Tankless Water Heater

tankless

Background

I needed to replace a very very old electric tank water heater before the bottom fell out and flooded my basement. I wanted to switch to gas for cost reasons.   I didn’t want to install it close enough to the chimney, which is far from all the plumbing, to use that as a vent and I didn’t want to put a hole in my roof for a water heater vent as a naturally vented tank heater would require.  That meant looking at a power vented model. Power vent models cost more, reducing the up front cost difference between a tank and tankless model.

I also have a general appreciation for the efficiency of not holding a tank of hot water at the ready 24/7, so between the two I was leaning toward a tankless heater.

I bought mine semi-locally from a plumber who installed, but then removed it.  Mine is the Home Depot Ecosense badged version: ECOH200DVLN.  Menards sells the Richards branded version.  Rheem sells the RTGH-95DVLN. As far as I know, they’re all identical.

My research indicated that this was one of the better (best even) tankless heaters available in quality, function and efficiency.  It is definitely overkill for what I need, and if I were buying brand new, I’d have gotten the 8.4 GPM version.  A few Japanese brands that got similar reviews, but as far as I could tell they were mostly internet order and didn’t have much for sales representation in the US.  All brands also made lower efficiency models, but they would have brought the same concerns as a standard water heater in requiring non-PVC roof venting.

Late in my research, I also discovered that there are apparently gas, condensing, tank water heaters which approach the same efficiency of around 93-95% but they are stupid expensive, like a minimum 50% more than the tankless version.

Installation

I installed the unit myself.  I’d describe myself as capable but inexperienced (as in none) in relation to plumbing and gas work in a home.  This was my first time sweating copper pipe (yes, I know shark-bites exist, but they’re expensive, I don’t trust o-rings and I’m an electrical engineer, so soldering things myself is a matter of pride).  It was also my first time messing with gas line.  I’ve worked a bit with PVC before, but it was in the potato canon capacity, not home improvement. So, I did a lot of reading and research before the install.

I bought most of the hardware, and did most of the install over a long weekend.  It took about two to three days worth of effort (steep learning curve for the soldering) and one or two returns to the hardware store as I had to make slight adjustments to my venting plans to better match reality (corner radii, clearance for 3″ PVC around bends, etc).

I did the venting with 3″ PVC.  I believe the instructions indicate you can get away with 2″ PVC, but only for an extremely short run.  My venting goes approximately 20ft to get to the back end of the house. There’s a total of 240 degrees of bend in each line. Rheem has guidelines in the install guide that list a max of 38ft, but I didn’t see anything explicitly stating if that was per vent or combined.  After some digging, I concluded it was per.  There are conversions for accounting for turns in that 38ft total.  I was within those limits, but just to be sure, I used some ‘creative’ deployment of a 60 and 45 combined to get a 90 degree bend plus an orthogonal step toward my wall.

The gas line coming into my house is 1″, which was fortunate given that the furnace which was the only existing gas appliance only needs a 1/2″ feed.  The water heater is a 199,000 BTU beast (over 4x the furnace) and requires at least 3/4″ gas line.  I think have about 35ft of 1″ line and then another 17ft of 3/4″ line to get to the heater.  This is on the edge of what’s acceptable according to the guides and I think falls somewhere just over a .3″WC pressure drop, but there were also tables for .5″WC pressure drop and I’m well within those.  I have two shut off valves in the gas line, one right on the heater (came with) and one in the gas line dropping to the heater before the union.  Nice thing about this is that it let me connect to the drip leg under the unit (between the valves) and pressure check all the joints right up to the very last one to the heater.

The location of the heater was selected to match the former location of the electric tank so I could reuse as much of the plumbing as possible.  Maybe it would have been a better plan to move everything 15ft closer to both the well and gas inlets for the house, but I didn’t and that’s only in hindsight.  These tankless heaters have the water in / out on the bottom instead of the top like a tank unit, so some wrap around plumbing was necessary. They make 18″ long flex lines for this, which I think aren’t a bad idea, but I decided to be cheap and plumb with the 3/4″ copper. Also, I suspect the ones i needed weren’t in stock, encouraging this decision.

I mounted the heater itself on some 2×4’s connected to a joist and stretching down to the floor.  This gives a bit of clearance behind the heater for the plumbing, kept me from having to use masonry bolts, and for whatever it may be worth, keeps the heater from direct contact with a relatively cold concrete wall. I had to move (lower) it once during the install, and having it mounted to 2×4’s instead of concrete definitely made that easier.

