Propane tankless water heaters are an excellent choice for homesteads, cabins, and living the off grid lifestyle. Propane is easily obtainable in most rural towns and there is usually a local company that will set you up with a large tank and come out to your property to fill as needed.
Gas is a very efficient way to heat water, but traditional tank water heaters are large and inefficient.
Installing a tankless water heater in your homestead is an ideal way to not having to rely on electricity or natural gas for hot water. It is also much easier than using a wood burning stove for water heating.
In this article, I cover all the information you need to know about using a propane tankless water heater for your off grid lifestyle, including valuable information, how to size the water heater, pros and cons, frequently asked questions, and a comprehensive buyers guide. However, I will not cover installation instructions as I am not a professional gas plumber.
So keep on reading to find that tankless propane water heater of your off grid dreams!
Are Propane Tankless Water Heaters Good for Off Grid Cabins and homesteads?
They sure are, but It really depends on how "off the grid" you want to live. Technically, relying on propane means depending on a business to provide you with the precious fuel. You cannot simply manufacture propane on your own. If you are wanting to be fully independent from a municipality or company to provide you with fuel, then the propane tankless water heater is probably not a good choice.
However, propane tankless water heaters work exceptionally well and are energy efficient, dependable, and convenient. I know many homesteaders that use propane for several installations and are happy with the balance of comfort and convenience they have while living in a rural environment.
You can also choose to go propane as your primary water heating and then have a backup off grid water heating system. This could be a wood fired off grid water heater, or even a solar water heater.
Although these DIY water heating methods are 100% off grid, there are drawbacks to them. Wood fired water heaters require stoking a fire every time you want hot water. You also have to gather or purchase good burning hardwood. Solar water heaters need sun and cool off at night, unless you have a separate holding tank that keeps the water warm overnight which requires electricity or fuel.
Therefore, I find the off grid methods good as a backup or secondary water heating source and the propane as a consistent and convenient primary source of water heating for your off grid cabin or homestead.
If you are interested in more methods on heating water off the grid, I recommend reading my article: Learn All About Off Grid Water Heater Systems.
Pros and Cons of Using a Propane Tankless Water Heaters for Off Grid Homesteads
As with any manmade thing on this planet, there are always pros and cons. You will have to decide what is right for your situation. Living off the grid is tricky enough, so having some small luxuries can make life feel a whole lot easier.
Some of the pros I have found are:
- Propane is highly accessible most everywhere. Rural areas usually have a local propane company that will bring propane to your property, and set you up with a big propane tank for a reasonable cost.
- High efficiency. Tankless propane water heaters have an efficiency rating of a whopping 95%, beating the traditional 40 gallon water heater that has an efficiency of around 60%. A 9 gallon tankless burns about $200 of propane per year, whereas a 40 gallon water heater costs an average of $360 a year to run.
- Tankless water heaters save space. The units are quite small and discrete, making them a good choice for small off grid cabin installations.
- They have a much longer lifespan. A propane tankless water heater can last for up to 20 years with proper installation and maintenance. A traditional tank water heater lasts about 10 years. So not only are you saving money every year on gas cost, you are also extending the life of your water heater by double!
The Drawbacks of Tankless Propane Water Heaters when Homesteading
The biggest drawback is that you must have electricity available for your tankless heater unless you get a unit that uses battery power. The electricity needed is for the ignition, the control panel, and the motherboard.
Now, these units don't require a lot of electricity, but as a homesteader, we all know how precious electricity is and how difficult it can be to run a line. You can get a battery operated gas tankless hot water heater, but they have a very low GPM flow rate. I do have a recommendations in the buyer's guide.
It is also hard to achieve a consistent temperature of the water. You will have to fiddle a bit to find that warm water sweet spot.
The temperature will fluctuate when other users are running hot water. And if you don't properly size your water heater, the fluctuations are more drastic and you can run out of hot water.
The initial cost is quite expensive, compared to traditional gas water heaters. But as noted above, traditional water heaters cost a lot more to run.
