Electric Vs Gas Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters are somewhat new in America but have been popular in Japan and Europe for several years. These tankless (or on-demand) water heaters heat water only as it’s needed, thereby eliminating the energy loss associated with your conventional hot water heater which periodically heats up water contained in a tank throughout the day to maintain its temperature.

These heaters also are capable of producing unlimited hot water because of the way they work. Instead of heating a set amount of water in a tank, the water is rapidly heated only when you turn on the hot water, so it can continuously supply your home with precisely heated water. But through what function is the water heated?

Deciding on a Tankless Water Heater

Tankless water heaters use a powerful heat exchanger to rapidly heat the incoming water. A heat exchanger is any kind of device that transfers heat to another substance. Obviously this heat exchanger must be powered by something, and in hot water heaters it is typically either through electricity or natural gas. Over at homestuffworks.com, they have a great guide on how exactly these heat exchangers work if you are interested.

Which type of heater you decide on rests on several important factors:

  • The accessibility to a source of natural gas or an electrical power supply that is of adequate power
  • Your budget
  • Household water demands
  • Installation Location

Electric Tankless Heaters

inside of an electric tankless water heater

One huge benefit of electric heaters is that they cost less to purchase. A typical electric heater can run you anywhere from $200 – $500 while a propane powered heater could cost you anywhere from $500 to $1000. Higher quality natural gas heaters can cost even more than that, depending on their build quality and presence of electronic ignition systems.

Another plus that comes along with electric heaters are their incredible efficiency. Most have an energy efficiency of 98 – 99%, meaning virtually all the energy they use is going directly to heating water, with none lost. Compare that to the 80 – 85% you would get with a gas powered tankless heater and you start to see where it could add up.

Electric models also tend to be much easier to install, only taking up about a third of the size of the space of a gas powered heater. Many are about the size of a VCR or Webster’s dictionary! Gas models also tend to require complex venting solutions to get rid of gases produced while heating water. This could make installation more expensive and difficult depending on your situation. Contact a professional contractor for verification.

Electric heaters also have the benefit of not needing as much maintenance. They are more than happy to sit alone in your basement churning out hot water for years while you forget about them. On the other hand, gas heaters will need an annual inspection to ensure safety for you and your family. Electric units also tend to be simpler, making them easier to troubleshoot and fix.

Gas Powered Heaters

gas powered tankless water heater

That being said, gas tankless water heaters have their upside as well. The gas models are often capable of outputting much more water, with many reaching 10 gallons per minute in the proper conditions. This makes these heaters well suited to a larger household where there could be a dishwasher, washing machine, shower and faucet going all at once.

Electric heaters also tend to require very high electricity needs, and many times the breaker in your home will not cut it. In colder climates (because it takes more energy to heat colder water), you will often need at least a 200 AMP and 208 to 240 electrical service to run them. It is more common for there to be a gas line of some sort already in the location where you want to install the heater, which  could make installation a bit easier.

Final Decision

Ultimately, the decision is yours when it comes to which water heater to purchase. Accommodations will probably need to be made when it comes to installing each heater and electric models have been increasing their GPM steadily. Overall, most home owners find the low cost and low maintenance of the electric heaters to be preferable and, for most homes, they provide more than an adequate amount of hot water. I would recommend an electric tankless water heater for most homes, unless you live in a very cold climate or have very high water usage.

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