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Is keeping the water hot a tankless task? Not with this hybrid

Consumer Reports News: October 26, 2010 03:58 PM

Consumer Reports recent report on water-heating options includes discussions of conventional storage-tank heaters and tankless systems. Now Sears will soon be selling a hybrid gas heater that combines a tankless unit along with a 25-gallon storage tank that the company claims provides the best features of both products without their inherent sacrifices. Sears claims it also provides 90-percent thermal efficiency, higher than either conventional-tank or tankless solutions.
Tankless heaters save energy over conventional heaters since they don’t heat water until you need it. The knock on them, however, is up-front costs of $2,400 or more including installation. Water temperature can also be inconsistent—the so-called “cold-water sandwich”—since there’s no tank.

The Kenmore Elite Hybrid Gas heater hooks up similarly to a conventional storage tank and is compatible with a standard natural gas line (for cheaper installation than a tankless unit) but with PVC, rather than steel, for venting. It uses a 25-gallon buffer tank to maintain consistent temperatures over a claimed 189-gallon first-hour delivery. A user panel with LCD display offers various usage modes.
Electric hybrid water heaters like those we’ve tested are a hybrid of a different sort. Those add an electric heat pump to a conventional storage tank and save energy by switching water-heating duties (or combining them) to save energy. Kenmore also sells an electric hybrid made by A.O. Smith, in 60- and 80-gallon versions; the 80-gallon model is identical to the A.O. Smith we tested. But if natural gas is available, it’s typically not worth it to switch to electric.
Kenmore’s gas hybrid is also made by A.O. Smith, which announced the original version (pictured) early this month. The Kenmore product is expected to be available next March for roughly $1,800 before installation. We're considering whether to bring in one of the gas hybrids for testing, but we hope to purchase the Kenmore 60-gallon electric hybrid over the next few months.

—Ed Perratore

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