Gas or Electric Water Heater: Making the Right Choice for Your Home

Deciding on the right water heater for one’s home is a crucial choice that can impact both the comfort and energy costs. Homeowners often face the dilemma of choosing between gas and electric water heaters, as each type has its own set of advantages and drawbacks. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of both options to help make an informed decision.

Gas water heaters generate heat by burning fuel through a gas line, while electric water heaters use high-voltage electric rods that run vertically through the tank to heat the water. Both types of water heaters have their merits, and understanding their differences can aid homeowners in finding the ideal match for their households.

Several factors should be considered when comparing gas and electric water heaters, including efficiency, operating costs, and environmental impact. An understanding of these factors will assist homeowners in making an informed decision on which water heater will best meet their needs while minimizing energy costs and reducing their carbon footprint.

Types of Water Heaters

Gas Water Heaters

Gas water heaters use natural gas or propane to heat the water in a storage tank. They may have a higher upfront cost compared to electric water heaters, but often offer lower operating costs due to the energy efficient fuel source. Lifespan for gas water heaters typically ranges from 10 to 15 years, and they usually require venting systems for safe operation.

Electric Water Heaters

Electric water heaters use electricity to heat water stored in a tank, and are available in a wide range of sizes including point-of-origin (instant demand) options. The operating costs can be higher than gas water heaters due to the cost of electricity, but they are generally less expensive to purchase and have a lifespan of around 10 to 15 years.

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters, also known as on-demand or instant water heaters, do not store water. Instead, they use heating coils to heat water as it is needed, providing an energy-efficient option. Both gas and electric tankless water heaters are available. They can be more expensive to purchase but offer longer lifespans (up to 20 years) and energy savings.

Heat Pump Water Heaters

Heat pump water heaters move heat from one place to another, rather than generating heat directly. This results in high efficiencies and significant cost savings. They can be more expensive to purchase than traditional options, but offer long-term energy savings. Heat pump water heaters are typically electric models.

Solar Water Heaters

Solar water heaters use the sun’s heat to provide hot water, offering an environmentally friendly and cost-effective option. They can be more expensive to install but offer significant energy bill savings. Solar water heaters may require a backup system for cloudy days or high demand periods.

Condensing Water Heaters

Condensing water heaters are a type of gas water heater that capture and reuse heat from the combustion process, increasing their energy efficiency. This results in lower operating costs and reduced heat loss. They usually have a larger upfront cost, but their high efficiency can offer long-term savings.

Factors to Consider

When choosing between a gas or electric water heater, there are several factors to consider. This section will discuss energy efficiency, fuel source, operating costs, purchase price and installation cost, and performance.

Energy Efficiency

Both gas and electric water heaters have energy efficiency ratings, usually represented by an Energy Factor (EF) rating. Electric water heaters, particularly heat pump water heaters, tend to have higher EF ratings compared to gas water heaters. To maximize efficiency, look for products with the Energy Star label, indicating they meet or exceed certain efficiency criteria.

Fuel Source

The fuel source should be factored in when selecting a water heater, considering accessibility and cost. Gas water heaters require a gas line and can use natural gas or propane. Electric water heaters use electricity and require a 240-volt connection.

Operating Costs

Operating costs vary between gas and electric water heaters. In general, gas water heaters tend to have lower operating costs since gas prices are usually lower than electricity. However, energy price fluctuations can affect these costs. Maintenance costs also differ, with gas water heaters requiring more maintenance due to their more complex systems.

The table below provides an overview of the operating cost comparison:

TypeEnergy Price StabilityMaintenance Cost
ElectricMore stableLower

Purchase Price and Installation Cost

Electric water heaters are typically less expensive to purchase than their gas counterparts. However, the installation cost for both gas and electric water heaters may depend on the existing infrastructure in your home. Gas water heaters may require significant changes, such as adding a gas line or ventilation systems, resulting in higher installation costs.


Gas water heaters tend to heat water more rapidly compared to electric water heaters, making them more suitable for larger households or high-demand usage. Electric water heaters are usually smaller in size and take up less space, making them ideal for homes with limited space or those requiring less hot water.

