Why Go Tankless?
A few years ago, I might have asked the same question. But today I have to ask: Why not?
There’s a tankless water heater out there for everyone. It saves you space, money, and time. So why not get one?
Maybe it’s because you’re at a loss for what you need to look for, and why. Or perhaps you’re just looking for suggestions? Either way, I can help.
I’ve done comprehensive research on these handy little gadgets, and hopefully, I can save you some of the time it took me to come to this knowledge.
I’ll go into more detail down below, but if you’re coming for a quick suggestion, I have a great one right off:
OUR TOP CHOICE
You can’t go wrong with this one.
It can heat a high flow, too high temperatures, in any climate. It’s strong enough to be used in a commercial setting, but not strictly overkill for residential (mainly if you live somewhere cold or have a huge house), and its price is relatively high, but not a bank buster (usually hovering around $1600-$1700).
Rinnai has a reputation for quality, and I’ll go into its full technical specs down below, but if you’re looking for my recommendation of what I think is the best all-around tankless water heater on the market, here it is.
Over the course of this article, I’ll go over WHY, correctly, this is the best (starting with how these water heater works, and then what to look for in a tankless water heater) so you’ll feel more informed as to where recommendations come from.
So without further ado:
So How Does A Tankless Water Heater Work, Anyway?
It’s pretty darn simple. All tankless water heaters have some heating element in them. They run on electricity, propane, or natural gas the last two are sometimes interchangeable) and use that to heat up whatever device they use to heat the water often heating coils or radiant heat from a flame, but sometimes quartz crystals and other more esoteric means)
Once the heating element has heated up, it begins heating the water as it comes through the pipes that pass through the heater box, flashes boiling the water in the milliseconds it takes for it to pass through the small heating area.
You can set your temperature at whatever you want (though the colder the water is naturally, the more powerful of a heater you’ll need to crank it up) and when you turn on a faucet, it starts heating the water as it runs. This means there’s usually a bit of a delay between turning on the water and warm water coming out, but it also means you’ll always have hot water available.
Depending on the type of water heater you have (and where you’re installing it) this process changes slightly, but the basic idea is the same no matter what.
How Do I Pick The Right Water Heater?
Now, one last thing before we get into the reviews proper:
Some Ground Rules
So many of these units share space, and I want to give a lot of good ones to shine, so here’s the main rule:
Each group (except our grand winner, the C199EN, and our winners by brand) will only appear on this list once.
While they may be strong contenders for multiple categories, it wouldn’t be beneficial if I just put the same ten units on here a few times each, would it?
Now, without further delay, here are the reviews:
This is the model I use myself, for my home and office. It doesn’t have the highest power on the market, but it’s an excellent electric model that’s cheap and perfect for smaller homes and businesses.
Where I am (warm groundwater, low water usage) it gets me roughly 3.5 GPM and 115 degrees of heat (~30-45 degree rise), which is perfect for my needs. Better, it fits in a tiny broom closet (17” x 17” x 3.625”), so I don’t need to dedicate much space to it.
While there are other, better, more powerful units around, most are much more expensive (this one is generally under $500 from most vendors), and it has one of the best cost to effectiveness ratios around. I highly recommend this for any small business that needs hot water fast…but not for anyone else.
It just doesn’t have the power to service a more significant business or home that has massive water needs, or anywhere that’s unusually cold (you just won’t get much out of it there).
I just like how this thing works. It doesn’t use heating coils like most other units to heat the water. Instead, it uses quartz crystals.
It heats the crystals up (to around 200 degrees), and they radiate heat into the water without ever touching it.
This one’s a good choice just for the novelty of telling people you have a water heater that shoots lasers into your water, but besides that, it’s also only a functional unit for warmer climates.
Outputting 4.6 GPM with a modest 30-degree rise, and 2.5 GPM with a 60-degree rise, its usage depends on location. 4.6 GPM is quite good for the price (often hovering around $800), and I recommend it if that fills your needs, as the benefits of a non-corroding unit cut the hassle and cost of maintenance significantly.
However, that’s just too pricey for 2.5 GPM; you could easily buy a point of use unit that can do the same job for under $300 at that point, so it’s not worth it if you live somewhere cold.
