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Ultimate Guide to the Maintenance of Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless technology has picked up rapidly in recent times, thanks to tireless innovation making on-demand water heating as effective as traditional tanks. However, the recency of their popularity makes them susceptible to incorrect maintenance practices that can lead to tankless units performing far below their full potential. A lot of these maintenance-related woes occur because most manufacturers do not design their tankless products with ease of maintenance in mind.

However, a few concerns can be avoided with more clarity about the maintenance requirements of tankless water heaters. We will go over three main areas of standard tankless maintenance in this article: what each of them are, why they are important, and how you can perform these tasks.

Commercial Tankless Water Heaters | A Very Brief Overview

Tankless Water Heaters heat water on-demand. They do not store water in large storage tanks like traditional boilers. Hence, they only need to operate when there is a hot water demand unlike tank-style systems which need to run constantly to keep the stored water hot. This makes tankless water heaters more energy-efficient, less costly, and space-saving sustainable solutions.

3 Main Activities Related to The Maintenance of Tankless Water Heaters | What | Why | How

+1 Maintenance Requirement for Condensing Tankless Water Heaters

Let’s jump in! Every tankless water heater differs in design and its overall technological components. Hence, it is always a good idea to refer to your product’s official manual for exact details. However, the maintenance requirements of most tankless water heaters can be broken down into 3 major categories: water filter maintenance, air filter maintenance, and descaling/flushing. We will go over what each of these categories are, why they are crucial for your unit’s performance, and how you can ensure you do the needful.

Additionally, we will also cover one additional maintenance activity that you would need to undertake if you have a condensing tankless water heater. You can find out more about condensing tankless water heaters here. 

Regular Maintenance Requirement #1 | Water Filter

maintenance of tankless water heater wye strainer

What are water filters for tankless water heaters?

Water filters are essentially mesh coils that trap any large particles or sediments to prevent them from entering your water heater’s mechanical components like the heat exchanger.

Why do I need to maintain water filters for tankless water heaters?

Without an adequately functioning water heater, large particles can damage the mechanical components of your water heater, resulting in breakdowns. It is essential to clean your tankless unit’s water filter regularly to ensure it is not blocked and continues to filter large particles from incoming water. Sediments can also accumulate and cause scale build up. Excessive scaling can make your tankless water heater highly inefficient.

How can I maintain water filters for tankless water heaters?

The exact procedure for cleaning and maintaining will differ for every product and manufacturer. However, in most cases, you should be able to locate the water filter near the incoming cold water line. Simply power off your unit, turn off the incoming water valve, and remove any lingering water in your unit’s piping. Then, remove the filter by following the manufacturer’s manual, remove debris using a brush or a spray and reattach it.

Intellihot Units Water Filter Maintenance:

Most Intellihot units come with an external Wye strainer that needs to be cleaned every 3 months using the process described above. Some of our units like the wall-hung i200 and i250 units feature an internal sediment strainer instead of the external wye strainer. This strainer needs to be cleaned every 3 months in the following manner:

Most Intellihot units come with an external Wye strainer that needs to be cleaned every 3 months using the process described above. Some of our units like the wall-hung i200 and i250 units feature an internal sediment strainer instead of the external wye strainer. This strainer needs to be cleaned every 3 months in the following manner:

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Regular Maintenance Requirement #2 | Air Filter

maintenance of tankless water heaters air filter

What are air filters for gas tankless water heaters?

Air filters remove any sediments or particles from entering your tankless water heater’s air supply.

Why do I need to maintain air filters for gas tankless water heaters?

Gas tankless water heaters essentially work by firing up flames using natural gas/propane. To “start a fire”, a supply of clean air is needed. Air filters ensure that your gas tankless water heater’s air supply is not polluted by sediments or particles. As discussed before, sediments or particles can damage the mechanical components of your tankless water heater. Moreover, the accumulation of sediments/particles on your air filter can block it, causing lesser air to flow to your unit. This will reduce the unit’s efficiency and in dire cases, can even block the minimum amount of air required to start up your unit. 

How can I maintain air filters for gas tankless water heaters?

