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Tankless Water Heater advice

I am currently without hot water. Our Burnham indirect water heater has developed a leak. It was installed less than 6 years ago and my current heating maintenance vendor confirmed that it needs to be replaced. It is under warranty. But they haven't even ordered a replacement yet (since Monday). Whether or not they replace it under the warranty, I am pretty tired of replacing water heater tanks. I have an oil fired steam boiler. The water heater runs off the boiler.
Even if this gets replaced under warranty, I'd like to start looking into tankless solutions before the next one goes. Any thoughts and advice are appreciated. I am a 66 year old female home owner living with steam heat for 37 years who has learned a lot from Dan Holohan and through near disasters: auto water feed malfunctioning and overfilling my tank twice; a smoke filled middle of the night disaster when the low water cutoff got stuck and the boiler ran with no water, as well as near-boiler piping errors. A few years ago, one of your experts helped me resolve my insufficient hot water problem. Thanks in advance for your help. I appreciate you guys! As far as hot water needs, we are a household of two, run a dishwasher about once every day or two, a couple of warm water loads of laundry per week.


  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 421
    If you have had multiple tanks fail within their expected lifespan, I would suspect there is something about your water the tanks don't like. Acidic, high chlorides, etc. Tankless water heaters don't tolerate water quality issues very well either (especially hardness).
  • LynnLennox
    LynnLennox Member Posts: 24
    edited June 2020
    Thanks. Is there some kind of testing and water treatment that can correct this issue? I just checked with Portland Water District's FAQ's (I'm in S. Portland, ME). We have a hardness value of 9, or soft water. But my house was built in 1858, so I'm wondering if old pipe corrosion is adding to my woes of short-lived water heaters.
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,657
    Can you post some pics? Is the boiler water flowing through the indirect, or piped off of a plate heat exchanger?
    I would forget the tankless. IMO that's a whole new problem to worry about. I would make sure the indirect is protected from the boiler.
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,007
    Portland's water traditionally is pretty good (I was born there) from lake Sebago I believe.
    Yes you can run a indirect off a steam boiler but it not my 1st choice.
    Tankless WH are pretty decent. Do you have Natural Gas?
    I just installed this new version of a tankless from IBC/ Intergas. I really like it. Only 4 moving parts. it also has some mass to it so you wont get the delay that are typical on tankless WH.
  • LynnLennox
    LynnLennox Member Posts: 24
    edited June 2020
    In reply to KCOPP: There is gas under our street, but not at the house. Would probably be a small fortune to switch to gas, especially since we are sitting on ledge. And yes, our water is from Sebago Lake.
  • LynnLennox
    LynnLennox Member Posts: 24
    In reply to HVACNUT, I don't know what a plate heat exchanger looks like but I can go down and take some photos. What photos would be most helpful? Seeing the water heater placement in relation to the boiler? The piping leading into the water heater? The Burnham company is honoring the warranty (the water heater was only installed 5.5 years ago) and the replacement will be here Tuesday. But in my 37 years in this house I have lost count of how many water heaters I've gone through. The first 3 or so were electric. They did a terrible job and with 3 kids we never had enough hot water and by the time everyone could shower it was afternoon. Are they really not rated to last more than 10 years? This one has a lifetime warranty (if I sent the card in) until the home changes ownership. Otherwise, 10 year warranty. But I really don't want to keep going through this expense of water heater replacements. But between the treacherous basement stairs, my bad knees and my age, this water heater may actually outlive me! Let me know what you are after photo-wise and I'll brave another trip. Thanks!
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,217
    As others as mentioned start with getting the water tested.
    I would also look at the piping from the boiler to the indirect tank.
    Post some pictures and maybe we can give you some suggestions.
  • LynnLennox
    LynnLennox Member Posts: 24
    Will do. Thanks.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 16,818
    If you have water that is 9 gpg that is considered hard water. See what the manual on the tank shows for accepted water quality.
    Here is an example from a different brand.

    Also you should be able to find a city water report at their website, or have the water tested at your home.
    A lot can happen to the water between the time it goes from the lake to your home. Some of the chemicals added by the water suppliers tend to not always get along with certain types of metals or coatings used in tanks. Attached is an example from Phoenix water.

    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,657
    Just stand back about 8 feet and take some random shots from different angles. Get floor to ceiling in each shot.
  • LynnLennox
    LynnLennox Member Posts: 24
    Finally,some photos:

  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,372
    I think you would be a good candidate for a tankless heater. Your steam and indirect setup is not very efficient and 6 years out of an indirect has to be frustrating.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • psb75
    psb75 Member Posts: 579
    This week, I am changing out a Vaughn Stone-lined indirect tank with a top coil like this Burnham. It is rusting out just like the one in your picture. I am switching them over to a 65 gal. electric heat-pump water heater. The rebates here in VT are $850 ($600 from the state, and $250 from the electric co-op). It's kind of a no-brainer. The homeowner can expect at least, 1/3 reduction in their cost of hot-water production--due to the efficiency of the heat-pump. AND it will lower the cost of them running a de-humidifier in the cellar as well. AND the co-op electricity has 100% renewable energy sources.
  • LynnLennox
    LynnLennox Member Posts: 24
    I am familiar with heat pumps for heating and cooling spaces. We have one that heats and cools my finished workplace over the garage. Does a heat pump water heater also require an outside component? Our house was built in 1858. It is unfinished, with a small concrete slab area and the rest being dirt crawl spaces. It does get very humid down there but I stopped using a dehumidifier since there is no sink to dump water in and the stairs to the basement are too dangerous for me now at 66 with bad knees to be constantly going down there to empty it. So a water heater that also dehumidifies the surrounding area would be a good thing. I finally got the rusted out heater replaced under warranty. However, it cost me $1000 in labor and a small amount of parts. I'm not happy with my current plumbing company. And I have no faith that this heater will not crap out in less than 6 years. I will do my homework on this technology in anticipation for the current one needing replacing. Any thoughts on tankless versus heat pump for my future needs? Thanks a lot for your help. If you know any good plumbers in Maine, let me know!
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 4,007
    Given the height in the basement a HP WH may not fit. They are quite tall.
    The condensate off the water heater would need to be pumped out w a small pump. Pretty common to do that.

    Using the steam condensate to heat the water in the indirect is pretty abusive to the indirect WH heat exchanger. That probably has contributed to the shortened lifetime.

    A tankless or a straight electric water heater way be best for you.
    I am about an hour and 15 min south of you.