Tankless water heater, electric water heaters

QUESTION: My husband and I bought a 20-plus-year-old condominium that is all electric. We inherited a standard electric 50-gallon hot water tank that is over 10 years old and seems to be failing. We have done some research on replacement hot water tanks and systems, with an eye toward longevity, as well as the primary goal of generous amounts of ready hot water at a reasonable cost. We are seriously thinking about putting in a tankless hot water system. We are told by the manufacturer that it will afford us instant and endless hot water at an economical price, we will gain an extra closet where the old tank was, and that this is the equipment of the future.
We are told by the naysayers that it will not heat quickly or hot enough, that we will incur a great fire danger due to the current needed to run through old electrical wires, that no one knows how to install them properly or how long they’ll last, and that they may be good for gas-powered installations but not for electric-powered installations. We talked to people at SMUD, and they were noncommittal, saying they didn’t know much about them. Can you tell me what is known about tankless hot water systems?
Mrs. Lewis Rosenberg via email
ANSWER: “Yes, tankless water heaters are becoming more common,” says Vince McDonald of McDonald Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Sacramento. “ I am not sure to what extent that builders are going to tankless water heaters, but certainly it is a growing trend”
“Retrofitting from a standard tank type of heater to a tankless unit does require additional work and expense. The gas models have the capacity to deliver quite a bit more GPM (gallons per minute) than the electric models. I know of no electrical hazards when it comes to a tankless electric water heater that is properly installed to current building codes,” says McDonald. “However, in the Sacramento area, electric tankless water heaters are rare and only lately have we gotten any interest in them. As a result, I have no track record with them.”
McDonald says, “After researching tankless heaters on the Internet I discovered that they require a great amount of power. Many units require more power than most people’s present electric panel is capable of providing.”
“After you have selected a model you think will supply your needed GPM delivery of hot water, call a licensed electrician to size up your electric panel to make sure you have the electrical capacity for the larger demand that a tankless electric water heater requires

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