In summary, when choosing a water heater for your home, consider factors such as energy efficiency, fuel source, operating costs, purchase price and installation costs, and performance. Keep these factors in mind to make an informed decision that best suits your needs and preferences.

Energy Savings

Energy savings is an important aspect to consider when choosing between gas and electric water heaters. Both types of water heaters offer various benefits that can lead to energy savings and reduced costs.

One of the energy-efficient options in water heaters is the heat pump water heater. These heaters work by transferring heat from the surrounding air to the water, utilizing less energy to heat the water. They can be up to 60% more energy-efficient than standard electric water heaters, leading to lower energy costs for consumers.

Gas water heaters are another energy-saving option, as they typically have lower operating costs than electric models. This is due to the lower cost of natural gas compared to electricity. Furthermore, gas water heaters tend to heat water more quickly, which can result in increased energy efficiency.

However, it’s essential to consider the energy factor (EF) ratings of both gas and electric water heaters. A higher EF rating indicates a more energy-efficient unit. Electric water heaters, particularly electric heat pump water heaters, can have higher EF ratings than gas water heaters. Be sure to compare these ratings when making your decision.

Apart from energy costs, some additional factors contribute to the energy efficiency of water heaters, such as:

  • Insulation: Proper insulation can help maintain water temperature, reducing the energy needed to heat the water.
  • Maintenance: Regular upkeep can ensure that your water heater is functioning efficiently, saving energy and prolonging its lifespan.
  • Temperature settings: Lowering the temperature setting on your water heater can help reduce energy consumption and save on energy bills.

In summary, energy savings can be achieved with both gas and electric water heaters, with heat pump water heaters being a highly energy-efficient option. It is crucial to compare EF ratings and consider the factors that impact energy efficiency to make an informed decision about the right water heater for your needs.

How to Choose the Right Size

When choosing between a gas and electric water heater, the first factor to consider is the size of the unit that will best suit your household’s needs. Sizing the water heater correctly ensures that you will have sufficient hot water for daily use, such as showers and household chores.

To determine the appropriate size for your water heater, you should consider the first-hour rating (FHR) of the unit. The first-hour rating refers to the number of gallons of hot water the heater can supply per hour, starting with a full tank. The FHR allows you to estimate whether the unit will be able to meet your household’s peak demand for hot water.

For a big family, a higher FHR is essential to accommodate the increased hot water usage, especially during peak times like the morning when multiple showers might be in use. Here’s a guideline on how to estimate the FHR based on the number of people in your household:

  • 1-2 people: 30-40 gallons
  • 2-3 people: 40-50 gallons
  • 3-4 people: 50-60 gallons
  • 5 or more people: 60+ gallons

In addition to the FHR, you should consider the available space for the water heater in your home. Gas and electric water heaters come in varying sizes and shapes, and choosing the right dimensions is crucial for a proper installation.

Keep the following tips in mind when selecting the size of your water heater:

  • Measure the available space: Ensure your chosen water heater can fit within the allocated area, leaving enough room for ventilation and necessary connections.
  • Consider the capacity: Tank water heaters typically hold 40, 50, or 55 gallons or more, and the size you choose depends on the number of people in your household.
  • Evaluate efficiency: The energy efficiency of the unit can impact your monthly utility bills, so take note of the energy factor (EF) ratings.

By considering these factors, such as the first-hour rating, your family’s water usage habits, and the available space in your home, you can ensure that you choose the right size water heater that meets your household’s needs.

Safety and Maintenance

When it comes to both gas and electric water heaters, safety and proper maintenance are crucial for the efficient and long-lasting operation of the appliance. Both types of storage tank water heaters require regular care to ensure their reliable performance, but there are some differences in the maintenance process for gas and electric models.

For gas water heaters, it is essential to check the pilot light regularly, making sure it is burning steadily with a blue flame. The pilot light allows the main burner to ignite, and any issues with it could result in interrupted heating. Moreover, it is necessary to regularly inspect the venting system, as it is responsible for releasing combustion by-products, including carbon monoxide.

Electric water heaters, on the other hand, do not require pilot light or venting system maintenance. However, they still need proper care. Before performing any maintenance tasks, always make sure to disconnect the unit from the power source to ensure safety.

