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Gas vs. Electric Water Heaters – Which Should You Choose?

As a homeowner, you may not think about your water heater very much – at least until it doesn’t work. Choosing a water heater for your home impacts your energy bills and your family’s comfort. The right water heater can ensure a reliable supply of hot water for showers, laundry, dishes, and household cleaning. You have a choice between gas or electric water heaters. Seems simple but often as you dive in you might find the information confusing. We are here to define the basics and give you the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision about whether an electric vs gas water heater is for you.

Exploring the Basics

When it comes to heating water for your home, you have two primary options: gas and electric water heaters. Both have their benefits and distinctions, mainly in how they operate and their energy sources.

  • Gas Water Heaters:
    • Use natural gas or propane.
    • Heat water faster due to a burner system.
    • Generally costs less to operate because gas is often cheaper than electricity.
    • Higher First Hour Rating (FHR), meaning more hot water per hour.
  • Electric Water Heaters:
    • Powered by electricity, using resistance coils to heat water.
    • More energy-efficient, converting almost all the electricity into heat without much waste.
    • Safer and easier to maintain with fewer moving parts.
    • Typically have a slower recovery rate, meaning they heat water more slowly.

In  June 2017, new industry standards were updated with the Uniform Energy Factor (UEF)  that simplified the water heater selection process and made comparisons across brands easier.

Efficiency and Cost Comparison

The cost of heating water can be almost 20% of a household’s budget. When evaluating the energy efficiency of gas and electric water heaters in the Portland area, where hydroelectric dams contribute significantly to electricity production, it’s essential to weigh both upfront costs and long-term operating expenses:

Energy Efficiency:

  • Electric water heaters boast efficiencies close to 98%, mainly because they convert almost all input energy into heat. This is particularly appealing in Portland, where hydroelectric power means cleaner electricity.
  • Gas water heaters, while slightly less efficient at 80-85%, still offer robust performance and quick heating times.

Upfront Costs:
If you are replacing an old water heater it typically is more cost-efficient to stick with the type you had before because converting to gas lines or electricity is an extra expense you may not want. But if you are building a new home or updating an older one keep this in mind when water heater shopping:

  • Typically, gas water heaters come with higher initial purchase and installation costs due to venting requirements.
  • Electric heaters are generally less expensive upfront and simpler to install, making them an attractive option for many.

Operating Expenses


Updated efficiency standards have improved so energy efficiency gains for newer models can be significant in improved operating expenses.

  • In Portland, the hydroelectric-powered electric grid can make electric water heaters more cost-effective to operate, benefiting from the region’s renewable energy resources.
  • However, natural gas remains a competitively priced energy source. For households with high hot water demands, gas heaters can offer savings due to their quicker recovery rates and lower operational costs in some cases. Tankless gas water heaters are also an option.

Potential Savings:

  • The use of hydroelectric power in Portland enhances the appeal of electric water heaters, potentially offering lower carbon footprints and aligning with renewable energy goals.
  • Gas water heaters shouldn’t be overlooked, though, as they provide reliable service and can be more economical for larger families or homes with greater hot water needs.

In Portland, where hydroelectric power plays a significant role in electricity production, electric water heaters offer an eco-friendly and efficient option. However, the dependability and cost-effectiveness of gas water heaters also make them a viable choice for many households. The decision should ultimately reflect personal preferences, environmental considerations, and specific household needs.

Performance and Capacity

Gas and electric water heaters present distinct differences in performance and capacity.

Performance and Capacity Differences:

  • Gas water heaters heat water faster and supply a larger volume quickly, ideal for high-demand households.
  • Electric water heaters are more efficient, converting nearly all energy consumed into heat, but heat water more slowly than gas models.

Recovery Rate

The recovery rate of a water heater refers to the amount of hot water it can produce in a given time after being depleted.

  • Electric Water Heaters:
    • Common recovery rates for electric models are around 20-22 gallons per hour.
  • Gas Water Heaters:
    • Gas models typically boast higher recovery rates, ranging from 30-40 gallons per hour, with commercial units even exceeding 100 gallons per hour.

Capacity Options

When selecting a water heater, whether gas or electric, size is a crucial factor to consider to ensure it meets your household’s hot water needs efficiently. The capacity of water heaters is typically measured in gallons, and the size you’ll need depends on the number of people in your household and your peak water usage.

