Electric vs Gas Water Heater

If you’re building a new home or looking to replace your existing water heater, we’re here for you. Choosing the right water heater for your family will keep the laundry tumbling and showers flowing. A major part of this decision is selecting a fuel type—will your water heater run natural gas, standard electricity, fuel oil, propane, geothermal, or solar energy?

Before you make your selection, read on to see our comparison of electric vs. gas water heaters.

Electric Water Heater vs. Gas Water Heater Infrastructure

If you’re building a new construction home, you have the maximum freedom to choose whichever water heater type you prefer. If you’re replacing an existing water heater, it’s safe to say that the easiest thing to do is to replace it with a new (more efficient) water heater that uses the same fuel type.

Changing an existing water heater to a new fuel type is certainly still do-able, however—especially if you’re planning to add geothermal or solar power to your home, in which case you may want to take advantage of your investment to also heat your water.

If you do wish to change the fuel type—or are building a new home—keep in mind:

  • An electric water heater requires a 240-volt dedicated circuit.
  • A gas water heater will require a supply of gas.
    • Homes connected to natural gas will automatically have a steady stream of natural gas pumped into their home to fuel their appliances.
      • Natural gas is not available in all locations.
    • Propane heaters require propane, which will need to be stored outside in a propane tank (often called a “pig”). Propane tanks are not connected to a larger source of propane and must be refilled by local contractors as the tank is depleted.

Gas vs. Electric Water Heater Operating Cost

If we compare gas vs. electric water heater operating costs, we see that one will have a larger up-front cost while the other will be more expensive to operate, month to month.

As a rule, most gas water heaters will be more expensive to purchase and install but will be less expensive to fuel long-term. Electric water heaters are usually less expensive to purchase and install but can be more expensive to run, depending on the amount of water being heated.

Other factors that may influence the startup and operation costs of your water heater include:

  • Installation costs (running electricity or fuel lines, equipment pricing, labor costs)
  • Local fuel costs
  • The make, model and size of the specific water heater—a water heater that is overworked for its size will age more quickly than one that is used less frequently

One of the difficulties in selecting a new water heater is in predicting (or betting on) future fuel prices or electricity rates.

Water Heater Efficiency

When weighing your water heater options based on total water heater efficiency, it’s important to recognize that a new water heater of any persuasion will be more efficient than a water heater that is ten years old (or older).

Overall, modern electric water heaters are typically more efficient than gas water heaters but are often still more expensive to operate due to the cost of electricity in comparison to the cost of natural gas. However, this isn’t true in all situations, or even necessarily in a few years from now.

Before choosing your new water heater, consider:

Fuel Type

Electric water heaters that are connected to the utility grid receive a generally growing portion of their power from renewable sources (how much depends on the electric company). Other efficient water heater types include solar-powered and heat pump water heaters. Natural gas-powered water heaters require natural gas, a non-renewable resource, to heat the water. Depending on your individual situation, a natural gas-powered water heater may still be the least-expensive choice for your home, but it will almost always have the largest carbon footprint.

Tank Size

Homeowners seeking to install a very efficient water heater may consider a tankless model (available in both electric and natural gas). Tankless or hybrid, water heaters minimize the amount of extra water that is heated when there is no demand, saving energy.

Whether tankless or conventional, a water heater that can’t keep up with the demand of your household will never be as efficient as one of an appropriate size. Use first-hour rating (FHR) measurements to determine what capacity your new water heater will need.

First-Hour Rating

First-hour rating is a measure used to describe how much hot water a water heater can realistically supply in one hour. A first-hour rating does not equal gallon capacity. It’s possible to have a relatively large water heater with a first-hour rating that is not enough to meet your household’s needs.

To determine what FHR you should be looking for, think about a typical morning or evening in your home. How many gallons of hot water do you need? You can also look at the FHR listed on your current unit - do you have enough hot water when you need it? You might be surprised at the size unit that is ideal for your household. Use this rating to narrow your water heater options.

Aire Serv Water Heater Services

At Aire Serv®, we don’t stop at HVAC services. Our technicians are certified to install and service water heaters of all fuel types, makes, and models. If you’re in the market for a new water heater, trust Aire Serv to help you through the selection process and to install the perfect unit for your household.

Contact your local Aire Serv or call for an in-home consultation.

Water heater services may not be available at all locations. Contact your local Aire Serv for more information.

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