And finally, if you are homesteading in a cold climate, you will need to opt for an indoor model, as the outdoor models get quite inefficient in the winter months.
The Difference Between Indoor VS Outdoor Propane Tankless Water Heaters
Indoor propane water heaters are specifically built to be plumbed into your home as your primary source of hot water. They act as a replacement for traditional tank water heaters that consume lots of gas and electric energy. Indoor models must be ventilated and installed by a professional. The installation process can be tricky.
Outdoor propane tankless water heaters do not need to be ventilated and can be mounted pretty much anywhere. They are sturdy and built for outdoor weather conditions. They are also easier to install compared to their indoor counterparts.
However, outdoor models are subjected to cold and wind, so its not a good idea to use these in frigid climates.
If you are looking for a temporary hot water solution while building a cabin and need something cheap, I recommend an outdoor camping propane shower. I have one of these and I just love it! Although I don't quite use it so much when the temperature gets under 60 degrees as the unit gets less efficient and the air ambiance makes it too chilly to enjoy.
This unit is way cheaper than the full size heavy duty tankless heaters, and is travel friendly. All you need is a propane tank, a small water pump (or gravity water tank) and you have hot water on your property, or while camping or boondocking.
Important Facts About Gas Tankless Water Heaters
Important! You must DUCT your indoor propane water heater. This product releases carbon monoxide as it burns gas for energy. Not properly ducting this unit can result in poisoning or even death, so please make sure to duct your water heater!
I highly recommend hiring a reputable, experienced, licensed gas plumber to install this unit properly. Or, if you have the knowledge and experience in this field then go for it. But if you have any doubt about your gas plumbing skills, it is better to leave it someone who is professionally trained.
I also suggest installing a carbon monoxide detector in every room in your home. I have one installed in my tiny home, as I use a gas tankless water heater and a small gas heater. It is a carbon monoxide/smoke alarm combo and it actually talks to you letting you know what the alarm is about. It also has a low battery alarm that tells you "low battery", so you don't have to listen to annoying low battery chirping. On that note, it isn't wired which is convenient for self-installation.
How to Size a Propane Tankless Water Heater
There are many factors that you need to consider when sizing your tankless water heater for your homestead. Sizing a water heater correctly will reduce energy usage and also avoid the water running cold.
Propane Water Heater Sizing Factors
- The region and climate of your homestead.
- The amount of people in your homestead.
- How many appliances and taps that will use hot water.
- The size of your homestead.
- The temperature of your groundwater.
Understanding Gallons Per Minute (GPM)
It is important to know how many gallons per minute each and every water tap and appliance uses so you can correctly size your tankless water heater.
Gas tankless water heaters provide a range of 2 GPM all the way up to 11 GPM of hot water. If you are using over 11 GPM of hot water in your home, you can set up another tankless water heater like this:
Here is a simplified table of approximate flow rate for taps and appliances:
If possible, check with your manufacturer to get the most accurate rates on your hot water appliances.
These GPM flow rates will vary based on how hot you run your water. For showering and faucet use, 2/3 to 3/4 of the water will be hot, and the rest of the water cold. Of course, this depends on the temperature of your groundwater. The dishwasher and washing machine may use 100% hot water depending on your settings. So as you can see, these figures can vary quite drastically. Air on the side of more usage versus less as being oversized is better than being under.
Using a Propane Tankless Water Heater in Cold Climates
As the temperature of your groundwater decreases, the slower your GPM flow rate will need to be for continuous hot water. This means less taps and appliances being able to run at the same time. Although this may be discouraging for cabins and homesteads that have lots of appliances and taps running at once, there is a very simple solution:
Use Less Hot Water.
Especially at the same time! When living off the grid, its about making adjustments to comfort and convenience versus enjoying independence and freedom from vulnerable municipal energy sources. A lot of this equates to getting used to not using as much energy intensive resources like propane and electricity.