The process of regularly cleaning your tankless water heater’s air filter is similar to the water filter cleaning process. It differs with each product and manufacturer. Once again, you would need to turn off your unit. Then, you would need to locate your air filter (the location differs for each unit and manufacturer. Please refer to your unit’s manual). After doing so, you should clean the filter with a brush or a spray, dry it adequately and then replace it. 

Intellihot Units Air Filter Maintenance:

Several Intellihot units employ a K&N air filter which can usually be found attached to the unit’s “ceiling” on the inside. Refer to your specific unit’s installation manual to find out the exact location as there are subtle differences between our units’ internal design.

K&N air filters are actually designed to handle heavy-duty air filtration in high-performance vehicles with easy maintenance. Their reliable, high-demand performance allow for the premium, robust, and long-lasting commercial performance that Intellihot units are known for.

Here is how you should clean the K&N air filters on your Intellihot unit every 3 months:

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Regular Maintenance Requirement #3 | Flushing or Descaling

intellihot tankless water heater maintenance flushing

What is flushing or descaling for gas tankless water heaters?

Flushing is a routine water heater maintenance procedure to remove the buildup of sediments due to hard water scaling from the water heater’s pipes and internal fixtures. You can learn more about descaling tankless water heaters here.

Note: Intellihot units do not require flushing due to our patented descaling heat exchanger. Unlike competing products, an Intellihot tankless unit will continue to function as efficiently as “unboxing day” years down the line. The first unit we installed more than a decade ago is still in operation.

Why do I need to flush or descale my (non-Intellihot) tankless water heater?

Flushing/descaling is a routine maintenance activity that tankless owners must undertake. Failure to flush/descale most tankless water heaters will result in lack of hot water, high wait times, higher energy bills, potential breakdowns, low water pressure, and costly repairs. The inconvenience of this procedure is what averts most property owners and facility managers from switching to tankless water heating despite its advantages. This is the primary reason we committed a large proportion of our initial R&D into developing a tankless system that is resistant to scaling.

Play Video about maintenance of tankless water heaters flushing

How can I flush or descale my tankless water heater?

You can read about the full procedure of flushing your tankless water heater in detail in our descaling guide which includes the drawbacks of not carrying out regular descaling. Here is a quick 5 point summary of the tankless flushing procedure:

  1. Turn OFF your tankless water heating unit and drain it. 
  2.  Get two hoses, a bucket and a submersible circulation pump. Attach one end of your first hose to your water heater’s inlet valve and the other end to the submersible circulation pump. Place the circulation pump in the bucket. Attach one end of your second hose to your water heater’s outlet valve and leave the other end in your bucket.
  3. Add enough descaling agent to the bucket. Refer to the descaling agent’s instructions and your water heater manual for the adequate quantity needed. Make sure the inlet and outlet valves of your tankless water heater are open and start the recirculation pump. Let it run for the time indicated on the descaling agent’s instructions. It is usually between 45 minutes to a couple of hours.
  4. Turn off the pump.  Turn off the inlet and outlet valves and disconnect both the hoses. Remove the pump from the bucket. Empty the contents of the bucket.
  5. Restart your tankless water heater. 

Additional Maintenance Requirement for Condensing Tankless Water Heaters

What additional maintenance do I need for condensing tankless water heaters?

Condensing water heaters use condensing technology to absorb additional heat from exhaust gases while heating water. They cool down exhaust gases, turning them into liquid. This liquid needs to be safely disposed of before it can be drained. 

Before releasing this liquid or “condensate”, it needs to be passed through a neutralizer to ensure it is safe for release. 

Why do I need to dispose of the condensate for a condensing tankless water heater?

Condensing tankless water heaters deliver higher efficiency and help reduce operational expenses by absorbing additional heat from flue gases. This process turns the exhause gases into a liquid called condensate which needs to be safely disposed of. It cannot be released directly into the drainage system since it can be unsanitary and explosive and can re-enter the building’s HVAC system. Before the condensate is released, it needs to be neutralized to make it safer to be released. 

While this may seem like an inconvenience for condensing tankless water heaters, it is a very minor trade-off. After all, condensing tankless water heaters can help you save more on your operational expenses compared to a non-condensing tankless water heater. Moreover, the process of maintaining the condensate disposal for most condensing tankless water heaters can be completed along with one of the other major maintenance activities. Hence, it is not really an inconvenience.