My endorsement of this one comes mostly from the perspective of it being a Point of Use model. Unfortunately, I feel as though it suffers from vague branding, being touted as a “residential” model instead.
As a whole home model, it kinda flops. But as a point of use, it EXCELS. For most units, I wouldn’t give the benefit of this doubt, but since the price lies in the range of a point of use as well (usually under $400), I’ll let it slide.
It achieves roughly 3 GPM at a 40-degree rise, perfect for what a point of use should be used for: Heating a single sink or shower. This makes it an excellent install for a restaurant looking for a cheap way to heat their water, or someone with a small apartment with a single sink and shower in it (as long as both aren’t running at the same time, it will do you just fine).
Is it the best model? No. But for a particular type of person, it can be the best model for you.
One more point of use model before we get to our winner. This one again from SioGreen, with the infrared quartz crystal based heating source.
This one is much smaller, only handling about 1.5 GPM at any temperature. This makes it flow very light for regular use…but in an RV, that makes it quite useful. It’s small, and its power drain is relatively low, so installing it in an RV, or somewhere else where low water flow is expected is the perfect use for this little beauty.
My main issue is it’s a reasonably large unit for what it is (20” x 16” x 5”), but that’s a minor gripe for something that will set you back less than the price of an Xbox One, relatively efficient, cool little water heater. Again, is it the best for everyone? Not.
But it’s the best for SOMEONE, which makes it all right in my book.
Aha! We found an electric model suitable for cold weather. It’s a bit pricier than most others here (generally set you back around $800 from most sellers), but it’s entirely worth it if you live somewhere with cold groundwater. Even at freezing temperatures, it can heat your water up to 105 degrees while still outputting 3.6 GPM.
That’s impressive for any model, but for an electric heater it’s doubly so; as mentioned before, they lose most of their heating power in cold weather.
In warmer weather, it’s an absolute powerhouse, getting 7.5 GPM when it only needs to raise the temperature about 40 degrees. For its price, that’s entirely phenomenal, with most units with that performance or above being nearly double the cost.
Its main downside is it lacks many of the extra features that can act as selling points for certain heaters (like wifi or remote controlled temperature heating, or being able to hook multiple units together), and lacks the raw power of certain Rinnai or Noritz models that make them successful commercial models in heat or cold, it’s still perfect for large residential and small to mid-size businesses.
This one is natural gas only, but it is a powerful machine. Regarding raw heat and flow, this is the most potent tankless water heater I’ve seen. Coming in at a massive 11.1 GPM and 199k BTUh, it does max out at 140 degrees…but you’re not usually going to need to go higher than that anyway.
For a substantial residence or large business, this one is great. The main issue is it doesn’t have a lot of the convenience features many other units in the same price range have: No remote or wifi control, no automatic freeze protection, and no built-in system for linking multiple groups together.
Still, even though it will usually set you back around $1500 it’s a good buy if you only need the one unit covering a relatively small area (the lower maximum temperature DOES have an effect if you need to send hot water all over a sizeable sprawling space, like a school), and fits in well to service one floor of an office building, a large home, or anything in between.
I’d stay away for anything smaller though; it’s just overkill for a more modest home or business, but that’s not a bad thing. One person’s overkill is another’s just right, after all.
This one is an outdoor unit that runs on natural gas, though it does have an indoor version as well. It prides itself on having very low NOx emissions, making it safer and more eco-friendly.
Regarding power, it’s pretty good, touting a 9.8 GPM at a 30-degree rise…though it should be noted that this has a RAPID drop off, falling already to 7.4 GPM at a 45-degree surge and continuing that trend downward the more heat you need.
This heat loss is likely because it is a non-condensing natural gas model (which have around an 80% efficiency most of the time; this one comes in at 82%). This means even though it has a 199k maximum BTUh, it’s effectively only 163k BTUh. It’s still better than 140k BTUh units, but only slightly.
This means it’s great for warm and moderate weather but falters significantly in extreme cold. If your groundwater is below 40 degrees on average, skip this one. For everyone else, somewhere in the range of $900-$1100 is a very fair price for what you get.
This one also comes in an outdoor model, and in propane, making it one of the most versatile units out there. It also has some of the best performance for its price range.