Success

Shortest section… After everything was connected and my construction mistakes fixed (mostly plumbing leaks, which are a pain to find and fix once water is in the pipes) the heater fired right up and worked flawlessly.  My well pump with all the taps in my house wide open can’t run enough water to outpace this heater – I could have bought the 8.4GPM model and been just fine, but I bought this one because I found it available at about half price.

More recently, I had the inspection done and passed (forgot to put the extension on the pressure relief valve, but that was just a note) so I guess that means I was successful too!

Thoughts on the heater itself

Speed to getting hot water at a tap is slower than with a tank.  I didn’t count before, so I can’t say for sure how much, but there’s *some* heat up time.

The so called “cold water sandwich” does still exist.  It’s not as pronounced as full hot to full cold and back to full hot, but it is there.  This seem seems to be a simple fact of life of the tankless heaters, but I believe that Rheem claims that this effect doesn’t exist, which is an overstatement.

The venting is powered, thus there is a blower and thus there is some sound.  The heater is mounted roughly under my kitchen sink, so I do hear the fan.  It’s not obnoxious, but it’s present.  I also have an indoor jet pump for the well.  That is much louder. Neither run unless water is being used, so it’s not like they kick on in the middle of the night (like a power vented tank heater would). Probably the most notable aspect of the fan sound is that it makes me aware that I had an occasional habit of turning on a tap with no regard for hot or cold if I was just rinsing something quick and never expected the water to warm up anyway (true regardless of heater).

I do find it a bit annoying that the flush valves aren’t included (the seem to be a minimum of $60).  It’s in the instruction manual that you need to flush the system yearly, and to do that you need the valves.  Seems like they should be included.  I think the outdoor vent terminations are not included either, but this is more variable based on install.  Both came with mine as the plumber I bought it from had the package ready to install.

In having to extend my gas line (1″ and 3/4″ black pipe), having to modify the plumbing (3/4″ copper), the venting (3″ PVC) and all the odds and ends to go with those, there was a lot of cost in the install – I’d say a few hundred dollars there and that’s not counting the hundred worth of valves and terminations that typically don’t come with the system. I think that with the loan of my Dad’s pipe threading wrench and borrowing a 3.5″ hole saw from work, I didn’t need to buy any major tools for the job. That said, I have a MAPP gas torch, a few pipe cutters, saws, hammers, drills, pliers, pipe wrenches, etc. all of which were used often.

The remote temperature control could be nice, but I don’t see much use for it in my situation, so it’s just wired up and chillin’ with the heater in the basement.

It’s going to be hard to say what the cost improvement is since I was going from a horribly old electric tank to a new, top of the line gas tankless, but it aught be an improvement.  I think the payback period, for me, is probably only a few years.

I will be curious to see how long the system lasts – not that I have reason to expect failure, but these are notably more complex than any tank heater I’ve ever seen with exception of the 95% efficient types mentioned earlier. I know that tank heaters are commonly rated at 6, 9 and 12 years and given the cost and mode of operation, I would hope that this would last at least toward the upper end of those timelines.

Nerd Alert

On the events of today.

I was going to go to the North American International Auto Show to run my yearly scans of what vehicles exist which might be suitable replacements in case the Jeep up and dies as it is likely to do. Instead I woke up at noon, with no motivation to drive across the state.

Last night, I had decided to move my server guts to their new case. My new desktop is up and running, so I figured the server could use a face lift too. Today I continued this task, watching as it became the perfect example of a small thing that grows into a day long project.

So, I started moving things into the new case. OK, simple enough. Discovered two things: one, the new case had some proprietary Dell rail system for drives and I didn’t have the rails. Second, it both cases had the ingenious case fan that doubles as a processor fan. Beyond my standard dislike of this “cheating” it posed problem because the fan and shroud didn’t mate with the new case.

Given this second issue, I decided that I might try using my old desktop board / processor / RAM with the server HDD and RAID setup. Not a good idea, the system continually crashed trying to get into windows. Next, I tried a quick hack to my old system drive to enable RAID-5. It found the drives, but didn’t show them as a coherent array (either because I did the hack wrong or because it was a new system). I should have known better than to even try this, and was more than a little worried that I had destroyed the entire array.

