…the energy-saving options start to get expensive.

As we continue to wait for our solar paperwork to go through to receive the subsidies and loans, I’ve kept looking for ways to save energy, and I’ve come to a sad realization. It looks like we’ve already done most of the no-brainers. We’ve weatherstripped doors, sealed air leaks, blown in insulation, tweaked our steam heat system, screwed in compact fluorescents and LEDs, and turned our five-year-old daughter into a zealot for turning off lights. Gone are the days when I came home from work only to find every single light in the house turned on.

But the fruit is getting steadily harder to pick, and the household finances are now working against the cause of energy conservation. Our water heater is a good example. We currently have a gas-fired storage water heater. It’s about 15 years old and last week the drain valve sprang a small leak, so I figured this would be the time to replace it with one of the tankless units that conservation advocates wax eloquent about. (…)

The energy factor—a measure of efficiency—of tankless units is typically 0.85, compared to 0.62 for storage heaters (http://www.aceee.org/consumerguide/waterheating.htm). To sweeten the deal, the state of New Jersey offers $300 rebates for tankless units and the Feds now offer a $1,500 tax credit on this and other energy-saving measures.

So it seems like a open-and-shut case. Yet our plumber tells that half his customers who get tankless water heaters later ask to have them removed. One big disadvantage is that such heaters have not only a maximum flow rate, but also a minimum flow rate. If you just turn on the faucet for a small amount of hot water, the unit won’t fire. When I told this to my wife, I could see my dreams of a tankless unit swish down the drain.

I’ve been making similar calculations about my water heater. The tankless models look great in theory, but the payback period, even with the ecoENERGY and provincial subsidies, still extends beyond ten years.

If I do decide to go tankless, it will be for other reasons. Now that I have a high-efficiency gas furnace, I’d like to close off the chimney completely, which would probably help reduce air leakage. Plus, I think I might be able to put a laundry chute in the chimney cavity. Then I would never have to carry the laundry down from the third-floor master bedroom to the basement laundry room again.