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Gas vs. Electric Water Heater Replacement: Which Is More Efficient?

Eventually, the water heater in your home will show signs that you will need a water heater replacement. Some of the more common signs it is time to start looking at new water heater models are if you notice any of the following:

  • Cracking and Popping Sounds
  • Water Leaks Around the Tank
  • Hot Water Not Hot
  • Rust on the Tank Bottom
  • Rust or Sediment in Hot Water
  • Water Heater Runs Almost Constantly
  • Water Heater Circuit Breaker Blows Frequently
  • Pilot Light Won’t Stay Lit
  • Water Heater Is 10 Years or Older

Before scheduling new water heater installation, it is worthwhile to consider the advantages and disadvantages of gas and electric water heaters. While gas and electric water heaters both provide hot water for your home, one could be more efficient than the other.

Water Heater Types

Before reviewing the pros and cons of gas vs. electric water heaters, you need to know what type of water heater you want to be installed. The two most common types are storage tank water heaters and tankless (“on demand”) water heaters. There are also solar powered, heat pump, and condensing models. For our purposes, we will be looking at storage tank and tankless models.

plumber holding clipboard and pen

How Water Is Heated

With storage tank water heaters, the water is heated and stored inside the tank. There is standby heat loss which occurs, so the tank will run periodically to reheat the water to the preset temperature level. With tankless water heaters, the hot water is heated when it is required.

There are both electric storage tank and tankless water heaters. Electricity heats up a heating coil to create the hot water. In storage tank heaters, there are normally two coils-one at the top of the tank and one at the bottom-for more even water heating.

There are also both gas storage tank and tankless water heaters. Natural gas is used to heat up the water in a storage tank or as it flows through a tankless water heater. Gas heaters will either have a pilot light that remains lit all the time or an electric ignition to start the flames required to heat the hot water.

Pros of Gas Water Heaters

  • A gas water heater can heat cold water much faster.
  • It only takes about 60 minutes to heat up 50 gallons of hot water in a storage tank.
  • Gas storage tank heaters have a faster recovery rate.
  • Gas water heaters are better suited for families of four or more people.
  • Some models may still work even during power outages.
  • The cost of natural gas can be much less than electricity.

Cons of Gas Water Heaters

  • Gas water heaters are less energy efficient.
  • There is more heat loss with a gas water heater.
  • Water heater installation can be more complex.
  • They require the tank be connected to a natural gas line or tank.

Pros of Electric Water Heaters

  • Electric water heaters are more energy efficient.
  • There is less heat loss with an electric water heater.
  • They can be easier to install.
  • They do not require a home to have access to a natural gas line or tank.
  • They can be easier to repair and maintain.

Cons of Electric Water Heaters

  • Electric storage tank heaters have a much slower recovery rate.
  • It can take several hours to heat up 50 gallons of hot water.
  • Electric water heaters will not work if the power goes out.
  • Electric water heaters may not meet a family’s hot water demands.
  • The electricity needed to heat hot water can cost more than natural gas.

Which Is Better for My Home?

As you can see, there are pros and cons to both gas and electric water heaters. While a gas water heater is less energy-efficient, it does heat hot water faster. Plus, the costs for natural gas are typically less than electricity, so you could end up coming out ahead with a gas water heater. Speaking of gas as an option, you can also consider propane for heating as it can be more efficient than natural gas. That said, the more efficient the fuel is, the less you would use it. In addition, propane can be considered as a non-toxic gas and tanks can be installed at homes by companies like Kelly propane (kellypropane.com) for the storage of propane, which can be later used for heating and cooking.

On the other hand, even though an electric model may take longer to heat hot water up, it is not as prone to excess heat loss like gas heaters. Gas heaters lose some of their heat from the exhaust fumes that have to be vented out of the home. Not to mention, if there is an unexpected hike in natural gas rates, electricity rates could end up being less.

It really comes down to deciding which type of water heater installation will best meet your home’s hot water demands. Additionally, it depends on whether you have access to a natural gas line. If your home is not connected to natural gas, then getting a gas water heater will have added installation costs to run a natural gas line.

electric water heater tank

What You Need to Know about Hot Water Recovery Rates

The hot water recovery rates of water heaters have to do with how fast the water heater can make more hot water. If your household uses a large amount of hot water at the same time each day, then you will want to look at models that have a much higher hot water recovery rate.

You should also take into account the FHR. On storage tank models, it is common to find a “first-hour rating” or FHR. What this rating tells you is how much hot water the tank can provide continuously for one hour.

For example, you are looking at a 50-gallon water heater that has an FHR of 25 gallons. If you use more than 25 gallons of hot water in one hour, the water heater will not be able to meet your hot water demands. Contrarily, if you find a tank with a 40 FHR, but you only use 20 gallons of hot water in a typical hour, then the tank may not be the most efficient for your home.

Storage Tank or Tankless Water Heaters?

Choosing which water heater installation you need also requires you to decide between storage tank and tankless models. Storage tank water heaters are better suited for homes that have a higher hot water demand all at the same time. Tankless water heaters are not able to easily keep up with hot water demands when it is needed in multiple places simultaneously.

For example, you like to run the dishwasher while doing laundry and giving your kids their evening baths. In this situation, your home would benefit from a storage tank water heater to ensure you had plenty of hot water.

Conversely, if you only use cold water to do laundry, start the dishwasher before going to bed, and only need hot water to bathe your kids, then a tankless heater might be able to meet your hot water demands.

While tankless water heaters are much more energy efficient than storage tank water heaters, they do cost more upfront to get installed. However, they tend to last much longer. So the initial upfront costs could easily end up being less in the long run if you had to replace a storage tank heater two or three times over the lifespan of a tankless water heater.

Other Things to Make Water Heaters More Energy Efficient

If you are looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency of your water heater and lower your hot water heating costs, there are several things you can do, as follows:

install water heater

  • Insulate Storage Tank Heaters: Insulating the storage tank will help reduce heat loss and keep more heat inside the tank.
  • Insulate Hot Water Pipes: Heat loss occurs through hot water plumbing, and insulation will help. Insulation can also help provide hot water faster, which saves water.
  • Install Low Flow Faucets and Fixtures: Lowering the amount of hot water you use will save on hot water heating and water bills.
  • Turn Down the Thermostat on Storage Tank Heaters: Lowering the setting a few degrees will lower your water heating bills.
  • Buy an Energy Star Water Heater Replacement: Energy Star water heaters are more energy efficient than standard models without this rating.
  • Schedule Annual Water Heater Service: To make sure your water heater is operating at its optimal level, regular annual maintenance is necessary.

Do not hesitate to contact the plumbing and hot water heater replacement experts at your nearest Christianson Air Conditioning & Plumbing location if you have further questions about what type of water heater is best for your home or for help figuring out your home’s hot water demands.

We are happy to lend our expertise and advice to help you choose the best water heater for your home in New Braunfels, San Antonio, Temple, or the Austin Metro Area. Call us today!

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