I moved the hardware back to the original configuration, half in the new case half sitting on the desk next to it and breathed a sigh of relief when the array recognized and was healthy. Next, I declared utter frustration with Dell and their proprietary case BS and ordered a cheap new one. I really didn’t want to put money into a case for something that is more or less hidden and never accessed by a human, but at the same time, the contents of that PC are far more valuable than those of my desktop, so having drives flopping around all willy nilly was just not OK.

So, now I wait for the new case which should arrive some time next week.

Second nerd announcement: I moved my router from DD-WRT to Tomato firmware for the second time and it Tomato appears to run circles around DD-WRT with regards to connection quality and speed.

Maybe tomorrow I will actually care to go to the car show… we’ll see.

Also, I want to buy a television, so I have to keep an eye on Circuit City for liquidation sales.

Prelude to the Goodness

I’m in the process of building a new computer, something I said I wouldn’t do until I was living on my own, and, that time I has come.  So far, I have only the two monitors and the case.

I’m very excited to have a computer built in this decade, it’s going to be kick ass.  Like the last time I bought a new computer, this one will have something like 10x the raw specs of the previous one.  Last time, I bought a lot of the latest and greatest.  That was a mistake.  This one is more optimized for value.

27GB HDD -> 320GB
650MHz proc -> 2.4Ghz Quad
512MB RAM -> 4GB
100MHz FSB -> 1066MHz
ATA66 -> SATA 3GB
PSU 400W -> 550W…. this one’s OK to break the 10x rule on.
Case Beige -> Black (that’s pretty much a 10x improvement).
Monitor 173.28 sq. in. -> 492.25 sq. in.
Monitor 1.92MP -> 4.6MP

Notice that the monitors scale 2.8x in area, but only 2.4x in pixel count. I don’t really like this, but higher res monitors, or even monitors which have resolution increases to match the viewable area tend to drive cost up beyond the value.

I am also considering diverging from my nameable tech scheme. From freshman year of college it’s been my last name followed by first initial (as per MSU’s userID design) followed by a dash and a single character to represent the device. I’ve had:

  • norconkm-d for my desktop
  • norconkm-l for my laptop, there was also an l2
  • norconkm-c for my cell phone
  • norconkm-p for my PDA
  • norconkm-r for my router
  • norconkm-s for my server
  • norconkm-b for my blackberry

17′ Dining Room

And, less than a week later, I have filled the existing space with crap.

WMCKA‘s having their winter pool sessions now. Josh and I went to the first one on Saturday and as a result I had gathered the kayaks. I had forgotten that on our last trip of the season up to Le Cheneaux I broke the strap securing the back band of my boat. I did some surgery on the kayak and it is now, dare I say, better than new. The problem stemmed from the metal anchors that held the nylon web strap in place. They were stamped aluminum, meaning that the edges were pretty sharp – sharp enough to slowly cut through the band. I took the rotary tool and rounded them out prior to replacing the straps.

Also this weekend, I finally figured out the laundry system at the apartment, so I did something like six loads of laundry which cleaned pretty much everything I own and wear on a regular basis.

That’s all for now… updates you don’t care about brought to you mainly because I liked the image of my kayak extending through the entire apartment.

Move

For the pretty much past year, since I moved from East Lansing, I had been living with my Aunt & Uncle in Ada.  It was an arrangement that was originally supposed to last three months, time for me to look for a house.  Well, I did look, but I didn’t find anything that really caught my interest, so instead I just ended up staying there far longer than originally intended.

Obviously, imposing on someone else’s life for a year is ridiculous, and I very much appreciate that they put up with me for that long.  Although I haven’t yet found a house I’m interested in buying, it has been immensely helpful in my saving enough to make a downpayment when I do indeed make that jump.

Two weeks ago I started moving into an apartment.  I found an ad on Craigslist from someone looking to transfer their lease.  This was convenient for me as it got me a 9 month lease term at the rate of a 12 month lease.

The apartment is reasonably sized and in my opinion, a nice layout for a 1br setup.  I’m sure I’ll find a way to fill it with crap, but that’s neither here nor there.  Additionally, I’ll be able to get one or two garage spaces (something which is not always avaialble).  I’m considering two since that would give me full lock control (they’re two stall garages) and also have the nice side effect of letting me get my car down here.  The only down side I see to the apartment is that it’s ground floor so people in the parking lot can see in, but given that I end up spending minimal time just sitting in front of the window, I expect this to be of minimal concern.

