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Domestic hot water heaters

  1. #1
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Domestic hot water heaters

    So I have a 30 year old oil-fired boiler that we use for heat and domestic hot water. It is a quality cast unit that runs pretty damned good for its age. I've gone down the road of getting estimates for replacements or alternatives a few times and the math never works out for heat as this thing is more than good 'nuf and completely paid for. But it makes pretty lousy hot water. It's actually fine for me, but the wife and kiddo seem to take 30+ minute showers and/or insist on filling the tub. Suddenly this is an issue. I've had issues with one of the showers going lukewarm after a while. I suspected buildup on the coil in the boiler and today got a professional to confirm. He's quoting $6-800 to clean it with no guarantee the system holds water after cleaning. Replacing the coil is .. well, significantly more and still inefficient. Here I am entertaining alternatives.

    I have electric and oil on-site. No gas infrastructure where I live and I do not have any existing propane bottles.

    First guy we had in is pushing a "hybrid" electric heater that uses a heat pump to heat. I've never heard of such a thing. Says seal off the coil on the boiler and be done with it. ~$3500 installed minus $500 rebate from the electric utility. Insists our annual cost would be ~$200/yr for water. I imagine we'd see a reduction in oil heat as we'd be able to turn the boiler off entirely over the summer.

    My wife had propane at her last house. She/we really got to like cooking with propane and my electric range is on its last leg anyway. We'd considered a on-demand heater. We have not gotten a formal quote for this yet but I'm guessing in the $4k territory for the water heater once the bottles are installed and gas lines run, plus the cost of a new gas range. Propane is kinda dumb expensive. Calculators we've used estimate $500/yr. Although I'm having a hard time reconciling that against the ~$300/yr we used at her old house. (She also had a propane stove she'd use for auxiliary heat.)

    Third option, and I'm surprised the plumber didn't offer it, is an indirect system with storage tank. Add a zone to the existing boiler and tank. I asked my wife to ask about that but she forgot. So no idea on costs.

    One reservation I have with going electric is my breaker panel is pretty full. Quote for install included ~$300 for an electrician to install a 220V circuit for the heater. But I'm not sure I have space in my panel. I guess he'd have to do a sub-panel?! Or would I be looking at a whole new panel? Either way, substantial up-sell.

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    Lifer Kurlon's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    I've got an indirect setup, easy to plumb and wire, hot water for days.

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    Don't bother me! R7's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    My old farmhouse has 30 year old boiler, with the coil inside. It sucked, every single time you turn on hot water, the boiler kicked on. I had an indirect 40 gallon tank and separate zone added and all is good.

    That being said, a modern boiler will over time, pay for itself in saved oil. Your 30 year old boiler is likely around 65% efficient , where the modern boilers are about 90%. If I wasn’t using the wood boiler for heat in the winter, I’d have updated my boiler by now. My burner is off from mid November to mid April, so it’s not really worth it

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    Angry Gumball RandyO's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    Propane is kinda dumb expensive. .
    as an individual yes, but there are several "groups buys" that can cut the cost by as much as 80%

    I converted to LP 32 years ago, tankless water heater, gas stove and gas dryer, my total gas bills are still less than what the electricty for the electric water heater alone were 32 years ago, that and switching from residential electric service to general electric service has saved me over $30k since the switch

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by R7 View Post
    Your 30 year old boiler is likely around 65% efficient , where the modern boilers are about 90%.
    Mine consistently tests at 78-80% efficiency when the guy does his thing at the annual tuneup.
    My buddy has a new construction home with a "high efficiency" "energy star" rated boiler that tests out at about 85% efficiency. I cannot believe that ~5-7% efficiency is worth the $5k+ quotes I've received. Never mind that those seem to be for stamped steel boilers where mine is a cast unit.

    I'm all for moving the DHW off the boiler as I'd love to shut the thing down in the summer. I've been hesitant as my oil usage drops to nearly zilch in the summer so why fix it if it ain't broke. But now it's broke so..

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    I heard a trick where you install an innexpensive electric tank type heater up-stream of your existing boiler. Shut the boiler down for the summer and go all electric for DHW. Let the boiler pre-heat water in the winter when it's running anyway.

