The Trouble With Tankless

by | Jan 23, 2024 | Water Heating

As a plumber with over 20 years of experience, I’ve worked with old style water heaters that were super easy to repair, hardly ever needed to have parts replaced and lasted about 15 years old. Now there’s new tank standards, also several generations of tankless water heaters. Unfortunately the education and training of these heaters hasn’t kept up (I don’t know if it ever did) with the people who are supposed to work on them. You see, tankless water heaters made their way in around the the 2000’s, but consumers didn’t really start installing them until the mid 2010’s after large rebates, remodeling contractors, and the media starting talking about them. Then people wanted them, a lot of people, for many good reasons, however…….

How Did Tankless Get To The Plumbers

Homeowners don’t really know this but manufacturers go to the builders first, sell thousands of units and provide the installation and training for those products to the new construction plumbers. It won’t be until several years later when those products are failing, and out of builders warranty that training will be catered to the service and repair plumbers who take on the job of fixing all of the issues that happen due to normal wear and tear. This is what happened to the tankless market. Thousands of units were sold and installed before many plumbers even knew how a unit worked. Then, stacked on top of that, a plumber had to take time off almost always unpaid, (not a fair thing but it’s how the system works right now) to attend a single manufacturers level training class. Most manufacturers have at least 3 levels of training for each line of tankless they sell, and there are well over 5 major manufacturers of tankless water heaters, so as you can see this represented a large investment for any single person. Also, IMO the training could be better…..

So you begin to see that learning how to work on these units across all lines and models, was almost a daunting task, and most plumbers shucked off the market completely. Often only learning to blame water quality, the suspicious unreliability, lack of maintenance etc. Offering to install a tank instead a better option. I knew this market wasn’t going away, and decided to stick in for the long haul. To be honest, I thought it would get better! NOPE!!

What Can A Homeowner Do?

So by now you know that the chances of finding a trained plumber who knows in detail what’s going on with your brand/model of tankless water heater is super slim. It’s to the point now that I don’t even accept what many homeowners explain to me is wrong with the unit, it’s not a homeowners fault, it’s the plumbers and plumbing companies who don’t care to educate themselves or their staff. But, a good tankless repair person, will know a few things from the start. A knowledgeable person will have a strong familiarity with working with the warranty process of the manufacturer. They will also be looking at things that seem completely unrelated to the problem your having, such as looking at faucet pressure, and the whole installation of the tankless. Trust me, were not looking for more things to fix, but more likely ruling things out. Also, someone who knows what their doing will be able to explain an error code, look one up, it’s cause, and possible concerns, and will want to know the history of how the unit has been working. Lastly, the technician should have all the tools to be able to perform more complicated test, but to be honest, I can diagnose most issues with a screwdriver and my eyes these days, so if you call me, don’t fear.

Hiring Someone Who Doesn’t Know What Their Doing

This part is gross, and it’s the scariest part for me to write. I’ve seen everything under the sun when it comes to tankless water heaters. Here are just a few examples:

  • Corona, CA I’ve seen a unit where the exhaust, the part that spews out carbon monoxide, was left unconnected in the garage. It was only after I mentioned it that the homeowner put two and two together as the reason for the headaches since the unit was installed. This was no joke, It could have killed the entire family! The contractor swore they pulled a city permit, I decommissioned the unit until it was figured out who was going to make the necessary repairs to make the install safe, much less get the tankless to work.
  • Eastvale, CA A unit that was worked on by the plumbers apprentice. I had rebuilt this unit 2 years prior, customer decided to use another company for new issues. This company charged her $1200.00, lied about replacing two parts, and after they still couldn’t get the unit to work, said that I had voided the manufacturers warranty because of faulty workmanship. A quick phone call to the manufacturer revealed that no one had called them about this unit since my warranty request 2 year ago, they made up a total lie. They also ruined parts, left a gas leak on the unit which required days of downtime to order new parts and another $1200.00. The actual cause of the problem was a dirty air filter that was cleaned in a few minutes and required no parts.
  • Temescal, CA A company was called out because of a leaking unit. They said the unit was leaking internally and needed to be replaced at a cost of almost $6,000.00 . When I looked at it, the unit was fine, except the condensate drain and T&P drain were never connected by the builder. The pipes were there, just not connected. It was fixed for under $500.00.

And the list goes on……..

Lets Recap!

Maybe you get lucky! It’s a simple fix, the person knows whats going on and all goes well. Sadly I’ve had more instances in the Inland Empire and Palm Springs area also, that that’s just not even close to the norm. If you don’t get a good vibe, get a second opinion. I would love your trust and business! Tankless water heaters are here to stay, and I do believe in them, but a homeowner needs to know they require regular maintenance and aren’t cheap or easy to repair if something major happens. To quote the most famous plumber that ever lived “Something always happens” – Cosmo Castorini


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