While moving, I made the discovery of just how much household crap I’ve mooched off roommates in the past.  I had a bed, a futon, a chair (desk to come), and well, that’s about it.  I had to buy all kinds of odds and ends – things like bathmats, lamps, kitchen utinsels.  The only big expense was a vacuum cleaner, but still overall, moving was expensive.

I don’t have the garage space yet, and I still have to acquire the desks from up North, but otherwise my life has pretty much been fully transfered.  It’s glorious to have a kitchen again, I never realized how much I missed having a kitchen (even with my sporaddic use of it) until I really didn’t have a place to do cooking.

Oh, and don’t ever let a friend tell you you don’t need a microwave because the only things you cook in a microwave are bad for you.  You reheat leftovers with a microwave, and living solo leftovers are plentiful.

Trip Reports

The last two weekends I, among others, ventured across the state to run the mighty Huron river in Ann Arbor.  It was good fun with good people and good students.  Beyond that, this post is likely interesting to very few people.

Last weekend Todd, Linda, Dennis, Kathleen, Doug, Josh, Jeff and I went on what was mainly a scouting run for the class this weekend.  The river was running at about 550cfs, which is on the low end of medium.  Josh got to have his first solo experience in a whitewater boat and discovered just how important edging is.  He rolled 4 or 5 times, but no swimming.  It was Jeff’s first run with the group, but he seemed competent on the river.  For reference, I rolled twice on my first Huron run last year, but I didn’t spend nearly as much time screwing around on the wave as Josh.

At 550cfs, the Huron is pretty low.  There was an OK wave at the trestle, Zeeb was a little rocky in places and Delhi was good, but not too pushy.

The initial plan was for Doug, Jeff, Josh and I to re-shuttle and try out Tubbs rapids.  Josh and I were getting cold enough standing around at the takeout that we nixed our participation in that venture.  We did drive down the see the rapids and it looks reasonable.  Short, but stretching across the entire river.  Doug and Jeff hiked the bit up to them and gave them a try.  Initial review were positive both for a play spot and a good practice spot.

This weekend Todd, Linda, Denis, Kathleen, Jeff and I returned with the three students from the river class.  All the students did quite well.  There was one swim, but it was handled very calmly and apparently was not too big a deterrent to the sport.  I think both Kate and Jennifer were talking about acquiring their own boats by the end.  Dan, being Dennis’ brother, has that front covered for the moment.

The river was running around 440cfs, which is low.  The wave at trestle was minimal, but very easy to get onto and surf.  Most of the time there I spent entertaining myself practicing bow enders and the start of cartwheels.  Since this used the eddy to the side of the wave, it had the added advantage that I didn’t have to wait for others to be done surfing to have my fun.  At this level, Zeeb was very rocky and not really worth hanging around at.  Delhi was more difficult because of the random rocks, but also easier to navigate due to the low water.

Jeff and I considered going to Tubbs again, but Jeff was borrowing a boat and had to return it at the end of the main section.  I suspect if I am to do Tubbs, it will have to be a time when we plan on it ahead of time and shuttle there from the very start.

As aside note, we also discovered that parking on Huron River Drive and carrying kayaks over the bridge doesn’t really save you much time.

Trip Reports

The past two weekends have seen two runs on the mighty Huron river.  The following is probably only interesting to a few people who likely don’t read this, so it will serve mainly as a future reference for myself.

Last weekend the Huron was running at about 550 cfs.  On Sunday I joined several from the group (Lansing Area White Water Paddlers) to do scouting run.  Nothing to extraordinary as far as river surprises, which is good when you’re looking to take a class down it a week later.

Josh joined us for his first solo whitewater run.  He had previously been down the Huron in a tandem kayak with the UofM group last year.  That time wasn’t took exciting.  This time, he found out how important edging was.  Jeff also came over with Doug for his first paddle with the group.  Other attendees were Todd, Linda, Dennis and Kathleen.

At 550 there is a reasonable wave under the trestle.  Not sticky enough to do much on, but surfable.  The Zeeb Rd. wave was a little rocky and not much for surfing.  Delhi rapids was reasonable, but nothing too special.  Afterwards, Doug and Jeff went to take a stab at Tubb’s rapids.  Josh and I got cold enough waiting after Delhi to want to go again.  The report was that it is a very nice rapid.