Again, it is more a warm weather option, however; it’s a non-condensing natural gas unit with 140k BTUh (and only 80% of that transfers to the water). But for the right person, this is hard to beat model.
In warmer climates it can get up to 6.6 GPM with a 30-degree rise, so for its price tag of a bit over or under $500 it is an excellent budget option for almost anyone who doesn’t need an overwhelming heat output.
That lack of cold weather support puts it lower on my list, but it makes a great alternative to the EcoSmart 27 mainly if you already have a natural gas line or propane hook up for your heating and have no desire to switch to electric.
That makes it a niche option, but its combination of price, performance, and flexibility is what earns it a spot on my list.
This wrong boy clocks in at a base 9.4 GPM at a 30-degree rise, dropping to 8 GPM at 50 degrees (and scaling at about that rate the hotter you need to go, capping out at 4 GPM for a 100-degree rise). Like many natural gas units, it also comes in propane flavor (side note: Do not try to eat or drink propane. It’s not healthy.).
It is a non-condensing unit and ekes out an 83% efficiency rating; slightly higher (by a percent or three) than other non-condensing units.
It can also be digitally controlled, like many Rinnai units so that you can fix any temperature deficiencies from the comfort of your home; always a nice feature to have.
Now for the two main downsides: Bulk and price.
It is a pretty broad unit (9.3” x 14” x 23”), and an odd shape at that, being quite long but relatively slender, and about twice as thick as other units (meaning it juts out from your wall those 9.3”). Almost as significant is its price: In the ballpark of $1400 from many vendors, which is what ultimately makes the next water heater on our list edge it out for the victory in the natural gas category.
Sorry Rinnai, make way for…
And our winner is Takagi! Just edging out Rinnai in this category, for reasons that will soon become apparent. It’ll run you about $1200, give or take, but what it does more than justifies the cost.
It can output 199k BTUh of heat, and unlike some of the others on this list is a condensing model, putting its efficiency at over 98%; very nearly as good as an electric model. It can hit temperatures of up to 185 degrees, with a base 10 GPM.
This reduces to a still respectable 6 GPM in colder climates, making it useful for an all-weather option for both commercial and residential use (though smaller businesses mostly, 1-2 floors and four bathrooms at most).
On top of that, it comes bundled with a load of safety features and considerations, including “ultra-low” NOx emissions, freeze protection, overheat protection, and automatic emergency shut-offs!
For someone looking for a powerful (but not too compelling) machine with a lot of useful safety features, at a relatively bargain price point, you can’t go wrong here.
Top 5 Propane Tankless Heaters
I love the sheer chutzpah of this thing. It’s a portable water heater with more juice than some residential, permanent fixtures, able to output 176k BTUh of heat, and can handle 2.6 GPM at max. That’s pretty insane for what it is, even if it is hampered slightly by a measly 76% efficiency (though that still puts it at 133k effective BTUh, only somewhat under most residential units).
It runs on propane (of course) but is ignited by a pair of D batteries, and is mostly meant to be used as an RV unit, though it is portable…technically. It’s very bulky and heavy(8” x 14” x 25.5”, and weighing in at 27 lbs.) meaning I wouldn’t suggest taking it on a hike with you, but stopping at a campground or something? You can hardly do better.
The price is nothing to scoff at either; often sold for under $300 for a portable machine more powerful than anything else in that price range? You’re going to be hard-pressed to find something better.
Thankfully, you are not me, so I do have one other that is better…with an asterisk:
This one also runs on liquid propane and is ignited by a pair of D batteries. It is also more potent in specific scenarios than the Eccotemp L10 (though between $20 and $50 more expensive than the L10 from particular vendors), managing to achieve 3.1 GPM…at a 45-degree rise.
In warmer climates, that means this thing is all around superior. It has a higher GPM, the same adequate heat, and it’s WAY more portable (26” x 14.5” x 6”, and 12 lbs lighter at a much more manageable 15 pounds). But of course suffers in colder weather, meaning it’s more for a nice shower after a long day of hiking a temperate forest or swimming at the beach, not so much for a long day of tromping through a winter wonderland or skiing in the mountains at your winter cabin.
That puts it just about tied for the L10. Better, warmer, lighter, and more efficient in warm weather…but a dud in colder weather.