    Either way, has anyone heard of a "heat pump hybrid" electric heater? I guess it's one of these : Water Heater | Water Heating Systems | State Water Heaters for Hot Water | Premier Heat Pump Family | Products

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    Member TwelveGaugeSage's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Sounds like what he wants you to do is continue using the boiler for hot water and a mini-split for heating and cooling.

    See: What'''s your experience with ductless mini-split systems? : HomeImprovement

    Mini-splits use a heat pump and are extremely efficient. They are also nice in that they do zone heating and cooling. I don't know if they would be ideal for you, but they really seem to be the future. I've seen them in a lot of new construction.

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    No. This was definitely a water heater we were talking about as that's why we called him; because we don't have enough DHW supply.

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    Grizzly Fuckin Adams dhuze's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Why do you need to heat up hot water?

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  10. #10
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by dhuze View Post
    Why do you need to heat up hot water?
    Because women. Apparently 30 minutes in the shower is "average".

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    Super Moderator TheIglu's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    I put in an on-demand electric. 27kw jobbie. I kill my Buderus with the indirect tank all summer. My electric bill usually goes up about $5. Never have to hear the oil burner kicking on. It's nice.

    Endless hot water as long as there is power, and no generating hot water unless you are using it. You'll need panel space, but even with a panel upgrade, it'll likely be your cheapest option. I did it all for well under a grand, including purchase of the unit, breakers, huge wire, and plumbing.

    I went with one of these.

    EcoSmart ECO 27 Electric Tankless Water Heater, 27 KW at 240 Volts, 112.5 Amps with Patented Self Modulating Technology - - Amazon.com

    Only time it can't keep up is when filling a tub. I just throttle back the hot water ball valve to the tub when I use it. Just means it's a hair slower to fill, still gets plenty hot.

    I can run two showers at a time with 1.5 Gpm shower heads.

    I can run the dishwasher and take a shower.

    It shuts off completely when not in use. Only kicks on when it detects flow.

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    Lifer jasnmar's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    When we moved into this house wifey bitched and bitched about the temperature of the hot water... It never bothered me, but it did her.

    After I got tired of listening I installed 40 gallon electric water heater after the boiler heater. I did the piping so that I could isolate either one of them at any time and still have hot water. In the summer I valve around the oil burner and just use electrocity. In the winter I use the oil burner as a preheat for the electric. If we have a bunch of people around in the summer (like the past few weeks) I'll pipe the oil burner back in to provide some additional capacity for the electric heater.

    I had spaces in the panel for this. Running the wire was simple enough that anyone could do it. An advantage of new construction.

    With this set up I just have to make sure I'm last in the shower and all is well all of the time. I don't know how much it cost. It didn't matter. Luke warm water was a disaster.

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    Lifer Stromper's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    I have indirect tank for 25 Years with hard water..... everyone is happy

    Even heat pump electric hot water would still be the most expensive, and pumping hot air into your basement

    30 year old boilers are STILL pretty efficient 1987 is not the Cambrian epoch

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  14. #14
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Moral I'm taking from this is that nobody has any experience with these hybrid heaters. Seems like a really expensive electric heater to me. Not sure the efficiency gain is worthwhile. Could just DIY install a meh heater from Lowes and be done with it for 5-10 years.

    Quote Originally Posted by jasnmar View Post
    After I got tired of listening I installed 40 gallon electric water heater after the boiler heater. I did the piping so that I could isolate either one of them at any time and still have hot water. In the summer I valve around the oil burner and just use electrocity. In the winter I use the oil burner as a preheat for the electric. If we have a bunch of people around in the summer (like the past few weeks) I'll pipe the oil burner back in to provide some additional capacity for the electric heater.

    I had spaces in the panel for this. Running the wire was simple enough that anyone could do it. An advantage of new construction.

    With this set up I just have to make sure I'm last in the shower and all is well all of the time. I don't know how much it cost. It didn't matter. Luke warm water was a disaster.
    This seems like a winner and fastest/cheapest path to success. Only reservation is the panel space. I'd really like to add a dedicated 220V backfeed circuit with lockout for a generator too. Maybe this project needs to start with an electrician and possibly a new panel instead.