There are many ways to achieve using less water:
- Ditch the dishwasher. You are the dishwasher.
- Take showers at intervals and shorten shower time.
- Wash hands and face in tepid or even cold water. Trust me, it feels good!
- Shower in the hose on those hot summer days.
I want to tell you a little story about my off grid experience. I did go without hot water for about eight months. I was really nervous that I couldn't do it, but I did. I boiled hot water as needed and set out my hose in the sun which provided several feet of very warm water.
I bathed many times in cold water outdoors on my property and after you get over the initial shock, it actually feels AMAZING. I also live in Arizona and only did this during the toasty summer months, but I loved being in the outdoors with the fresh air and bathing in my pure sweet well water.
I did eventually get myself a propane water heater and its great, but it is very possible to live without running hot water. You can at least lessen your hot water usage by many, many gallons.
Tankless Water Heaters for Ground Water Temperature Chart
*This chart is based off of a 9 GPM Propane Tankless Water Heater
(Click on table for full sized image)
As you can see from the table above, if you live in the frozen North, you will lose 2/3rds of your hot water making capacity in the winter months. Even in warmer climates with a tepid 72 degree groundwater temp, the 9 GPM unit only makes 7 GPM!
You can, however, assist your propane water heater by plumbing it to a solar power hot water heating system, which could be as simple as a coiled garden hose that sits in the sun all day, or a big barrel of water painted black. Trust me, the sun is very efficient at making scalding hot water!
How to Size a Propane Water Heater Based on Family Size
If you don't feel like doing all the math, you can use this very generalized chart to determine your water heater size. Note that these figures are based off of the hot water use of city folks, who like to use hot water liberally. I think that a homesteading couple could easily live with a 4 GPM unit, and a single person can go with a 2 GPM or less unit.
Now that you have your water heater all sized out for your family's needs, lets look at what I have found to be the best tankless propane water heaters on the market.
Propane Tankless Water Heater Product Recommendations
I have combed through many different makes and models of propane water heaters and have only found a few that stand out above the rest when it comes to reputation, price, and reliability.
When you search for this style of water heater, many natural gas and electric heaters return in searches. There are not many actual propane ones that fit the bill of what we are looking for.
Here are a handful that I would feel confident purchasing and come with a warranty.
Highest Rated Outdoor Propane Tankless Water Heater for Off the Grid Living
Rinnai V65eP Non-Condensing Propane Tankless Water Heater
There are several reasons why you may consider purchasing from the Rinnai brand. One of the biggest reasons I like Rinnai so much is they manufacture all of their water heaters right here in America, which usually equates to a better made product.
The company has been in operation for 100 years now, and claims to be the #1 selling tankless water heater brand in the world.
Rinnai tests each and every unit before shipping, which is a rarity in the water heater world. They also have a comprehensive 1 year warranty, so make sure to jump on their website and register your product upon arrival.
Overall, I believe Rinnai to be the top leading tankless propane water heater available on the market, and their price point is fairly competitive.
Best Cheapest Indoor Propane Tankless Water Heater for Small Homesteads
Camplux 3.18 GPM On Demand Propane Water Heater
Camplux is well known for their outdoor portable propane shower systems, but they also make well made residential products as well. This indoor hot water heater is at the right price and runs off of propane, but they also have natural gas options as well.
Their brand is nationally recognized and the company states that they have over 100,000 five star reviews! They have sold millions of units and comes with a solid warranty which you can register here.
The Camplux website also has a decent FAQ section for troubleshooting your unit, which you may want to bookmark for future reference.
If you want a solid brand with an excellent reputation, good support, and a cheap price point, then Camplux could have the right tankless water heater for you.
Biggest Tankless Propane Water Heater for Residential Installations 9-11 GPM
Rinnai RU160iP Condensing Tankless Hot Water Heater
This indoor propane water heater is a beast offering 9 - 11 GPM water flow rates which suits large homesteads with big families.
Again, I am recommending Rinnai as they are really the top dog in the propane water heater industry!
