons
- Ongoing Electric Costs – about the same as now
Narrowing It Down – Break Even Analysis
With option #1 firmly out of the picture, we wanted to know what the “break even” on the cost between the tankless electric and the lowboy would be.
- Tankless costs: $2000 upfront, $20/year in de-scaler, -20% energy savings/yr
- Lowboy costs: $300 upfront, no energy savings
So we remember that 6th grade lesson in solving equations… Assuming that our yearly energy cost to run the water heater is about $450, we need to find y, the number of years in the equation:
$300 + $450*y = $2000 + $20*y + $450*(1-0.2)*y
For those of you that don’t want to do the algebra, y = 24.28. (If we somehow managed to squeeze out 30% energy savings every year y=14.78.) So assuming we do all the maintenance ourselves and get the maximum advertised energy savings, it would still take significantly longer than the expected life of the machine to come out ahead by going tankless.
Financially, the tankless doesn’t come out looking all that great.
But It’s So Sleek and Shiny!
I’m not going to lie. I really had my heart set on the financials of the tankless making more sense. So I went back through the other selling points of the tankless and see if I could justify pushing for it against advice from people we know and trust.
- We would never run out of hot water (as long as the electricity was on). Well, in the 4 years we’ve been in this house I remember running out of hot water precisely once. That was when 4 adults took showers immediately after one another. But I remember several different power outages that lasted the whole morning or evening where we would have needed to take a cold shower had we been running a tankless water heater.
- A tankless clears up so much space, and you could install a countertop below it quite easily for a work area. Well, the lowboy accomplishes the same thing by building a counter/cabinet unit around it.
- A tankless water heater wouldn’t touch the ground. True. And a lowboy would. But is this really the only selling point I’ve got left?
Looks Like We’re Getting A Lowboy
Even though I REALLY wanted the tankless to make sense, it seems pretty silly to pay about $1,700 more upfront and count on the unit lasting through a 15-year break even period for the luxury of not having anything on the ground when the lowboy accomplishes all of the goals we had.
*sigh* I’ll get over it… someday. =)
What kind of water heater do you have in your place? What made you choose it?