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Heating water accounts for up to 30 percent of the average home’s energy budget. Some makers of gas-fired tankless water heaters claim their products can cut your energy costs up to half over regular storage heaters. So is it time to switch?

Probably not. Gas tankless water heaters, which use high-powered burners to quickly heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger, were 22 percent more energy efficient on average than the gas-fired storage-tank models in our tests. That translates into a savings of around $70 to $80 per year, based on 2008 national energy costs. But because they cost much more than storage water heaters, it can take up to 22 years to break even—longer than the 20-year life of many models. Moreover, our online poll of 1,200 readers revealed wide variations in installation costs, energy savings, and satisfaction.
With the help of an outside lab, we pitted Takagi and Noritz gas-fired tankless water heaters against three storage water heaters. We didn’t test electric tankless heaters because many can’t deliver hot water fast enough to replace a conventional water heater if ground­water is cold. Even in areas with warm groundwater, most homeowners would need to upgrade their electrical service to power a whole-house tankless model.
Our tests simulated daily use of 76 to 78 gallons of hot water. That’s the equivalent of taking three showers, washing one laun­dry load, running the dishwasher once (six cycles), and turning on the faucet nine times, for a total of 19 draws. While that’s considered heavy use compared with the standard Department of Energy test, we think it more accurately represents an average family’s habits. We also ran more than 45,000 gallons of very hard water through a tanked model and a Rinnai tankless model to simulate about 11 years of regular use.
Here’s what else we found:

Water runs hot and cold Manufacturers of tankless water heaters are fond of touting their products’ ability to provide an endless amount of hot water. But inconsistent water temperatures were a common complaint among our poll respondents. When you turn on the faucet, tankless models feed in some cold water to gauge how big a temperature rise is needed. If there’s cool water lingering in your pipes, you’ll receive a momentary “cold-water sandwich” between the old and new hot water. And a tankless water heater’s burner might not ignite when you try to get just a trickle of hot water for, say, shaving.

Nor do tankless water heaters deliver hot water instantaneously. It takes time to heat the water to the target temperature, and just like storage water heaters, any cold water in the pipes needs to be pushed out. And tankless models’ electric controls mean you’ll also lose hot water during a power outage.

Up-front costs are high The tankless water heaters we tested cost $800 to $1,150, compared with $300 to $480 for the regular storage-tank types. Tankless models need electrical outlets for their fan and electronics, upgraded gas pipes, and a new ventilation system. That can bring average installation costs to $1,200, compared with $300 for storage-tank models.

Tankless units might need more care During our long-term testing, an indicator on the tankless model warned of scale buildup. We paid $334 for special valves and a plumber to flush out the water heater with vinegar. Many industry pros recommend that tankless models be serviced once a year by a qualified technician. Calcium buildup can decrease efficiency, restrict water flow, and damage tankless models. Experts suggest installing a water softener if your water hardness is above 11 grains per gallon. Ignoring this advice can shorten your warranty.

Efficient storage models are priceyWe also tested the $1,400 Vertex, a high-efficiency storage water heater by A.O. Smith. The manufacturer claims its installation costs are similar to a regular storage model. But its high cost offsets much of the roughly $70 per year the Vertex will save you. Instead, we recommend buying a conventional storage water heater with a 9- or 12-year warranty. In previous tests, we found that those models generally had thicker insulation, bigger burners or larger heating elements, and better corrosion-fighting metal rods called anodes.

Posted: September 2008 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: October 2008

Everybody knows it: it’s ‘conventional wisdom,’ passed down generation to generation. It applies to anything and everything and unfortunately, in many cases, it’s oversimplified or just plain wrong. The conventional wisdom in plumbing is no different; there are many myths. Freshen your drain with lemon? Run water with the garbage disposal? Good ideas? Find out as we explore the top 10 plumbing myths that cost you money!

Myth #1: Putting Lemons in Your Disposal to Make It Smell Fresh Is a Good Idea When life gives you lemons, don’t put them down your disposal! You might succeed in briefly creating a fresher aroma, but the citric acid from lemons corrodes the metal inside your disposal. The Better Alternative: Use ice to polish your disposal up inside, which works just like a rock tumbler polishing rocks; it’s noisy, but it works. Power wash the scum causing the odor from the drain without ruining your disposal.

Myth #2: “In Tank” Cleaners Will Keep Your Toilet Sparkling and Smelling Like Roses Spending money on “in tank” cleaners marketed to make your chores easier and decrease the time you spend scrubbing your toilet is one cost you can cut. These products bleach smelly build-up white, but don’t get rid of it. Eventually, the build-up can ruin your toilet. The Better Alternative: Use vinegar down the overflow tube. Vinegar removes smelly build-up that can damage the flow of your toilet for a fraction of the cost.

Myth #3: Lifetime Warranties on Bad Products Are Really Useful When you buy something cheap and it breaks, don’t expect to get it replaced with the latest and greatest product on the market. What you buy is what you’re stuck with. Plus, you’ll be spending time and money to keep reinstalling it. The Better Alternative: Buy good quality products the first time around and avoid trading in junk for junk.

Myth #4: Running Water While Using the Garbage Disposal Helps the Waste Travel Smoothly Sure, it seems like the perfect combo: letting the faucet run while using the garbage disposal to help wash waste down the drain. It’s something we’ve all done. And inevitably, we’ve all had to reach our hands down the drain to unblock whatever leftovers got jammed in the pipes. Following waste with water doesn’t help if the blockage has already happened before the water shows up. The Better Alternative: Fill the sink basin with a 4:1 ratio of water to waste so that the waste is separated and flows with ease down the drain.