First off, this is a strictly warm weather option. I wanted to highlight that early because it’s primarily crucial for outdoor models: If you try to use this in colder climates, it is very prone to freezing.
Other than that, it’s pretty good. Both this and the next on this list are propane powered units that can be installed in manufactured or mobile homes; a vital niche not many models correctly fill.
It’s a reliable 82% efficient with 140k BTUh, and a 5.3 GPM in ideal conditions (only need to raise the temperature by about 40 degrees), and perhaps most importantly: Touts itself on being very easy to install.
That’s impressive performance and convenience for something often sold for under $600, but if you’re looking for something a little stronger, the V53 has a brother that lifts:
While this one will run you a bit more (usually a little over $700, sometimes less), it’s also a much better unit all around if you have a larger budget.
It has a 6.6 GPM and a 150k BTUh heat output, making it stronger and better in all regards than the V53.
While this one also has no freeze protection, it also has an advantage over its brother: It has an indoor unit variant, meaning if you buy that kind it won’t have the same issues with freezing. Still, it is a better warm weather unit so I’d stick with one there unless you have no other choice (though living in a mobile home or trailer does limit your options some).
Still, for all its downsides you can do a lot worse than 6.6 GPM for less than $1000, and its versatility (indoor and outdoor install, propane or natural gas hook up) makes it a sort of all in one for those needing something they can easily install in their trailer home.
Our winner in this category comes down to Rheem, primarily because it’s a “greatest hits” of all the features we’ve talked about in this segment.
It is a 9.5 GPM (at a 35-degree rise; 8.4 GPM at a 45-degree surge) condensing machine, making it a 94% efficient heater (which is a bit low for a condensing heater, but still better than any non-condensing machine). It will often run you between $1000 and $1100.
The RTGH-95 has freeze protection to -30 degrees, which makes it one of the better cold weather options out there, heating aside (though the heating is right in that scenario as well), and does come with remote and digital tuning.
It prides itself on something we don’t talk about much: minimum flow rate. While a significant figure, the vast majority of tankless water heaters operate at .6 GPM to .8 GPM at a minimum (meaning if there’s something wrong with your water, or you’re just trying to run a trickle, it’s not going to heat up correctly). This Rheem kicks on at a .26 GPM to .4 GPM minimum flow, nearly half the average. This is great if you need to run a shallow volume sink or something.
It’s the features that win this. Most tankless water heaters run in pretty predictable ranges of efficiency, heat, and GPM which this one meets for the higher end models quickly; it just goes above and beyond, which also neatly brings us to our next category…
This section is going to be a bit different. Many of these units will be ones we’ve already talked about, so for those, I will be explaining exactly why it beats out other competition in its brand, for the most part.
For companies we haven’t talked about, I’ll give a bit more detail and the specs for their best units.
Top Brands & Manufacturers
Bosch Thermotechnology has a tiny selection, all of which is a small point of use models (many of which are little water heater tanks, not tankless water heaters). However, their 3000 series are pretty reliable (and very, very cheap) models.
All are electric, and run off 240v of power save the 3.4 kW model which runs off 120v. All are also the same size (6.5” x 12.25” x 3”), and 98% efficient.
They come in four variants, ranging in price from under $150 to a bit under $200 from most sellers:
- 3.4 kW: .5 GPM at a 45 degree rise.
- 7.2 kW: 1.1 GPM at a 45 degree rise; .7 GPM at a 75 degree rise.
- 9.5 kW: 1.4 GPM at a 45 degree rise; .9 GPM at a 75 degree rise.
- 12 kW: 1.8 GPM at a 45-degree rise; 1.1 GPM at a 75-degree rise.
As you can see, they’re not precisely powerhouses (and wouldn’t quite make my cut under normal circumstances), but for the price the 12 kW model is a good buy if you just need to power a single sink in your garage, tool shed, or similar workspace.
We’ve already talked about this one at length, but hey, it’s a good water heater. As mentioned, this is the one I use. While it’s not the most potent unit Ecosmart has (that would be the Eco 36), it has the best power to cost ratio in my opinion, and it gets an edge out of the slight bias I have for owning and using it daily.
Ecosmart in general just makes good stuff. There are more powerful units out there, but particularly in the realm of electric groups (which are relatively sparse in the selection, to begin with), it stands out as a good heater, with a high price tag.