This week was the river class of three students.  There were supposed to be some storms, but apparently they fizzled so the river was down.  Saturday was however pretty nice given that the forecast a few days earlier was for thunder storms.  Todd and Dennis mainly ran the class, Linda and Kathleen assisted, and Jeff and I pretty much stayed out of the way.  All the students did very well.  There was one swim, but it was handled well.

At yesterday’s level of 440 cfs, the wave at trestle becomes very tame.  Easy to get on and surf, but not too exciting.  I mainly entertained myself by practicing enders and attempting cartwheels in the eddy off to the side of the wave.  Fun, with the added advantage of not having to wait for someone else to be done surfing.

At 440, the Zeeb Rd. rapid is very rocky.  It’s a little better for practicing ferries etc. further back though.  Likewise, Delhi is very rocky, but that just makes it more technical since there are places to be avoided.  It also makes it easier to catch eddies, which I don’t usually do all that well at.  I caught 7 on one run, which is good for me – some others were able to catch 10ish.

Jeff and I drove together, and he was borrowing a boat from Todd and Linda so we did not go to explore Tubb’s again at the lower water level.

Kathleen and I had cameras.  Hers actually had batteries (oops) so there might be some pictures to come.

No Maintenance, Just Fixes

For those who haven’t met me in person, I drive a blue Jeep Cherokee. It’s old, it’s rusted, it’s dented, it’s been rolled once and declared totaled, and I don’t do preventative maintenance.

I have about a five mile drive into work. Last Friday, about 3.5 miles into the trip I started hearing a thump-thump noise. My first guess was that it was a flat tire. I’ve had one of those before and rolled on it long enough to completely destroy it. Not wanting to repeat that, I pulled into a nearby parking lot to check things out.

Went around, checked all the tires, gave them all a good shove, etc. I couldn’t find anything wrong, so I figured it was just the Jeep making odd noises and decided to check it out later.

Well, apparently, that was the wrong choice. I made it the additional mile and a half to work, then about 2/3 of the way down our 300ft driveway: Klunk! My front left wheel falls off right there in the driveway.

I stopped (didn’t really have an option) and walked up to the security booth. I told the security guard that I had a problem and he got about half way through asking me what it was when he looked up and my Jeep siting there missing a wheel. He pointed a security camera at it and phoned the protection services office. They sent over someone with a floor jack.

I found four of the lug nuts right near the road and the last about 1/3 of the way down the drive. As best I can figure, the four came loose and all fell out of the sockets when I made the turn into work. The remaining threads on the fifth quickly blew out and the wheel came off. We jacked up the Jeep, I put the wheel back on with the four good nuts, went and parked.

After work I bought a few new parts and borrowed a tap and die set from work. Saturday, I took the wheel back off, cleaned up the studs, re-tapped the nuts and put it back on. Results: The Jeep is as good as new, or at least as good as it was. I did twist the front end a bit, so the door rubs when I open it now, but it’s not like things were properly aligned before…

I also noticed while the wheel was off that my left connection to the anti-sway bar was completely busted. I might be inclined to fix that sometime…

WordPress

This is the first post coming to you through the WordPress installation on norconk.com. I’ve spent far too much time in the indecision of how to design my site. About two years ago, I had it all set up how I liked it, but then wanted to convert it to script and database driven. I made the mistake of taking down the ‘finished’ version in favor of my work in progress version. Bad idea!

Site stayed in a stagnant, incomplete version for a year or more. I wanted to code everything myself, so I could make everything perfectly customized. The problem was that this took a huge amount of time, and resulted in what would generally be considered sub-par results, primarily because I am not a software person.

I have now given in and decided that maybe I didn’t need to custom write everything myself. I’ll settle for customizing the styles and leaving the database management to people talented in that area.

I have imported all my old LiveJournal entries, comments and all. I did go through and sweep them individually, deleting anything that was previously private or excessively inane. Next step will be importing all the entries that were made on my web site years ago.

That brings me to what I see as the true benefit of this move. I’ve always wanted to keep my own web site – for pictures, videos, updates, etc. But LiveJournal had the edge as far as posting ease. This means that for the last few years, any current updates from me came across the LiveJournal and the web site got ignored.  Now, I can post here and have it mirrored in the LiveJournal account, although I will probably continue using LiveJournal for the more useless posts directed at specific people I know which are not useful or interesting to the general public.