Our Environment in Hot Water: Comparing Water Heaters, A Life Cycle Approach Comparing Tank and Tankless Water Heaters in California
Residential water heating is a large source of energy use in California homes. This project took a life cycle approach to comparing tank and tankless water heaters in Northern and Southern California. Information about the life cycle phases was calculated using the European Union's Methodology study for EcoDesign of Energy-using Products (MEEUP) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Life Cycle Inventory (NREL LCI) database. In a unit-to-unit comparison, it was found that tankless water heaters would lessen impacts of water heating by reducing annual energy use by 2800 MJ/year (16% compared to tank), and reducing global warming emissions by 175 kg CO2eqv./year (18% reduction). Overall, the production and combustion of natural gas in the use phase had the largest impact. Total waste, VOCs, PAHs, particulate matter, and heavy-metals-to-air categories were also affected relatively strongly by manufacturing processes. It was estimated that tankless water heater users would have to use 10 more gallons of hot water a day (an increased usage of approximately 20%) to have the same impact as tank water heaters. The project results suggest that if a higher percentage of Californians used tankless water heaters, environmental impacts caused by water heating would be smaller.