Myth #5: As Long as Stuff Is Going Down the Drain, Everything Is Working Correctly Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t really apply to the plumbing world. Even if you can’t see it, food like pasta and rice will bloat in pipes causing clogs, blocking the passage for other waste to peacefully pass through the pipes. Without the proper amount of water to rinse it down, waste builds up in the pipes and makes drainage inefficient. The Better Alternative: Prevent blockage and clogging problems by using sinks, toilets, and showers correctly. Make sure to fill basins with water before draining. For showers, place a hair screen in the drain to reduce the human hairballs that rival anything your cat coughs up.

Myth #6: Water Pressure Regulators Are Always Dependable Water pressure regulators do give important information about water pressure, but don’t place all of your trust in the readings they provide. The Better Alternative: Personally check your water pressure! Doing so can save you a ton of hassle and money. How? Well, high water pressure is a major cause of floods, leaks, and that annoying sound your toilet makes as it continuously runs to relieve pressure.

Myth #7: Water and Soap on Bathroom Fixtures Makes Them Just as Sparkly and Clean as Your Hands You wash your hands at the sink and when you turn off the faucet, you leave a bit of soapy water on it. No big deal, right? Wrong! Water and soap cause faucets and fixtures to corrode, making them peel and bubble. The Better Alternative: Wipe the fixtures off after use. This takes an extra second, but it will help prevent your fixtures from corroding. This will also protect your lifetime warranties on products, which are void when soap has rotted the finish.

Myth #8: Users Manuals Are Only For People Who Don’t Know What They Are Doing User manuals aren’t just full of fancy labeled pictures and lists of parts. They actually contain some useful information as well. While they may not be the most entertaining read in the world, they can save you money and time in the long run. The Better Alternative: Read the manual. Twice. User manuals contain information on warranties and proper usage that will increase the lifespan of the product.

Myth #9: Plumbing Fixtures Are Low Maintenance Ignoring plumbing fixtures because they are hard as stone and cold as steel is not only mean, it’s detrimental to their performance. Lack of use allows a p-trap to evaporate, allowing dangerous sewer gas to smell up the house. If an electric water heater sits unused, it can create highly explosive hydrogen gas. In this case, you definitely want less bang for your buck. The Better Alternative: Don’t let your plumbing fixtures and equipment sit for long periods of time. Use them periodically to ensure health risks aren’t created. The time it takes to turn them on every once in awhile could save you a fortune if you prevent your home from exploding.

Myth #10: Every Plumber Knows Exactly What to Do and How to Do It Just because a plumber holds that title doesn’t mean that they are educated in their field and licensed. Every plumber has opportunities to get continued plumbing education, certificates, and special cards to install some products. If a plumber installs something poorly or chooses the wrong fixture, you’ll just have to spend more calling another plumber. The Better Alternative: Use state boards and the BBB to ensure the plumber you are hiring is well qualified and well educated in the field.

by Greg Chick

He has been a water professional for over 30 years.

by Heidi Isaza, WV communications

How many times have you used the toilet today? Judging by the fact that you are awake enough to be reading this blog, I’m assuming the answer is at least once, and probably more. (Maybe you are even reading this while on the toilet, which means you probably have the luxury of using a loo that is clean, private, and relatively comfortable).

For all of you who are fortunate enough to have a toilet in your life, I would like to wish you a happy World Toilet Day.

No, I’m not kidding — Saturday is World Toilet Day. You mean you didn’t get the memo?

Granted, for those of us who are lucky enough to have an abundance of bathrooms in which to “do our business,” it might seem a bit silly to celebrate the toilet. Aren’t there bigger development problems to tackle? Bigger accomplishments to celebrate?

But I want you to think back to the last time you didn’t have a decent toilet when you needed one (maybe your last camping trip, that port-a-potty at the stadium, or that long stretch of road between rest stops). Toilets, or lack thereof, are no laughing matter. Are they?

For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in developed societies, it is easy for us to chuckle at the important role that toilets and proper hygiene play in our lives.

But for those 2.6 billion people — more than a third of the world’s population — who don’t have access to toilets, their absence can lead to sickness and death. Did you know?

  • Children living in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhea as those with a toilet, causing more deaths every year than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.

World Vision takes toilets and hygiene seriously. Last year, we installed more than 30,000 toilets around the world in homes, schools, and health centers, and trained more than 165,000 in proper hygiene practices — keeping kids and communities safer and healthier.

The following are just a sampling of photos of the toilets built by World Vision around the world. Enjoy.

An ode to the toilet | World Vision BlogCambodia: “World Vision has given (us) a latrine and teaches us how to stay healthy,” says Poeung Sokkhonn, 44, with her daughter Chhern, 14.

An ode to the toilet | World Vision BlogPeru: “I have three children under 8 years old, and the lack of sanitary conditions was a huge problem for my family…The latrine that World Vision installed helps prevent my children from diseases, such as diarrhea,” says Arnilla Moya, 28.

An ode to the toilet | World vision BlogSouth Africa: Life is hard for Itumeleng and her siblings. The children are orphans. Their mother died and their father abandoned them. World Vision recently provided them with a new house and sanitary latrine.

Next time you visit the toilet, remember you are one of the lucky ones and that there are billions of people around the world who don’t have such a luxury. (Photos by Sopheak Kong, World Vision Cambodia; Ester Luis, World Vision Peru; and Olwetu Gwanya, World Vision South Africa)