  • Residential Water Heater Sizes:
    • Small units range from 20-30 gallons, suitable for 1-2 people.
    • Medium sizes are 40-50 gallons, designed for households of 3-4 people.
    • Large sizes span 55-80 gallons, catering to homes with 5 or more occupants.
  • Capacity vs. Recovery Rate:
    • Both gas and electric models come in similar capacities.
    • Gas water heaters typically have higher recovery rates, heating water faster than electric models, which may influence size choice based on water use patterns.
  • Tankless Water Heaters:
    • Do not require a large tank, heating water on demand.
    • Available in gas, electric or propane options
    • Offer a more energy-efficient option for smaller households or as a supplemental source for specific high-demand uses.
    • Good for those with limited space

Installation Considerations

When choosing between gas and electric water heaters, several factors beyond just the initial cost and operational efficiency come into play. Each type of water heater installation has its unique requirements and considerations:

Gas Water Heaters

  1. Ventilation: Gas water heaters emit exhaust that must be vented outside, requiring proper ventilation systems to ensure safety.
  2. Gas Line: Availability of a natural gas line is a prerequisite. If your home isn’t already equipped with a gas line, installing one can significantly increase the initial setup costs.
  3. Space Requirements: While both types need space, gas heaters often require more due to the need for ventilation systems. This might limit placement options within a home.
  4. Energy Efficiency: Generally, gas water heaters have a faster recovery rate but might be less energy-efficient compared to electric models, depending on the specific design and model.
  5. Operational Cost: The operational cost can be lower than electric heaters in regions where gas is cheaper than electricity, but this varies based on local utility prices.

Electric Water Heaters

  1. Electrical Requirements: Electric heaters require a suitable electrical outlet and often necessitate a dedicated high-capacity circuit, which may require an electrical system upgrade in some homes.
  2. Placement Flexibility: Due to the lack of need for venting, electric water heaters offer more flexibility in placement. They can be installed in more confined spaces or areas without direct venting access.
  3. Energy Efficiency: Electric models can be more energy-efficient, as they don’t lose heat through venting. Some models come with energy-saving modes and high-efficiency ratings.
  4. Safety: Generally considered safer than gas models since there’s no risk of gas leaks or carbon monoxide poisoning. However, proper installation and maintenance are still crucial to prevent any electrical hazards.
  5. Cost Implications: Electric heaters typically have higher operational costs in areas where electricity is more expensive than gas, but they usually have lower initial purchase and installation costs.

Common Considerations for Both Types

  • Size and Capacity: Choosing the right size based on your household’s hot water needs is critical to ensure you don’t run out of hot water or waste energy heating water you don’t use. New tank models also might be a different size (to accommodate extra insulation) than your older tank so keep that as a consideration when replacing.
  • Lifespan and Maintenance: Regular maintenance can extend the life of both gas and electric water heaters. However, their lifespans can vary, with electric models generally lasting longer than gas ones.
  • Environmental Impact: For environmentally conscious consumers, the choice might also depend on the source of electricity or gas, with renewable energy sources being preferable for reducing carbon footprint.

Ultimately, the decision between gas and electric water heaters should be based on a careful consideration of these factors about your household’s specific needs, preferences, and the infrastructure of your home.

Maintenance and Lifespan

Gas and electric water heaters have differing maintenance needs and lifespans.

Maintenance Needs and Lifespans:

  • Gas water heaters have a lifespan of approximately 8 to 12 years.
  • Electric tank water heaters can last around 12 to 15 years, with potential extension through proper maintenance.

Routine Maintenance for Gas Water Heaters:

  • Check the pilot light regularly.
  • Ensure the venting system is clear of obstructions.
  • Inspect the gas line for leaks.

Routine Maintenance for Electric Water Heaters:

  • Check the heating element and thermostat for proper function.
  • Ensure electrical connections are secure.

General Maintenance for All Water Heaters:

  • Periodically flush the tank to remove sediment.
  • Test the pressure relief valve for correct operation.
  • Inspect the anode rod to prevent corrosion.

Environmental Impact

You don’t need to stop taking hot showers but it is a good idea to know how your water heater affects the environment around us.

Carbon Footprint

Electric Water Heaters and Renewable Energy:

  • Electric water heaters powered by renewable energy sources provide a cleaner alternative.
  • They help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower your carbon footprint

Gas Water Heaters

  • Gas water heaters emit CO2 and methane which can contribute to greenhouse gases.
  • Inefficient gas water heaters can produce more carbon emissions.

Water Heater Installation in Portland

Many factors go into deciding when to replace your water heater or whether a gas or electric water heater is the best for your household.  Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning experts are here to guide you. We’ve been servicing the Portland area for over 70 years and our experience shows in the quality of our work. We carry a variety of water heaters so that your family has the best and most efficient water heater with no cold showers.

Avoid extra costs and fewer repairs by scheduling a maintenance check for your existing water heating system before issues arise. No matter what you need, we’re always just a phone call away.