Instant hot water - well yes, sort of. If the heater is a long way from the point of use you will experience the same delay for the hot water to reach the faucet as you have with a tank heater. In fact it may take a little longer as it takes the heater a few moments to get up to speed when it’s called upon. It may be that a tankless unit can be located closer to the point of use than a tank heater because of its small footprint and its ability to be installed on an exterior wall, in which case you may be able to get a quicker delivery at the faucet.
Endless hot water - yes, you won’t run out as long as the fuel supply holds good. Handy for when you have house guests, can be expensive if you have teenagers addicted to endless hot showers.
No standby losses - this refers to the heat lost and energy wasted by a tank heater during the relatively long periods when it’s standing idle waiting to be used and all that stored heat is slowly leaking out to the environment. This is much less of a problem than it used to be as modern tank heaters are now far better insulated than they were in the past. Standby losses are still a factor but a minor one, so don’t count on the energy savings for any appreciable payback on the substantial extra cost of a tankless system.
Economical to run - here we get into some complicated territory. Natural gas is currently a relatively inexpensive fuel and if it’s available at your home it will in many cases be the most economical fuel for both your home heating and hot water needs. This will be the case whether you have a storage tank or a tankless heater. Gas-fired tankless heaters typically run at a higher efficiency than the storage tank equivalent, and this will result in some savings, but if you live in a hard water area that saving is offset by the need for regular descaling of the tankless unit.
If piped natural gas is not available the choices for a tankless heater are not so good. Tankless heaters may be run on propane but this is not such a cheap fuel, moreover it's a petroleum byproduct subject to the fluctuations of the international market, so your propane costs might go through the roof at exactly the same time as you are spending more for the gasoline in your automobile. Not so good.
So what about electricity as primary fuel for a tankless heater? Here the problem is the enormously high current draw of an instantaneous heater capable of supplying an entire home. Regular storage tank heaters replenish the hot water over time and can do so with relatively low power elements with a circuit demand in the region of 30A, while tankless electric heater needs that energy all at once with a current demand as much as 150A. Few houses have that to spare, so you will have to figure an upgraded supply to your home as part of the installation costs.
Environmental benefits - are they green? Here I’d have to say a qualified no. If running on natural gas the environmental impact of tankless heaters is pretty comparable to any other gas-fired appliance. Yes, we're talking fracking and long-distance pipelines to bring that natural gas to your home. If electricity is the primary fuel a storage tank water heater is the hands-down winner. First of all, a tank water heater is an ideal complement to a PV solar installation, serving as low-cost energy storage. Water heated during the daytime and stored in a properly sized well-insulated tank is there ready and waiting for all the morning showers. Furthermore, as the electricity grid moves toward demand management to allow the growth of both distributed and utility-scale renewables the non-negotiable surge demand of electric tankless heaters is highly problematic.
Bottom line: if you want the luxury of limitless hot water and have a natural gas line we won’t discourage you, other than to say that the tankless premium might be spent on more productive ways to enhance the comfort and environmental performance of your home. In all other cases we strongly recommend a high performance storage tank heater, and make it an electric one if you're thinking of going solar.
Hey, Beth Frey here. As BellaDomus’ interiors specialist I spend a lot of time working with bathrooms. Along with kitchens they are one of the most popular and rewarding home renovation projects. But they can get expensive! We are overloaded these days with design images from shelter magazines and do it yourself television shows that tempt us to extensive and pricey overhauls, but if yours has a good layout and works well for you, perhaps it just needs a facelift. There are easy ways to add some updated touches to your space if you have just a few hours and a few dollars to spend.
An exciting way to make a major visual change is to paint the walls a fresh, contemporary color, then complement the paint job with a bright new shower curtain. This is one area where you can try something bold and if it doesn’t turn out as expected or if you tire of it, it is easy to change! Depending on other finishes in your bath, new trends in wall colors are earthy, jewel tones. Think deep blues and forest greens.