Like Bosch, Eemax is a relatively small brand that mostly makes a low point of use heaters. Unlike Bosch’ 3000 series though, this little guy has a bit of power to it, with a max of 3 GPM instead of under 2 GPM like the 3000s.
14” x 18” x 4.5” is…quite large for a point of use model, but the price isn’t, usually sets you back under $200. I’m not sure I’d wholeheartedly recommend this unit, but I wouldn’t advise against it either. It’s a solid middle of the road model that could be the perfect fit for someone with reduced water usage needs at a single space, like an industrial sink or chemical shower or something.
While it wouldn’t be my first recommendation if I were talking to someone in person, it also wouldn’t be my last; if somebody said they wanted a small, cheap point of use device this would be close to the top of the short list for models that fit the bill and perform the job well.
It might be a lesser known brand, but that doesn’t change that this is a quality model.
This is natural gas or liquid propane unit with 150k BTUh of heat output, and a max 8.4 GPM at a 35-degree rise, torquing down to 3.8 GPM at a 77-degree increase. It is a condensing model with 98% efficiency and low NOx emissions. This makes it a solid middle of the road option, but…
The main issue is I can find very few sources of information about Navien, making personal opinions on the thing scarce enough that I hesitated to put it on the list, and ended up dropping it because best case scenario, there are better documented Rheem, Rinnai, and Takagi models on the market with similar or better specs anyway.
Mainly since it falls in the roughly $1100-$1200 range, there’s too much competition for me to wholeheartedly recommend this one without a better sense of how it stands up in actual use. While the specs sometimes speak for themselves, I like to have SOMEBODY’S word to stand behind it besides the company’s; a customer review can often bring to light issues in construction or fragility in the long term that just would not be listed in a seller blurb.
We’ve talked about this model above, so I’ll save repeating its technical specs. Suffice to say I like this model, and I love Noritz’ general design philosophy: Function over form.
It’s not pretty, and it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other competitors but it’s got a lot of power in a lot of situations, for a reasonable price, and that deserves respect on its own.
The main thing is, other competitors have similar or better performance…and ALSO bells and whistles and a slimmer design you can better fit in specific spaces, which edges it off the top spot. But still, this model (and company) are a great option if you feel like saving a couple of hundred bucks on stuff you may think is unnecessary.
Starting off our top three is Takagi. Don’t let that placement fool you though: This was a close race, with all three coming in very, very close to each other. They’re very nearly a tie in every regard, all three having somewhat similar performance, and certain ones having specific features that recommend them to others.
In this case, the T-H3 sits at the bottom of this list because of the three it makes the worst commercial option, whereas the Rheem and Rinnai winners perform admirably as both residential and light commercial (for the Rheem) or medium business (for the Rinnai).
For the safety conscious person in colder climates looking to heat the water in their home, the Takagi is the clear winner, but the added versatility in the usage of the other two edges it out.
Rheem is one of the most respected brands in the business, and it’s easy to see why. They provide a wide range of top quality models at what I feel are fair prices. While a Rinnai beat them, they (in my opinion) give a much better mix of value to performance across the range of their models than any other company on this list.
No option in their catalog exhibits this more than the RTGH-95DV models, in my opinion, having high performance at a price that doesn’t bust the bank, and features that most brands and models struggle with (particularly the freeze protection). The main reason the Rinnai C199 beats it is that it ekes out just ever so much more efficiency and power than this Rheem that I felt it was the best all around, even if it comes only to the edge of where I’d say fair pricing for it ends.
This is a solid second choice, and if you need to save a few hundred bucks, you can’t go wrong with this one, mainly for residential use.
The Rinnai C199 models are as good as it gets. While a bit pricey (it’s almost always going to cost you over $1600), their combination of efficiency just over their competitors, consistent power in all weather, and (probably the most prominent factor that helped it pulls a small victory over the top two competitors), easy adjustment for heavy commercial use that allows linking multiple units together.
What this does mean though is this: While this is, in my opinion, the best overall unit, from a purely residential perspective, for the average person with a medium sized home, the Rheem RTGH-95DV beats it. But I value being used in multiple settings here, and in that regard, the Rinnai C199 models are unmatched in power, features, and versatility.