Both types of water heaters can benefit from the following routine maintenance tasks:

  • Checking the pressure valve: This valve is a critical safety device that prevents excessive pressure buildup inside the tank. Test the valve by lifting the lever and allowing some water to flow out, then release the lever, and the valve should close automatically.
  • Flushing the tank: Over time, sediment can accumulate at the bottom of the tank, reducing the heater’s efficiency and lifespan. To avoid this, drain and flush the tank at least once a year.
  • Inspecting for leaks and drips: Keep an eye on the condition of the tank and its components, looking for any signs of corrosion, and promptly address any leaks that appear.
  • Thermostat settings: Ensure the temperature is set according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, typically around 120°F (49°C).

In addition to these maintenance tasks, it is advisable to consult with a professional plumber to assess and address the specific needs of your water heater. Regular inspections and maintenance by a qualified plumber can help identify potential issues early, ensuring the safe and efficient operation of your water heater.

Ultimately, adhering to proper maintenance procedures will contribute to the safe and efficient operation of your water heater, whether it’s a gas or electric model. Investing in regular care can extend the lifespan of the appliance, saving both time and money in the long run.

Environmental Impact

When comparing gas and electric water heaters, it is essential to consider their environmental impact. Each type of water heater has benefits and drawbacks concerning energy efficiency and environmental friendliness.

Electric water heaters are often considered more environmentally friendly due to their energy efficiency and their ability to use renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, or hydroelectric power. Energy efficiency is crucial as it helps reduce the overall energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with heating water. Electric heat pump water heaters, in particular, are designed with high energy efficiency in mind. They can source their power from renewable energy sources, making them a more environmentally friendly option.

However, gas-powered water heaters also have some advantages in terms of environmental impact. In some regions, gas-powered water heaters produce a lower number of harmful emissions compared to the emissions produced by power plants that supply electricity to electric water heaters. Despite this, gas water heaters still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions as they burn natural gas, propane, or other fossil fuels to heat the water.

The Energy Star program further encourages energy-efficient water heating solutions. Energy Star-certified products have met strict energy efficiency criteria and may offer significant energy savings compared to non-certified units. By choosing an Energy Star-certified water heater, consumers can further reduce their environmental impact and save on energy costs.

To summarize, electric water heaters, and electric heat pump water heaters in particular, are generally considered more environmentally friendly due to their energy efficiency and potential use of renewable energy sources. However, gas water heaters may produce fewer harmful emissions in certain regions. Finally, the Energy Star program provides an additional layer of confidence for those seeking energy-efficient and environmentally responsible water heating options.

Alternatives and Add-Ons

There are a few alternatives and add-ons to consider when choosing a water heater for your home. You can find options that cater to different energy sources, sizes, and technologies to fit your specific needs.

One option is a storage tank water heater, which is the most common type found in homes. This design includes an insulated tank that holds a specific volume of water, typically between 30-50 gallons, and heats it continuously. Storage tank heaters can be powered by gas or electricity.

Another alternative is a condensing water heater, which is ideal for homes that use gas and require a larger capacity of more than 55 gallons. Additionally, these models are usually more energy-efficient as they make use of the heat released during the gas combustion process.

Tankless water heaters offer an on-demand or point-of-use (POU) option that supplies hot water only when needed. These systems are available in both gas and electric-powered versions and can be more energy-efficient than storage tank models. They can be installed close to the point of use, reducing the energy wasted in heat losses.

To maximize the efficiency of your chosen water heater, consider some add-ons like a power vent. A power vent enhances the water-heating capacity by getting rid of exhaust gases using an electric motor and fan. Installation of a power vent can be an effective way to improve overall performance.

Lastly, keep in mind that some household appliances, such as washing machines, can be designed to consume less hot water. By choosing energy-efficient versions of these appliances, you can reduce the demand on your water heater.

  • Choose energy-efficient appliances
    • Low-flow showerheads
    • Washing machines

Considering the alternatives and add-ons available for water heaters can help you find the best fit for your home while saving energy, reducing costs, and conserving resources.