Perhaps your bathroom needs new lighting. New lighting over the vanity, mood lighting around the bathtub, upgraded general lighting make cleaning easier can all make a huge difference Lighting has come a long way in the past 3-5 years, is your bathroom up to speed? Take some photos and go to your local lighting store for assistance.
How about updating your space with something as easy as new pulls and/knobs for your cabinets? There are thousands of options available in local stores and online. Just be sure to measure what you have so you replace it with something that will work. Don’t be afraid of all hardware choices in your bathroom matching! Just because your faucet is chrome doesn’t mean your cabinet hardware has to be also. There are a lot of new finishes out on the market - matte gold, brass, black, pewter and many more.
And last but not least, get new towels! How many of us have tired, faded old towels in our bathrooms? Cut them up and use them to wash the car or polish furniture. A fresh, fluffy towel - all in matching colors/patterns will wake up any space. Personally I love white towels, they always look clean. And in the end, is that what we want most in our bathrooms?
Have fun with these changes. And if you feel the need for a bit of professional guidance, give us a call or send us an email. A one time consultation maybe what you need to get you started in the right direction.
Last time I wrote about the importance of controlling air movement through your home for energy efficiency in the air conditioning season. If you live in a house with a ventilated crawl space as historically most have been throughout North Carolina, the most effective step you can take to avoid the unwanted infiltration of humid air is encapsulation. It can also protect your respiratory health.
How does this work? Encapsulation is the process of applying a comprehensive moisture and air barrier to the floor and foundation walls together with thermal insulation to the walls so that the crawl space air is protected from outside humidity and temperature cycles. Your crawl space is now effectively clean, conditioned space, virtually on a par with the air inside your home. Not only does this procedure block the updraft of air leaks through the home, saving you money, it also ensures a clean and protected space for the air handler and ductwork of your HVAC system. A ventilated crawl space is a mold factory: after encapsulation, minor leaks in the mechanical system are no longer capable of introducing mold spores into the ductwork and distributing them through your home. Win/win!
More information here:
A typical vented crawl space. Note the moisture on the foundation walls and fiber insulation hanging in tatters from between the floor joists.
After encapsulation. Heavy polyethylene sheeting with carefully taped joints covers the floor and extends up the exterior walls and piers. Foil-faced board insulation is applied to the interior of the foundation walls leaving a narrow strip at the top to allow periodic termite inspection. Insulation is no longer needed between the floor joists leaving plumbing, electrical and ductwork completely open for inspection, renovation and repair. Mechanical equipment and ductwork is completely protected from humidity and mold.
... and the humidity. Here in central North Carolina the mercury hit the high eighties last week moving us from an often chilly spring into a warm early summer: time to fire up the A/C! What can we do to reduce the energy load from all that grateful cooling to save money and help the planet?
Turns out that in the humid summers of the southeastern US much of that energy is used not to cool the air but to wring the moisture out of it, and if our home continuously allows humid air to enter from the outside it’s like bailing a very leaky boat. Back in the energy crisis of the seventies air sealing meant caulking windows and air stripping doors. Now we know that our biggest air leaks in summer happen not through doors and windows but through our ceilings and floors because of the stack effect, where hot air rises, exits the building and and is replaced from below. Stack effect cooling can be a good thing if the replacement air from outside is cool and dry, but what if that replacement air entering the home is already hot and humid? That’s what's happening in the summer if you have an older home with a traditional ventilated crawl space, even when the windows and doors are tight shut. A multitude of small holes in the floor below and the ceilings above from electrical and plumbing penetrations allow an astonishing amount of unfiltered outside air to flow through your home, and your air conditioner is working overtime to cool and dehumidify that constantly changing air.
The good news is that there is something we can do about this which can pay for itself in short order with much-reduced summer energy costs, with a side benefit of better indoor air quality and mold control. It's called crawl space encapsulation, and I'll tell you all about it next time.
We've been designing custom homes for a quarter of a century but writing blogs is a new venture, so bear with me and wish me luck. I'll be writing about the ways that thoughtful design can help your home live its very best life. I hope you'll be chiming in with your comments and questions as we go.