Heating water in your house requires a lot of electricity. In fact, roughly 12 percent of an average home’s energy consumption is spent heating water. How much energy your own water heater consumes depends not only on how much hot water you use but also on the type of water heater you install. As such, when it’s time to install a new water heater in your home, it’s important to compare multiple options before making a final purchasing decision.
Electric water heaters: what are the pros and cons?
Electric water heaters are one of the most popular options for home water heating, though it can be tough to know the pros and cons of installing this type of water heater as opposed to gas options. Here are some of the most important benefits and drawbacks of using an electric water heating setup:
Pros and cons of electric water heaters
|Low upfront costs||Relatively slow heating time|
|Efficient use of energy||Susceptible to power outages|
|Safe to operate||High operating costs|
Pros of electric water heaters
There are many reasons that households should consider installing electric water heaters instead of gas water heaters; here are some of the biggest advantages that electric water heaters have against the competition:
Lower initial costs
Of all water heater options available on the market today, an electric water heater is likely to be your most affordable option when it comes to upfront price.
Importantly, the cost will largely depend on the size and type of water heater, regardless of the fuel used to power it. For instance, traditional tank water heaters are less expensive, while tankless, on-demand water systems tend to be more expensive upfront. Generally speaking, the price disparity between the types of hot water heaters is largely the result of the cost of installation.
Gas water heaters require additional piping and a new ventilation system to vent the exhaust coming from the combustion process. On the other hand, electric water heaters do not require this additional in-home infrastructure, so the installation process is both simpler and quicker. There is the possibility that your home may need an electrical upgrade prior to installing an electric water heater, which would make the installation process more expensive; however, such upgrades are uncommon when installing an electric water heater.
The best way to compare the efficiencies of various water heaters is to look at their respective energy factors (EF). This number evaluates how effective a water heater is at producing hot water, measuring how much fuel or electricity is required to heat your water. With the EF numbers in hand, comparing the efficiency of each type of water heater is quite simple: higher efficiency heaters will have higher EF numbers.
In the battle between gas and electric water heaters, electric water heaters win out from an efficiency perspective. Conventional gas water heaters typically have EF numbers ranging from 0.5 to 0.7, while electric water heaters can have EF numbers higher than 0.9. In general, most of the energy loss from gas water heaters occurs during the venting process, which is nonexistent in an electric water heater.
Both electric and gas water heaters are safe solutions for heating your water. That said, as with any appliance run on gasoline, water heaters are susceptible to gas leaks if they run on propane or natural gas. You can alleviate these risks by conducting proper maintenance and inspections of your gas water heater.
While electrical appliances have their own safety concerns, the chances of experiencing a gas leak are higher than witnessing any sort of electrical safety issue with a water heater.
Nearly every home is tied to the electric grid, and as such, they all have a readily available source for electricity (save for when the power grid is down). This means that just about any home can effectively use an electric water heater.
On the other hand, if you’re interested in installing a gas water heater, you’ll need to ensure that your home is connected to a natural gas line or has a propane supply source. If not, making these upgrades for the purpose of installing a gas water heater can be costly.
Cons of electric water heaters
Electric water heaters are not the best solution for every home. Here are some of the downsides of using an electric water heater:
Heating time and recovery rates
Do you spend a lot of time waiting for your shower water to heat up? With electric water heaters, this process is going to take even more time than with a gas water heater. This is because the gasoline combustion process generates heat more rapidly (sometimes even twice as fast) as electric heating.
Gas water heaters have a higher recovery rate (i.e. the amount of water the appliance can heat to a set temperature in a given time frame). For larger households with more hot water needs, gas water heaters may be a necessity. Alternatively, households with only a couple members won’t require the same recovery rate that gas water heaters have to offer.
If the grid goes down due to a storm or other event, you won’t have access to hot water with an electric water heater. Gas water heaters, on the other hand, can operate even when your power is out.
If this is going to be a primary driver in your decision, it’s important to confirm that your gas water heater does not need electricity to operate. Even if electricity isn’t the primary source of fuel, some newer gas water heaters will use an electrical ignition rather than a pilot light. These types of water heaters will also be unusable in the event of a power outage.
Even though electric water heaters are more efficient than gas water heaters, you’ll likely spend less money overall if heating your water supply with gas. This is due to the cost of the fuel source. These days, natural gas is one of the cheapest sources of energy, and in most cases, the cost of electricity will be much higher.
As the costs of both natural gas and electricity vary by region, it’s a good idea to compare the costs of each before making a final decision on how you want to heat your water. Some utilities may offer financial incentives for installing electric water heaters that can make it a more cost-competitive option.
Powering electric water heaters with solar panels
If your only concern with purchasing an electric water heater is the operating cost, you can always pair your electric water heater with a solar energy system. By investing in solar panels, you can run your water heater off the power of the sun rather than purchased electricity from your utility company. As a plus, solar panel systems will help you save on more than just your water heating costs; they can help dramatically decrease (or potentially eliminate) your entire electricity bill.
If you’re looking to see what you can save by installing solar panels, sign up for the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. You can receive up to seven solar quotes, custom to your property, all for free. If you’re upgrading to an electric water heater in the near future and expect your electricity usage to go up, simply note it in your account so that installers can quote according to your expected electricity needs.