How do I ensure the safe disposal of condensate for my condensing tankless water heater with regular maintenance?

The process of maintaining the condensate disposal for condensing tankless water heaters differs with each product and manufacturer. It is advisable to refer to your unit’s official manual for the exact procedure. However, in most cases, you would either need to clean a condensate cup or a condensate filter. This procedure, in most cases, can be completed with one or more of the other routine maintenance activities. 

Intellihot Units Condensate Cup Maintenance:

Intellihot’s units are able to deliver groundbreaking levels of commercial efficiency due to their condensing design. Several of Intellihot’s iQ Series Floor-standing models (iQ751, iQ1001, and the iQ1501) consist of a condensate cup inside their cabinet. Since these units release condensate as a part of their normal operation, this cup needs to be cleaned every 3 months. Here is how you can clean it: 

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Intellihot Routine Maintenance Calendar

Now that you know about some of the major activities related to maintaining tankless water heaters, it could be a great idea to plan and schedule your yearly maintenance requirements in advance. Since Intellihot units do not need to be descaled, the two routine maintenance activities that you need to undertake include:

  • Clean the internal water filter/external wye strainer every 3 months. (Each unit has either an internal strainer OR an external wye strainer. Refer to your manual for details). 
  • Clean the K&N air filter every 3 months. 

We’ve prepared a handy calendar to help you easily plan the routine maintenance requirements needed for Intellihot’s units. The calendar below assumes a starting month of January. You can download the unfilled calendar here to input your own schedule. 

Intellihot Annual Maintenance Schedule

We recommend conducting the strainer maintenance as well as the air filter maintenance together. This will help you complete multiple maintenance-related activities in one go. Moreover, you would save time by not having to shut off your unit multiple times. However, conducting the strainer maintenance and air filter maintenance activities together is not mandatory. 

Do Tankless Water Heaters Require More Maintenance Than Boilers?

It is imperative to compare the maintenance requirements between tankless and tank-style units now. Maintenance requirements should be an important consideration when you decide to purchase a new water heater (especially a commercial one) since it can lead to unexpected costs and a drain in facility management manpower.

In short: Tankless water heaters typically require much lesser maintenance than tank-style systems and also enjoy longer lifespans.

Since most tankless water heaters (unlike Intellihot units) have witnessed drastic performance issues (as well as complete breakdowns) due to failure in regular descaling, there is a misconception that tankless water heaters demand much higher maintenance. However, that is simply not true. For instance, flushing a tank-style water heater is also a recommended regular maintenance activity.

Moreover, tankless systems are relatively newer and most tankless products are able to employ the latest mechanical engineering technology. This means that traditional boilers are more susceptible to breakdowns and repairs due to their antiquated design. Furthermore, you’d have to likely replace a boiler when a comparative tankless water heater might still have half its useful life left due to the longer lifespan of tankless water heaters.

Gentle Reminder: Intellihot units do not need to be flushed regularly and continue to function as efficiently as freshly “unboxed” units regardless of their age.

Why Is Maintenance of Tankless Water Heaters Necessary?

Maintaining any piece of equipment is necessary – especially one that you would want to operate for multiple years. Maintaining a tankless water heater properly will result in the avoidance of costly repairs, breakdowns, and a marked decrease in their efficiency. Here are three potential negative consequences of not maintaining your tankless water heater:

Sky-high energy bills: The primary reason that most people purchase a tankless water heater is due to their energy efficiency which results in lower energy bills when compared to tank-style water heaters. However, not maintaining your tankless water heater on time can actually turn that advantage into a drawback. For example, if you do not clean your water filter, sediments can block the amount of water that your tankless water heater receives. Hence, it will be forced to work slower since it would only be able to receive a fraction of the water that it was originally used to, due to the sediment blockage. Slower operation means more time and gas usage in heating the same amount of water, resulting in inefficiency and high energy bills.

No Hot Water: Failure to adhere to the regular maintenance needs of your tankless water heater could result in breakdowns. Breakdowns occurring due to lack of regular maintenance usually take longer to repair. Hence, you could be facing several hours or even days of downtime, unable to receive hot water. While this might be inconvenient for residential tankless owners, downtime can have a severe impact on commercial properties’ business. For instance, a restaurant would be forced to stop serving its customers if it did not have access to hot water. 

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