Water Heating: Not Quite a Tankless Task

Tankless or conventional? The seemingly straight-forward water-heater question can be vexing, with benefits and drawbacks to each type. Enter the new A.O. Smith NEXT Hybrid. Basically, it’s a tankless model, but with a small buffer tank that mitigates the low-flow issue that can make tankless heaters frustrating despite their better energy efficiency.

As with a conventional water heater it introduced earlier this year, Smith’s hybrid maximizes energy efficiency by routing exhaust gas from the tankless engine back into the buffer tank, extracting additional heat into the water in the process. Smith said this allows the hybrid to operate at 90 percent thermal efficiency, a big winner over both conventional tank models, at 78 percent, and standard tankless models, at 82 percent.

image via PR Newswire

Still, a common drawback of going to tankless water heaters — or “demand” heaters, as the models are sometimes known — can be the installation. Many models require redoing the water and gas connections to make the fit, and can also entail installing stainless steel venting. Smith claimed their new hybrid is made to avoid such problems. “Inexpensive PVC venting and standard 1/2-inch gas connections make this model much simpler in replacement applications,” the company said.

Smith didn’t quote a price for the new water heater, but did note that it is eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit for the total installed cost, up to $1,500.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.