Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Never-Ending Hot Showers!

During our house inspection, it was brought to our attention that the unsightly, rusty, improperly installed water heater on the back porch is 25 years old.

Due to its age and the fact that much of the plumbing and ventilation would have to be redone because it was not up to code, we decided to go ahead and upgrade to a tankless as part of the 203k loan. We had to do things that would add to the resale value, and this qualified.

Tankless water heaters don't make sense for everyone. Even considering the 30% tax credit, it takes generally 20 years to pay for itself in energy savings, and that's about how long they are expected to last. Not only are they double the cost up-front than a traditional tank heater, they typically require costly upgrades in ventilation and plumbing. For example, ours cost around $2000 for the unit plus necessary upgrades, installation, and labor. If you just switch out one tank for another traditional tank, you'd probably be looking at around $500. However, like I said, with our other necessary upgrades to make it all "legal," it would have been over a $1000. So considering the tax credit, it was only a couple hundred more to go tankless. And that small amount of money will more than pay for itself over the lifetime of the unit because they are highly energy efficient. With a traditional water heater tank, you pay for lots of water to be be kept hot 24/7. With a tankless, it only kicks on when you turn on the hot water. It has a small gas flame that heats the pipe as the water goes through it so you end up getting never-ending hot showers! Here's what it looks like properly installed on the south exterior wall off the back porch:

There are only a few down sides. It does take a little bit longer for the hot water to come through, but only maybe 30 seconds more compared to a regular water heater. Another thing is a slight drop in the water pressure if you use two hot water appliances at once, such as a shower and dishwasher. But to me, that's a fair trade for never-ending hot showers! When I researched online, some people complained about the water not getting hot enough, and this really concerned me because I like really hot showers. So I brought this up with Justin the awesome contractor, and he said that they do have built-in controls in the tankless heaters that don't allow it to get really hot, but that, due to his awesomeness, he could override it. And it definitely hasn't been a problem. The controls aren't as simple as the little dial on a regular water heater's thermostat because you are not supposed to be able to adjust it. I suspect that these controls are in there to somehow keep it more energy efficient to qualify for the tax credit. Also, a huge bonus for us is that it cleared out space on the back porch (the black is the foam around the water line running to the unit's new location):

Yes, that's much better. We like to spend a lot of time on this back porch, and it can feel pretty crowded with a water heater, washer, and dryer. Now that the water heater is out of the way, we are going to move our washer and dryer against the narrower wall to the right. That will really clear out the porch. Here's what the porch looks like now:

When our house was first built (I'm guessing sometime between 1900 and 1905), It actually had very modern plumbing for its time. It had a fully working sink, toilet, bathtub...and a water heater! This was rather revolutionary. How do I know this? Well it just so happens that the owners of the house next door (the Pearsons) have owned the home since the 1940s, and have actually done very little to the house considering how much most old homes have been through since the 1940s. The son of the deceased Mrs. Pearson who lived there for all those years was kind enough to give us a tour, and I asked him a lot of questions. Here is the Pearson house next to ours for comparison:

One of the things that had been very curious to me was some odd cabinets in my kitchen. One built-in cabinet I was sure was original because it had the same ornate framing around it that every original door and window had. However, there was another set of built-in cabinets next to it that didn't have the same framing, but definitely looked old. The hardware on both looked decidedly 1940s. Here's what I'm talking about, the one on the right. Note the two vertical lines you can barely see above them that go into the ceiling:

"Hmm," I thought, "Looks like someone built another set of cabinets in the 40s and then replaced all the hardware to match. Why would they build cabinets specifically right here? Maybe there was a chimney here that they took out, so they filled it with cabinets." There is a wood-burning stove on the other side of the wall right there in the dining room, so that would make sense. Here's another shot:

Notice the frame on the top of the one to the left that isn't there on the ones to the right. The ones on the left originally had doors, but that's another blog to come. That this was a  former chimney was my theory until I saw the Pearson kitchen. When I went into their kitchen, I saw a pass-through just like mine leading into the dining room, except theirs still had the ORIGINAL DOORS AND HARDWARE! That is very exciting for an old house enthusiast like me. Theirs had never even been painted and still had THE ORIGINAL FINISH! Okay that practically never happens. I was overjoyed. I knew instantly that our house had to be built by the same builder. I mean, they look very different from the outside and have rather different floor plans, but so many of the finishing details were exactly the same. (It turns out they were both built by (Henry?) Retterath.) And to the right of the pass-through, where my kitchen has built-in yet unmatching cabinets, the Pearson kitchen had...well I can't really think of how to explain it. It's like the wall became U-shaped right there. There was nothing there. Just a 3-sided indention in the wall. The Pearson's had a stove sitting awkwardly in front of this void in the wall. I guess if you look at my cabinets and just imagine that instead of cabinets, the wall is just set back a couple feet right there from floor to ceiling, that would properly describe it. So I asked Mr. Pearson why their wall looked like that, and he told me that that is where the original water heater went when they built the house. Then it all made sense. So in the 1940s when the Forsythe's were updating the kitchen, they moved the water heater (I'm assuming a newer one) to the back porch to make more room for cabinet space. And here we are 100 years since the ground-breaking automatic water-heating tank was first installed, and we've installed a state of the art tankless water heater (and once again freed up the back porch). History repeats itself. I can't imagine water heating technology ever advancing past tankless. I mean, never-ending hot showers!

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