Top Choices By Type
This is a workhorse, more than anything. It’s at the higher end of an RV tankless water heater’s price range (generally near $700, give or take), and is about average size (15.5” x 12.5” x 12.5”).
Unlike many tankless water heaters for RVs, this one is fully capable of heating your water in the winter (which is a HUGE plus, as RV heaters tend to be smaller and weaker than residential heaters, and you should be able to drive anywhere you want). Not only is it winter capable, but it’s also automatically adjusting, so you don’t have to change it to turn on freeze protection if some unexpected cold snap hits. The cold protection and power is the selling point on this, but it’s no slouch in other departments either.
While not the most potent RV heater I’ve looked at, it sits at the best juncture of price, power, and function.
The only real downside is it doesn’t come with mounting hardware, unlike most models, so you’ll need to buy that separately. Still, even with that it comes in cheaper than most competitors and works better in all climates.
I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend any other unit for RVs; everything else has caveats and certain situations it’s not good in. This beauty though? Works anywhere, for pretty much anyone.
As an outdoor water heater, this one can’t be beaten. It has a massive GPM at high heat (10 GPM, 199k BTUh). I didn’t mean for that to rhyme, but here we are.
As mentioned before, cold weather ready units are relatively hard to come by, and this is one that does cold weather very well, with its combination of high heat and dedicated freeze protection.
But, perhaps its best feature (and what made it edge out quite a few other units) is that it touts an easy, “frustration free” install, backed up by customer reviews that seem to verify that truth. This is an enormous money saver, mainly since it’s already a low-mid range machine at around $1000 from many vendors.
The installation often nearly doubles the price of any of these machines, and being able to install it yourself quickly (and with minimum danger, since it’s an outdoor unit) gives it a real claim to fame.
Much like the Rinnai C199 series, I don’t think this machine is definitively beaten by any other units in its category. While some hit it in specific areas, as an all-around machine (especially for the price), it performs more than admirably, even if it doesn’t scale quite as well as the Rinnai C199en into higher temperature rises (it maxes out at 2.3 GPM with a 100-degree increase instead of 3.8).
Our best commercial water heater is also our best overall. As I mentioned at the start, this thing has a lot of power, making it excellent for nearly any setting. From high water usage households to large businesses (it’s often used in schools, for example), it’s able to service everything in between and below with ease, and it comes in propane and natural gas, so works in any household.
While a bit pricey ($1600-$1700 on average), it justifies that cost with high power (a 185-degree maximum temperature; 199k BTUh) and the excellent flow that comes with it (9.7 GPM at lower temperature rises, and a still robust 3.8 GPM at a substantial 100-degree surge). The heat makes it useful in cold and hot weather equally, something many tankless water heaters struggle with.
One of its best features is that multiple units can be linked together and operated as though they were one large unit, connected to the same temperature control system. This makes this unit the perfect commercial choice, as it lets you set up a rather compact “boiler room” that can service a whole large building instead of putting a different unit on each floor.
This feature is what edges out the other top two, primarily. Neither of the other two contenders can achieve that level of commercial use.
It is, naturally, a good water heater that works for any and every conceivable purpose, which is what makes it so great. Every other water heater on this list is specialized in some fashion or has some severe downside besides pricing, where this Rinnai has only one: It can’t be used in RVs (of course).
OUR TOP CHOICE
And so we come to curtain’s close, having looked at an overwhelming number of units today. But hopefully, this list has helped narrowed down what to buy.
While the Rinnai C199 is a great model, I can understand how the price could put people off, especially if you don’t need it for its commercial uses.
That in mind, hopefully, I managed to explain well enough why it took the top spot and helped reiterate other great choices for everyone else. The Takagi T-H3
and Rheem RTGH-95DV are still perfect models for what I think are very fair prices and in many ways superior to the C199 as residential models.
If even those are out of your price range, too powerful for your needs, or both, my favorites on this list are the Ecosmart Eco 27 (the model I own and enjoy), the Takagi T-D2-OS, Takagi KJ-rT Siogreen SR 8000, and Ecotemp Portable L10 (for sheer fun factor. And it’s okay, too).
There are, of course, other suitable options on this list and other types out there for more niche applications, but if I had to make a quick top 8, those would be on it.