    I really like that I could shut down the boiler in the summer. Hearing it turn on all summer kinda sucks. For the first time in 9 years I think I'm going to have to have the oil tank filled in the middle of the summer. For this reason I think I'm going to drop the indirect tank + extra zone from consideration.

    We'd really like to install bottled gas for cooking as my electric range is on its last leg. So now I'm on the fence between this and a tankless gas heater. Wife had an oil fired hot-air furnace for heat then two 100 gal propane tanks feeding a Rennai tankless water heater, a gas range/oven and a small stove for aux heat at her last house. Her house was far smaller and tighter, so the oil usage is of no comparison. But I think the propane usage should map. I looked up the last 2 years and she consistently filled 1x/year.. I was wrong about what that cost.. looks like about $500/year. So the plumber she saw yesterday was within reason with his guestimate of $600/yr for gas.

    Would that fancy-pants heater really cost <$200/yr to run? Time to do the maths.


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    Lifer Falko's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    So the heat pump hot water heaters use a heat pump to heat the water, obviously. They have a built in small refrigeration unit to heat the water, it pulls the "heat" from the surrounding air and dumps it into the water. The biggest draw back (and benefit) is they will essentially air condition the room it is placed into as it pulls the heat from the air. This is good in the summer, and not so hot in the winter. In fact, if it is in your basement and there is little heat down there, they can begin to run not so efficient, but they kick ass in the summer. They call them a hybrid as most have an electric heater to help out during large demand times (those 30min showers). The heat pump will run to help recover, but it will not be able to supply you with a constant supply of hot water. I think the heat pump side of these units are only good for around 30,000 Btu/h of heating (2 tons of air conditioning condenser discharge) which is good to heat about .6gpm of water from 50F to 105F. Your shower uses around 2gpm. The remainder of that load is done with resistive heating.
    The good is that they run at an efficiency of 2.5 to 3 COP which would be like running a boiler at 250-300% efficient. They can do this because they aren't really making heat, simply moving it. There is some heat from the compressor which you benefit from but I'm not going to get into that. Direct electric resistive heat has a COP of 1 or 100% efficient, but is costly on a per Btu/h basis. I've seen large users have success with heat pump units but you need additional storage and let the heat pump recover for hours on end (overnight and anytime you're not using hot water.)
    On the side stream hot water system, you can benefit from most of the capacity of your boiler, so 80-120k btu/h of heat goes into that tank and can heat that 2+gpm of shower water. To get a heat pump to handle that much would be huge, like 8 tons-R equivalent (that would cool like a 5000+sqft house). It takes a lot of heat to warm water. There's a lot of directions you can go. If I were re-doing my hot water system I'd be looking into a solar hot water system to augment usage. I think there are still rebates for those systems as well. They aren't 100% but in the summer they'll handle probably all of your load and have to dump some. In the winter you'd have to supplement a little depending on the type of system you install. That can easily be done with an electric heater or sidestream off the boiler (you're running it anyway in the winter), etc.

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    Super Moderator TheIglu's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    I can see the benefits for a hybrid tank style setup, but you are still keeping water hot when you aren't using it. That's what I like the most about the on-demand options, both electric and pro-pain.

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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    I am going to need to replace my water heater in another year or so. While doing a little research I came across something called a "condensing gas" water heater. It's a gas system where the exhaust from the burner is circulated around the tank before exiting out the vent. Not only does this increase efficiency, but it helps with recovery. One of the articles I read stated that "you will never run out of hot water". I know nothing about this stuff but it sounds like a good set up. Anyone ever heard of this or owned one? I think it's pretty new technology.

    I'm not a fan of on demand because I hate the idea of a 200,000BTU burner firing up every time we call for hot water (like washing your hands for 30 seconds). To me the idea of having a supply on reserve makes more sense unless your usage is sky high. I had a couple of plumbers tell me that on demand can be less efficient in some situations.

