Sizing a Demand (Tankless or Instantaneous) Water Heater

Demand (tankless or instantaneous) water heaters are rated by the maximum temperature rise possible at a given flow rate. Therefore, to size a demand water heater, you need to determine the flow rate and the temperature rise you'll need for its application (whole house or a remote application, such as just a bathroom) in your home.

First, list the number of hot water devices you expect to use at any one time. Then, add up their flow rates (gallons per minute). This is the desired flow rate you'll want for the demand water heater. For example, let's say you expect to simultaneously run a hot water faucet with a flow rate of 0.75 gallons (2.84 liters) per minute and a shower head with a flow rate of 2.5 gallons (9.46 liters) per minute. The flow rate through the demand water heater would need to be at least 3.25 gallons (12.3 liters) per minute. To reduce flow rates, install low-flow water fixtures.

To determine temperature rise, subtract the incoming water temperature from the desired output temperature. Unless you know otherwise, assume that the incoming water temperature is 50ºF (10ºC). For most uses, you'll want your water heated to 120ºF (49ºC). In this example, you'd need a demand water heater that produces a temperature rise of 70ºF (39ºC) for most uses. For dishwashers without internal heaters and other such applications, you might want your water heated at 140ºF (60ºC). In that case, you'll need a temperature rise of 90ºF (50ºC).

Most demand water heaters are rated for a variety of inlet temperatures. Typically, a 70ºF (39ºC) water temperature rise is possible at a flow rate of 5 gallons per minute through gas-fired demand water heaters and 2 gallons per minute through electric ones. Faster flow rates or cooler inlet temperatures can sometimes reduce the water temperature at the most distant faucet. Some types of tankless water heaters are thermostatically controlled; they can vary their output temperature according to the water flow rate and inlet temperature.

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