Electric vs. Gas Water Heaters


You are here probably because you are looking for a new water heater. However, you are not sure about which type to buy: electric or gas? You can always decide on a whim or based on only a little research, but you might regret it.

In this article, we will compare both electric and gas water heaters so that you can decide for yourself which type best suits your needs. There is also a simple infographic we have created if you don't feel like reading the whole article.

Difference Between Electric and Gas Water Heaters

To heat water, an electric water heaters use a heating element, a rod-shaped device that converts electricity into heat. The heating element is present inside the tank. It heats the water in the center of the tank and the water radiates outwards from there.

A gas water heater, however, burns fuel to produce a flame that heats the water from below. The cold water at the bottom grows warmer and rises to the top, where it is drawn out by the water discharge pipe to provide hot water whenever it's needed. To flush out exhaust gas, the gas water heater uses a hollow exhaust flue running through the middle of the tank to an exhaust vent.


Installing an electric water heater is usually easier because electricity is available in every house, but gas often is not. Many houses even have a water heater area with a 240-volt circuit. If not, you will need to add a circuit.

Although around 50% of households in the United States have a gas supply line, there are a considerable number of households that do not, especially in the south. If your house has no gas, it can be expensive to get a gas connection. In addition, gas water heaters may require wider vents, as well as larger gas pipes running to the meter.

Cost of Each Type

Electric water heaters are cheaper than gas water heaters. Although, in both categories, you will find heaters worth $500 at the low end and $2,000 at the high end. On average, you will be paying more for a gas water heater. For electric heaters, you are likely to pay upwards of $600, while for gas you are likely to pay upwards of $800.

Operating Cost

Although gas water heaters are more expensive to buy, they are cheaper to operate because natural gas tends to be cheaper than electricity. On average, gas water heaters cost about $30 per month to operate, whereas electric water heaters cost about $42 per month, a 33% hike. Over a year, you will be spending $108 extra in energy expenditure, and over ten years, $1,080 extra.

Energy Efficiency

Although electric water heaters do heat water slowly and more expensively, electric water heaters are more energy efficient than gas water heaters, meaning less of their energy is wasted. Because heating rods are submerged in the water, there is little energy loss. In gas water heaters, because a flame heats the water from below the tank, much of the energy is wasted as toxic byproducts, discharged from a vent on top of the tank.

It might be tempting to buy a cheaper gas or electric water heater, but we recommend that you buy an energy-efficient water heater. A water heater's efficiency is determined by the water heater's Energy Factor (EF). If you buy an energy-efficient gas, oil, or propane storage and tankless water heater, you can qualify for up to $300 federal tax credit. The energy factor of the water heater should be above 0.82. For a detailed water heater buying guide, click here.

Environmental Impact

It is a common myth that electric water heaters are better for the environment. Although electric water heaters do not pollute the environment directly by burning fuel, most of the electricity they use is probably generated from fossil fuels. In the future, electric water heaters can become the more eco-friendly option when we start producing most of our electricity using renewable energy sources such as solar and nuclear. Until then, you don't have to feel guilty for choosing a gas water heater over an electric one.

Power Outages

Imagine it is deep winter, and you want to take a bath, but your power goes out. With cold water in your house, every job becomes more dreadful whether it is washing dishes or clothes. If you have a gas water heater in your house you can get warm water even during a power outage. Electric water heaters need electricity to work, but gas water heaters do not.

Recovery Time

Both electric and gas water heaters maintain a constant supply of hot water by refilling and reheating the water so that you can get hot water instantly. However, if you exhaust your tank at once, it takes some time for your water heater to reheat the entire volume of your tank. On average, electric water heaters take roughly twice as long to reheat the same amount of water. For example, a gas water heater of 80 gallons would take about 1 hour and 15 minutes to reheat the entire volume, whereas an electric one would take more than 2 hours.


Electric water heaters are relatively safer. Gas water heaters use gas which could leak. They also have a burner, which is a tidbit worse than not having one at all. Sometimes you have to relight the burner which can be dangerous. Also, the burning of natural gas produces carbon monoxide, which can leak into your house and poison you. Although extremely unlikely, it is still possible.


Typically, a gas water heater is slightly harder to operate because you may have to relight the burner if the flames go out. You also need to clean it more often because it uses fuel, which causes more mess. Compare a gas stove to an electric stove.

Bacterial Growth

In Quebec, Canada, a study of 211 homes (178 electric water heaters, 33 oil or gas water heaters) revealed that 40% of electric water heaters allowed Legionella contamination. And no gas water heaters using fossil fuels were contaminated.

In terms of bacterial contamination, the researchers found that the type of water heater used is also important along with the temperature setting of the water heater. They concluded that the use of an electric water heater was the most significant factor leading to Legionella contamination of hot water. This is an important consideration, especially if you have concerns about your family's safety.