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  18. #18
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by TheIglu View Post
    I can see the benefits for a hybrid tank style setup, but you are still keeping water hot when you aren't using it. That's what I like the most about the on-demand options, both electric and pro-pain.
    Only if the on-demand heater can keep up. Having to tweak a ball-valve to limit tub fills and then reset for showers is a non-starter for us. The gas on-demand heater we had kept up with the tub no problems. Would consider an electric if I could figure out one sized to keep up. We had a gas on-demand rated for 7.5 GPM that worked well. My read of the specs on the unit you linked says it can heat about half that, realistically considering groundwater temps here in New England.

    Also it requires THREE 40AMP 220V circuits run?! Wowsers.

    Edit: Isn't keeping water hot/warm when stored pretty easy? Isn't that the idea behind the Superstor and other indirect tank systems? I thought those were well regarded when it came to efficiency.

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    Last edited by nhbubba; 06-05-18 at 08:56 AM.

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by BSR6 View Post
    While doing a little research I came across something called a "condensing gas" water heater. It's a gas system where the exhaust from the burner is circulated around the tank before exiting out the vent. Not only does this increase efficiency, but it helps with recovery. One of the articles I read stated that "you will never run out of hot water". I know nothing about this stuff but it sounds like a good set up. Anyone ever heard of this or owned one? I think it's pretty new technology.
    I think you're talking about these direct vent on-demand gas heaters. They are really neat. Vent stack is a PVC pipe! Exhaust gases are lukewarm at best. Incredibly efficient.

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    Lifer Kurlon's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    Edit: Isn't keeping water hot/warm when stored pretty easy? Isn't that the idea behind the Superstor and other indirect tank systems? I thought those were well regarded when it came to efficiency.
    Yeah, our 40gal is cool to the touch externally while holding 120 degree water. It'll maintain it for days before asking for more heat.

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  21. #21
    Super Moderator TheIglu's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    Only if the on-demand heater can keep up. Having to tweak a ball-valve to limit tub fills and then reset for showers is a non-starter for us. The gas on-demand heater we had kept up with the tub no problems. Would consider an electric if I could figure out one sized to keep up. We had a gas on-demand rated for 7.5 GPM that worked well. My read of the specs on the unit you linked says it can heat about half that, realistically considering groundwater temps here in New England.

    Also it requires THREE 40AMP 220V circuits run?! Wowsers.

    Edit: Isn't keeping water hot/warm when stored pretty easy? Isn't that the idea behind the Superstor and other indirect tank systems? I thought those were well regarded when it came to efficiency.
    Remember, when you limit flow to the tub, you would have to limit it WAY more than I'm talking about to make an impact on a standard 1.5Gpm shower head vs the WFO flow rate of the tub fill.

    I set it once per season. That's it. Showers are still normal, with full water pressure.

    If you are running shower heads that are 3 GPM, then A, your skin is made of leather, and B, no wonder you run out of hot water so fast! We're on a well, and it keeps up without a hitch.

    I had a SuperStore previously. Now I have a Buderus indirect 40 gallon tank. Sure it's efficient, but it's still keeping water hot. Unless you also have a programmable controller on the boiler to set times for DHW production (like my Logomatic), then you are making and keeping a big tank of water hot all the time. IIRC, specs on my new tank say half a degree an hour of heat loss at 137 degrees (mixed down with cold water after the fact to 120ish) and 45 degree ambient. Not a lot of loss, but if you aren't using the water, why keep it warm?


    Yes, it uses some panel space. But if you do a 200amp upgrade, you'll have space. And don't buy it at $4xx, it goes on sale regularly for mid $3xx or lower quite often on Amazon.

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    Last edited by TheIglu; 06-05-18 at 09:07 AM.
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  22. #22
    Lifer Falko's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    On-demands work well for a longer duration but low flow usage, like showers. Filling a tub, not so much unless you have a large unit to run. A standard tub faucet is usually designed to dump 8 gpm. Going from 50F to 110F at 8 GPM requires about 240,000 Btu/h or 70kW of electric (that's a bunches). For a tub fill you should have some storage to help the process so you do not need a monster heat generating source.

