Life Span of Tankless vs. Traditional Water Heaters

Some quick pros and cons to consider beyond shelf life in your next hot water heater

Of all the appliances in your home, there’s one that we tend to rarely think about simply because it’s often out of sight, out of mind. In the shadows of a garage corner or little-used closet, the water heater is truly the unsung hero of comfortable daily life. Warm water for baths, hot water for showers, heated water for cooking, and so much more. Despite their important role in our homes, they usually don’t get the preventative maintenance or attention other higher-visibility appliances receive. That means you need to determine how your home’s design, your anticipated water usage, and how the likelihood you’ll perform proper maintenance will impact the life span of hot water heater you choose.

Here we will look at the two types of hot water heaters: traditional tanks and tankless.

Both definitely come with their own sets of pros and cons, varying life spans being one of them. We’ll rate them quickly on the common benchmarks in a moment, but first let’s make sure you know the difference between traditional tank and tankless.

Traditional tank is exactly what it sounds like; it’s the traditional large tank that stores water, heats it up with gas or electricity, then sends it through your pipes to the faucet or other outlets where needed. These are still the most common type of water heaters found in American homes. The tanks come insulated from the manufacturers hold between 30 and 50 gallons of water. They have a pressure-release valve that prevents the heater from building up too much pressure from temperature or pressure, which can cause an explosion. (insert photo of traditional tank)

Tankless water heaters, sometimes called “on-demand water heaters”, have one notable difference from their traditional counterparts…they don’t need to store water. Tankless water heaters are basically suitcase-sized units that hang on the wall and rapidly heat up the water as it passes through a heat exchanger. It then sends the water at a preset temperature down the pipes. Both traditional and tankless come with the option to use gas or electric power, with natural gas proving the most common choice in American homes.

(Find/insert picture of tankless unit

Let’s see how these two styles stack up against each other:


Traditional:8-12 years, with proper maintenance

Tankless:15-25 years, with proper maintenance


Traditional: Annual operating expense for a gas tank model is approximately $300-$350 a year, while natural gas models run higher at approximately $600-$650 annually.

Tankless: The average operating cost is $200-$250 for gas and $500-$600 for electric. In testing, tankless models tend to perform 22-25% more efficiently than their storage tank counterparts.


Traditional: Both natural gas and electric models deliver a steady supply of properly heated water on-demand to where it’s needed.

Tankless: Water is heated as it passes over the heating elements and delivered at a rate of about 2-3 gallons per minute

NOTE: In both cases, the units are designed and preset to deliver water at a temperature of around 120 °F and most state codes prohibit a plumber to adjust past that mark. That said, there are variables that can cause the water to be a few degrees cooler when it is dispensed, such as the distance it needs to travel or if it comes in contact with colder underground temperatures, such as if the home is on a slab foundation.

Let the insured, bonded, and certified professionals at Ben Franklin Plumbing address your plumbing concerns correctly, safely, and affordably the first time. We’ve been proudly serving customers in Charlotte and the surrounding area for decades, including Indian Trail, Concord, and Mooresville.

Visit or call our 24/7 customer service line today 800.471.0809.