I'm learning a lesson about going green. This one is personally expensive.

My water heater broke on Sunday.  I came home after Chalice Theater to find a puddle in the utility closet, so I drained the tank.  For three hours. The cut off valve no longer works.  I didn't suspect that until, at the end of the third hour, I asked the Internets how long it should take to drain a 50-gallon tank.  The Oracle said, "45 minutes".  Sheesh!  So I shut off all water in the house.  Then the tank stopped draining.  I had supper and went to bed.

This is the first time I've had to replace a water heater.  I thought I'd get a tankless heater because they are supposed to use less energy than the tank kind.  That led me, on Monday, through some poorly documented math about the energy required to raise water from air temperature to shower temperature and how many gallons per minute I could expect from any tankless heater for that rise in temperature.  If I were still in college, I'd ask an engineer friend who'd taken thermodynamics. Alas, I'm not.  The calculations aren't well documented for the layman.  In the end, I have to trust the charts provided by Rehm and Jacuzzi, two brands of tankless heater.  By mid-afternoon, I chose my heater and drove to the home improvement store to buy it.

This is where things get messy.  I want to use less energy.  I also want to have running water.  I learned that before I can buy my heater, someone from the manufacturer has to come to my house for a site survey.  They'll call me on Wednesday to schedule an appointment.  Thursday is the earliest someone can come.  After that, the manufacturer sends its evaluation to the store.  The store makes an estimate and calls me.  That might be on Monday.  I'll have been a week without regular water in the house.

Remember, the heater leaks, so every time I turn on the house water I get water on the floor or water running out the drain hose.  I have the hose running into the kitchen sink.  I turn on the water for sanitation, cooking, and to make coffee.  That's just a few minutes a day.

Assuming the retailer has the heater in stock, it could be Thursday next week before I have water again.  I'm going to ride it out.  I've started shower surfing: showering at homes of friends and neighbors.  It's going to be interesting. It might be character building.  (I'd like to think that I have enough of that already, but I could be wrong.) One friend suggested that I take a little vacation until the heater arrives.  Hmm.

What would you do?  At home, it's just me and Leroy, my 14-year-old cat.  I can't imagine doing this if there were children in my house. What would you do?

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Tags: comfort, green, water

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Comment by Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith on March 7, 2012 at 9:24pm

Just read your follow-up post ... You're rationale works for me, and happy is a great color to be!

Comment by Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith on March 7, 2012 at 9:19pm

Tankless isn't as simple as it seems, David ... I talked with a UUCAer about the possibility of having at tankless heater installed in my little investment property down in Mississippi. He told me that it requires a filter that has to be cleaned out ... monthly? every three months? I can't remember, but it was enough to discourage me from getting it, given the thought of having a renter who may or may not remember this regular maintenance function. Plus, they are a lot more expensive than conventional tank heaters.

Given the situation you describe, if I had kids, I would try to assign it to a property manager to handle while we were on vacation, for sure. As a singleton, that still might be a good idea!

Comment by David Talmage on February 29, 2012 at 11:32am

Yesterday, I worried about the inconvenience of being without water on demand for over a week while waiting for a tankless water heater.  Two friends advised me to call a plumber.  A plumber would have a smaller lead time than my big box home improvement store. 

 

That turned out to be good advice.  The plumber down the street, a local company that has been in my neighborhood for over 20 years, could install my tankless heater.  The installed price would be between two and four times that of a conventional heater. 

 

The tankless heaters can be expensive to install.  Often, they require upgrading the gas line or the wiring. Some of them require venting through an outside wall.  All of this adds up.  You'd only pay it once, for the first tankless heater in your house.  Given how mobile we are, it could very well be that you'd make these upgrades for the benefit of the nextowner of your house.

 

The payback period is the key.  It's what made me change my mind.  I calculated the payback period, determined it was too long, and bought a conventional heater from the plumber.  The Federal Trade Commission estimates the cost of running major appliances like water heaters, refrigerators, and dish washers. The conventional heater I bought costs $89 more per year to run than the tankless I wanted.  I calculated the payback period using this formula:

 

Payback period in years = (Installed price of tankless - Installed price of traditional) / (Annual cost of traditional - Annual cost of tankless)

 

Using the optimistic estimate, the payback period is 14 years.  If I could obtain the $250 rebate offered by Washington Gas, the payback period is 11-1/4 years.  Washington Gas offers about 200 such rebates annually and we're near the end of the rebate year, which runs from May through April.  Both heaters are warranted for about six years, so they would be well out of their warranty period by the time I made my money back in energy savings.

Yesterday, I showered at a friend's house.  She has a tankless heater. She paid about three times what I did for my conventional heater. That doubles the payback period to 28 years.

I suppose there's always room for more irony in my life.  While I showered, I remembered from my camping experiences as a teenager how I could have made my nearly waterless week more comfortable. By that time, I had already committed to the new, traditional heater and I was happy with that decision.

 

The plumber came to my house at 8:00 this morning.  About two hours later, I had a new water heater and he had a check.  I'm typing this at about 11:30.  I have hot water again. Color me happy.

 

Comment by David Talmage on February 28, 2012 at 9:12pm

That's part of the problem, Marc.  The shutoff valve for the water heater doesn't work.  The only way to keep the water heater empty is to turn off the house water.

I'll have more to say tomorrow.

Comment by Marc DeFrancis on February 28, 2012 at 5:54pm

It should be possible for you to shut off the water to your old heater while continuing to have cold running

water in your faucets, no? In the Peace Corps I learned to take very very short cold showers every morning. But then again, it never got below 50 degrees outside in the west Pacific. ANyway -- you can do this, David. Hang in there!

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