Although these units are much more expensive than their smaller units, it will give you robust hot water on demand with several hot water points running at one time.
These units are durable and built to last, with up to a 20 year lifespan if maintained properly.
Best Cheapest Smallest 2 GPM Propane Tankless Water Heater
EZ 101 Tankless Water Heater
This tiny little water heater is portable and battery operated so you can use as a point-of-use unit or in an RV, or take it with you while camping and hunting.
A 2 GPM flow rate will work for a very small cabin with and is suitable for one person, although it could probably accommodate two people fairly well.
EZ Tankless brand is a direct importer and distributor which cuts out the middle man in their logistics, therefore their units are very affordable. This particular unit averages about $150-$200. They also state that their overseas factory is the largest LP gas water heater factory in the world.
The company is expecting rapid growth of tankless water heater use in America and is preparing to become the #1 distributor in the nation, so they aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Their warranty ranges from 1-5 years, depending on the part that needs to be replaced, so I suggest giving it a read.
I suggest this as a good option for small installation use and this one should be a plug and play model, but read all the directions thoroughly to ensure proper installation. Just remember that this is an outdoor water heater so don't even try to bring it indoors!
Best Slim Profile Indoor Tankless Propane Water Heater for Mid Size Cabins
This 4 GPM unit is built by Eccotemp, which is a small manufacturer based out of South Carolina. I really like their products because they are made in USA in small batches.
This is a smaller company and they have been in operation since 2004. Eccotemp is more well known for their portable line of tankless water heaters, but I really love the sleek design and slim profile of this indoor water heater. The front of the unit is a tempered glass and looks super nice.
You can also purchase an additional protection plan with the company on their website, which offers a lot more product protection than their standard warranty.
The Eccotemp indoor water heater is a really good choice for cabins and homesteads that should cover the hot water usage of 2 people.
Propane Tankless Water Heater Questions and Answers
Looking for answers to your questions? This Q and A has answers to the most frequently asked questions about tankless propane water heaters.
How Does a Propane Tankless Water Heater Work?
The unit uses a heating element that only turns on when hot water is needed. The heating element heats the input flow of water which provides on demand hot water in seconds. It can be tricky to achieve an ambient temperature with a tankless water heater as the water heats and cools so quickly.
Are Propane Tankless Water Heaters Worth It?
Yes and there are several reasons why. Tankless gas water heaters can last up to twice as long as a traditional tank heater, and they are about 40% more efficient on burning gas. Tankless water heaters cost about half as much on your gas bill per year. They also provide practically instant hot water, so no more wasting water while waiting for the hot water to flow. The internal components are rather simple so breakdowns are fairly rare.
Do Propane Tankless Water Heaters Need Electricity?
Yes, full sized tankless gas water heaters need to be wired into an electricity source. The electricity runs the ignition, motherboard, and visual LED display. Smaller versions may use a battery ignition but these units won't be much bigger than 2 GPM flow rate.
Do I need a professional to install a tankless water heater?
Not always. Outdoor tankless water heaters that are portable and are used for camping and RVs are built to be plug and play. Indoor and outdoor residential gas water heaters must be installed by a knowledgeable licensed professional as gas leaks can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and even explosions.
How long will a propane tank last on a tankless water heater?
On average, a 6 - 8 GPM tankless gas water heater will use 1.5 gallons of propane a day. So a standard 40 gallon tank will use just about a month's worth of propane.
What is the cost of a tankless propane water heater?
The average cost is around $1,000 for a residential unit. 2 GPM models start in the $250 range and 11 GPM units can cost around $2,000. You can find portable small units for around $150.
I do feel from my own experience and through tons of research that you will be satisfied with a propane tankless water heater as your primary source of heating water on your off grid property.
These units really give you the comfort and convenience of having hot water at the tip of your fingers without having to compromise your independent off grid lifestyle.
Recommended Reading: Get the 101 on Solar Hot Water Heaters.