The short answer to this is going to be “probably!” But we promise to elaborate.
When it comes to standard storage tank model water heaters, it’s clear why they need maintenance. They have several moving parts that work together to ensure the water that enters your home is safe for drinking, bathing in, cooking with, and cleaning with. There is one part in particular—the anode rod—that must be visually checked by a professional each year to ensure that the water heater isn’t about to fall victim to rust and corrosion.
But this is all because this type of water heater stores water, whereas a tankless system doesn’t. So does it really need maintenance? Well, if you have hard water in your community and/or your water heater is set to a high temperature, yes, yes it does.
How Does a Tankless Water Heater Work?
To understand why a tankless system may need maintenance, it’s first important to understand its setup. As we mentioned above, it doesn’t use a storage tank. Rather, it heats water directly as that water comes in from your home’s cold water line.
When you turn on your hot water faucet, you activate the tankless water heater, so to speak. This makes the tankless water heater what we call an “on-demand” water heater.
When a Tankless Water Heater Needs Maintenance
Simply put, a tankless water heater needs maintenance when it develops scaling. What is this? It’s a buildup created by hard water—that is, water with a high level of minerals in it. Namely, calcium, magnesium, and iron. To most homeowners, these don’t sound harmful, and they’re not harmful to ingest—but they can do a number on your plumbing system.
Scaling impacts the heat exchanger of the tankless water heater. As you might realize, the heat exchanger is what heats up the water to begin with. You need it to be clean so that the water can be efficiently heated. Scaling can make your burners work harder, or can overwork a tankless water heater to the point that it breaks down.
“So, How Often Should I Schedule Maintenance, Then?”
For some tankless water heaters—those in communities with a high level of hard water—annual maintenance is essential for keeping the system operating smoothly throughout its entire lifespan. For others, maintenance can wait a year or two more. It truly depends on your area!
A professional plumber will be able to test your water for hardness, and there are signs you can watch out for, as well. For instance, if you often notice a chalky white or yellow buildup around your faucets and drains, you likely have hard water, which means your tankless water heater and the rest of your plumbing system are at risk.
By keeping up on maintenance, whatever the frequency is, you’ll be able to help maintain the lifespan of your tankless water heater. These systems are designed to last 20+ years, but if you let yours fall victim to scaling, it may not make it that long.