    BSR6 what you are describing is just a different type of condensing heater/boiler. So the low down on condensing boilers is that they are very efficient because they condense some of the moisture in the flue gas. When you burn natural gas, you create water vapor in the reaction. The heat associated with the vaporization of the gas is about 8%. So without condensing, you can only get 92% or so of the actual energy in the gas. The dewpoint in the flue gas is about 140F, so if you can lower the flue gas below that amount, you can condense some of the water vapor and regain the heat of vaporization. I've installed gas boilers with rated efficiencies of 97%. But the water temps coming in have to be well below 140F to get the flue temps down so you can condense. That's why heating domestic hot water is great for that application, the water is coming in around 50F. If you are running baseboard heat and feed 180F out and get 160F back, a condensing boiler isn't going to give you great efficiency that they claim it will. Oh, and you never want to condense in a non-condensing unit, that's bad.

    Efficiency:
    Bestest- Solar (sunlight shit is frees)
    Really goods - Heat pump (pulling well over 200% efficient equiv)
    Goods - Condensing type heater (gets upwards of 95% or lil' better)(this includes side arm off condensing boiler)
    OK - Hi eff gas heater (88% or so) (this includes side arm off your boiler)
    Meh - electric heater (while it technically is 100% efficient, electrons are not cheap)
    Bad - wrap a copper tube around a barrel and burn scrap in it

    Condensing units cost a lot more than their old style counterparts. If you are heating domestic hot water only, they usually do not pay for themselves. But always look into MassSave for rebates on units. I know a year ago they had a hard-on on over heat pump style units and between rebates and incentives from utilities and the state, they were essentially free, you pay for install.

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  23. #23
    Lifer loudbeard's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Just going to ask the obvious question, have you adjusted the hot water mixing valve on your boiler outflow to increase your hot water temperature?

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by loudbeard View Post
    Just going to ask the obvious question, have you adjusted the hot water mixing valve on your boiler outflow to increase your hot water temperature?
    Yes. Many times. Go far enough and I can make water at the kitchen sink that nearly scalds. This mitigates the shower/tub issue for a short while, but tub draws still overwhelm.
    That mixer is new-ish too. Less than 5 years old and I'm fairly sure its doing its thing correctly. Sweet spot seems to be mid-setting, which I think is reasonable.
    I think the plumber we had in may have screwed with it as I noticed the sink water was extra hot last night while cleaning up. I've started backing it off as it doesn't solve the tub draw issue and really does seem kind of dangerous supplying water that hot.

    Boiler set levels are reasonable too. Confirmed annually by the guy I have service the boiler.

    I really do think we are overwhelming the ancient DHW coil. I'm sure its full of crap. Clean or replace. I'm leaning replace while the wallet is open.

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  25. #25
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Domestic hot water heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by TheIglu View Post
    I set it once per season. That's it. Showers are still normal, with full water pressure.

    If you are running shower heads that are 3 GPM, then A, your skin is made of leather, and B, no wonder you run out of hot water so fast! We're on a well, and it keeps up without a hitch.

    I had a SuperStore previously. Now I have a Buderus indirect 40 gallon tank. Sure it's efficient, but it's still keeping water hot.
    Okay. I think I misunderstood. Missed that you had an indirect system and only used this in the summer. That makes more sense.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheIglu View Post
    Not a lot of loss, but if you aren't using the water, why keep it warm?
    So you're a fan of the on-demand, direct heaters with no storage? Why do you have a indirect now? Why did you replace a SuperStor with a Buderus AND an on-demand heater? Why not rely on the on-demand heater exclusively for hot water?
    Did you replace your boiler at the same time?

    I guess at $3xx plus some 8 AWG and a gaggle of breakers it really isn't that expensive. About the same as an electric tank type heater.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheIglu View Post
    Yes, it uses some panel space. But if you do a 200amp upgrade, you'll have space. And don't buy it at $4xx, it goes on sale regularly for mid $3xx or lower quite often on Amazon.
    I have 200 AMP service. What's that got to do with panel space?! (I am dumb about many things, this may be one of 'em.)

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