Gas vs. Electric Water Heaters

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Last updated: 06/30/2020
Gas vs. Electric Water Heaters

Gas vs. Electric Water Heaters: What types of heaters are there?

Before breaking down the pros and cons of electric and natural gas water heaters respectively, it’s worth taking a look at the options available in terms of the actual types and sizes.
 
The first thing to consider is the size, which can vary from 20 to 100 gallons. If you have a large family who use a lot of water at peak times (showers in the morning, for example), then consider getting a larger heater. Smaller heaters will often do fine though, so long as you have one that can heat up water quickly.
 
Then there is the type of heater. There are five main options here:
 
  1. Standard heaters
  2. High Efficiency (HE) heaters
  3. Solar tank heaters
  4. Tankless heaters
  5. Hybrid heat pump heaters
  6. Point-of-use heaters
 
One thing to look out for when choosing your water heater is the first hour rating.  This shows how much water it can heat up in the first hour of use. For example, if your family needs to use 40 gallons (that’s around 3 showers) between 8 and 9 in the morning, you should look for a heater with a rating of at least 40 FHR.

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Electric vs. Gas Heaters: Which one should I choose?

Neither electric nor natural gas based heaters are necessarily better than the other, but there are some obvious advantages and disadvantages for each type:
 
  • Initial setup cost
    • Electric gas heaters tend to be cheaper to set up initially, and if you have a basic knowledge of electronics, you may be able to set it up yourself, saving you a few hundred dollars.
  • Speed of heating
    • Gas heaters tend to heat up water faster than electric heaters.  However, the best way to tell the speed that it heats water is to check the FHR rating.
  • Efficiency
    • Although the model of the heater is what makes it more efficient rather than the type, you’ll only get the highest levels of efficiency with natural gas heaters.
    • Gas heaters also tend to be cheaper to run, meaning cheaper monthly energy rates.
  • Safety concerns
    • Some people have concerns over the safety of gas heaters.  Carbon monoxide from leaking heaters can be fatal, but if you have a working carbon monoxide alarm then this should not be something to worry about.
 

Electric Water Heater Availability

One particular bonus of electric water heaters is that you can use them pretty much wherever you are, as long as you have access to electricity.  Gas heaters run on natural gas, and some more rural parts of the country do not have access to this.
 
However, if you do have access to gas heaters, they do come with one major advantage: they still work if there is a power outage.  This means that if the electricity fails, you will not be left completely without hot water in your home.

Electric Tankless Water Heaters

Most of the standard and high efficiency water heaters use tanks to store unused water that has been heated.  However, there are a number of tankless options, which heat up water instantly when needed, and these can actually be more efficient than the usual models, as there is no heat loss from stored water.

Hybrid Heat Pump and Point-of-Use Heaters

Hybrid heat pump and point-of-use heaters have specific uses, but can help to improve the efficiency of your home:
 
  • Point-of-use heaters are separate to your main heater, but focus on a specific application in the house.  For example, you may have a point-of-use heater for your kitchen faucet, meaning that you don’t have to heat up a big tank of water just to wash a few plates.
  • Hybrid heat pump heaters can have different settings, allowing it to adapt to how much water it needs to use.  They often have a “vacation mode”, which can dramatically cut down on the amount of energy it uses if you are not in for a long period of time.  If you are someone who travels a lot for work for instance, this may be a good option for you.
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