5 Reasons Why Tankless Water Heaters Are Overrated

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tankless water heater on a black series RV

Tankless water heaters are all the rage these days in the RV industry. Unfortunately, at the same time, many owners are discovering they don’t live up to the hype.

While these appliances have some benefits, they come with some significant disadvantages.

Today, we’re sharing five reasons why tankless water heaters are overrated. Will you change your mind about whether you want one in your RV?

Let’s look and see! 

What Are Tankless Water Heaters?

They’re all the same whether you call them on-demand or instantaneous water heaters.

Unlike traditional water heaters, which continuously heat a storage tank of water, tankless water heaters heat the water only when it passes through the device.

Some of the most significant selling features of these units in houses are that they’re more energy efficient and can reduce utility bills. Still, most RVers will only care about the other main benefit, endless hot water.

We installed one on our house but don’t think we will be “upgrading” to one on our RV because there are some significant drawbacks.

5 Reasons Why Tankless Water Heaters Are Overrated

RV dealers will tell you all the great things about how a tankless water heater will change your life. Unfortunately, they’re often just trying to sell you an RV. Let’s look at why many in the community feel tankless water heaters are overrated.

1. High Initial Cost

The initial cost is one of the most obvious downsides of a tankless water heater. While some RVs come with tankless options, not all do. As a result, you may have to upgrade and replace the tank version.

Tankless versions come with a premium price tag of $500 to $700, plus labor fees. This is generally $100 to $200 more than traditional units.

This may not be a big deal for those who will use them regularly as full-time RVers. However, most recreational campers that camp a few times each year are likely to benefit less.

2. Uses More Water

Another downside of tankless water heaters is that you have to wait for the hot water to get to the faucet. Since there is no tank of hot water, you will need to wait for the heater to get hot enough to heat the water. This means you’ll need to let the water run before getting hot water.

This may not be a big deal for those who spend most of their time connected to full hook-ups.

On the other hand, boondockers try to save every drop of water they can when out on an adventure.

You’re wasting water every second you have to let the water run waiting for the hot water to reach you.

We hate wasting water while boondocking and with our shower head, this would waste about 2 gallons per minute while waiting for it to heat up.

3. Propane Only 

While there are electric tankless water heaters, you typically don’t see them in RVs. This is primarily because they require a tremendous amount of power. As a result, you’ll be stuck with models that run off propane.

Unfortunately, this can become a major problem if you run out of propane during your trip. Not only will you run out of propane, but you’ll also no longer have hot water. You’ll need to find a nearby facility to refill your propane tanks as soon as possible.

Additionally, because these water heaters run only on propane, you won’t be able to take advantage of the included electricity at campgrounds.

Traditional water heaters with a tank are typically propane-electric. These are convenient as you can switch the electricity on at a campsite and rely on the campground’s electricity to heat the water tank.

This saves you money since the fees for power are typically included in the reservation fee. This is one of the main reasons why we have stuck with a traditional water heater.

4. Complex Repairs

Another major disadvantage of tankless water heaters is that repairs typically aren’t easy. You’re more likely to call a professional to service the unit when things don’t work.

In addition to the labor, you’ll likely be on the receiving end of footing the bill for replacement parts.

While the same could be said with traditional water heaters, repairs tend to be less complex.

There are many repairs that anyone with minimal DIY skills can complete on their own since they have been around unchanged for much longer and more information about fixing them.

5. Limited Performance in Cold Climates

The final reason tankless water heaters are overrated is that they don’t perform well in cold climates.

They’re only able to increase the temperature a certain amount. This means if you’re in an area with freezing weather, it likely won’t get as hot as you like.

Expect to be disappointed if you anticipate taking a hot shower at the end of the day.

This isn’t going to be an issue for most people, but something to consider if you’re going somewhere that has cold winters and, most likely cold groundwater.

We experienced ice-cold groundwater almost everywhere we filled our freshwater tanks on our Alaska trip. We needed to wait longer for our hot water tank to heat up and even needed to adjust the mixing valve in our shower to mix less cold water in so we could have hot showers.

Are Tankless Water Heaters Worth It?

While tankless water heaters can be great in some situations, they’re far from perfect. Many consumers only consider the positive side of these devices when looking at their options.

However, they begin to spot the flaws in them once they start using them. Being aware of the pros and cons of tankless water heaters can help you make an informed decision and avoid experiencing buyer’s remorse.

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