In the market for a new water heater? Not yet sure whether you should go electric or gas? Well, we generally suggest a gas water heater-if the homeowner has a choice.
But not everyone has a choice.
Here’s what we mean:
- If you don’t have access to natural gas, your choice is made for you: you’re getting an electric water heater.
- But if you do have access to natural gas, you have the option of getting either an electric or a gas water heater.
In the latter category? We’ll help you decide by comparing gas and electric tank water heaters based on 4 important factors:
- Upfront cost
- Operational cost
- Heating speed
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Factor #1: Upfront cost
The winner? Electric water heaters.
Unfortunately, gas water heaters have a higher upfront cost than electric water heaters. That’s because a gas water heater has more components and requires a more complex installation process.
On average, a gas water heater installation can cost anywhere from $500 to $1000+ more than an electric water heater installation.
But, of course, upfront cost isn’t the only cost to consider….
Factor #2: Operational cost
The winner? Gas water heaters.
You see, in Arizona, gas is a much cheaper fuel source than electricity. Which means, homeowners with gas water heaters enjoy lower operating costs over the lifetime of the unit.
In fact, because gas units are cheaper to operate, they typically pay back their higher upfront price within a year.
For example, in the Phoenix area:
- An electric water heater’s average annual operating cost is $534
- A gas water heater’s average annual operating cost is $165
Big difference, right?
Note: The operating costs above were calculated using Energy.gov’s water heater cost calculator. We used Arizona’s average utility rates (11.96/kWh/$.72575therm) and assumed tanks with the minimum gas and electric EF ratings.
Factor #3: Speed of heating water
The winner? Gas water heaters.
Gas water heaters typically heat water about twice as fast as electric models of the same size/similar efficiency. And speed of heating is important for households who use a lot of hot water within a short amount of time.
Let’s say your family typically tries to squeeze in 3 showers from 7am to 8am. On average, that means you’d need anywhere from 50-60 gallons of hot water to make sure everyone can enjoy a hot shower.
But if your home only has a 40-gallon tank, you’d quickly deplete a tank’s worth of hot water before everyone finishes showering, right? That’s where speed of heating comes into play. A gas water heater offers much faster recovery times than electric water heaters (i.e. less waiting for more hot water).
Pro tip: To avoid running out of hot water frequently, make sure your water heater’s FHR (First Hour Rating) matches or exceeds your household’s “peak hour demand” (i.e. the amount of hot water, measured in gallons, your home uses during its busiest hour). A water heater’s FHR can be found on the yellow EnergyGuide label.
For more advice on picking the right water heater that can meet your needs, check out our blog: “What Is Water Heater Recovery Time?”.
Factor #4: Lifespan
The winner? It’s a draw.
Here’s what we mean: Technically, electric water heaters have slightly longer lifespans than gas water heaters. But, with regular care and maintenance, a gas water heater can last just as long as an electric water heater.
So how do you properly maintain a gas water heater?
Well, we recommend having it “flushed” at least once a year. A water heater flush means having a professional drain the entire tank, removing any sediment buildup, cleaning the inner components and checking/replacing the tank’s anode rod if needed.
The picture above shows sediment buildup (the brown buildup at the bottom) and a corroded anode rod-both due to Arizona’s “hard water”.
A warning for AZ homeowners: Not flushing your water heater at least once a year can dramatically decrease your water heater’s lifespan. Because we have “hard water” (i.e. water with a high amount of minerals), sediment buildup occurs faster in our water heaters than in other areas of the country.
To learn more, check out:
Don’t have access to gas but still want a gas water heater?
Sure, it’s possible to have a gas line installed at your home to accommodate a gas water heater. But it’s typically not financially “worth it”.
You see, converting your home from all-electric to gas requires:
- Running a new gas line from the gas mains to your home
- Installing a separate, secondary gas line to the water heater itself
- Pushing a new vent through the roof
- Getting permits
Note: To determine if natural gas is available in your area and to get more information about installing a gas line to your home, contact Southwest Gas.
Overall, this project can cost you upwards of $2,000-$5,000+ on top of the water heater installation cost. That said, the average homeowner won’t see any ROI (return on investment) over the typical lifespan of a gas water heater when they convert to gas.
But if you’re adamant about having a gas water heater, consider installing a tankless gas water heater instead.
These water heaters last longer (20+ years) and offer even cheaper operational costs compared to their tank counterparts. That’s because they only heat water when it’s needed vs keeping water hot and ready 24/7 (which leads to standby energy losses).
Interested in learning more about tankless water heaters? Just check out our blog, “Tank vs Tankless Water Heaters for Phoenix, Arizona” or contact us to chat with a plumber about your options and budget.
Have more water hater questions? Ask an Arizona plumber.
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We’ll walk you through your options. Plus, we offer same-day water heater installations and we haul away your old one for you!