Everyone needs hot water in their home — whether it’s to bathe, wash dishes, or carry out other daily activities. Homeowners often debate the best method for heating water, weighing the pros and cons of gas water heaters versus electric water heaters.

Here’s an in-depth look at gas and electric heaters to help you decide which option may work best to meet your hot water needs and budget.

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How Gas and Electric Water Heaters Work

A gas water heater uses a gas burner to heat a tank of water. The burner ignites to heat cold water as it enters the tank. Gas heaters typically use natural gas or liquid propane as their fuel source.

An electric water heater uses electric heating elements to heat the water in the tank. The elements turn on as needed whenever the temperature drops below a set point.

Electric water heaters pull electricity from the home’s breaker panel to power the heating elements. There are also more advanced electric heater options like heat pump water heaters. Heat pump water heaters use heat exchange coils and compressors to extract ambient heat from the air.

Factors To Compare Gas and Electric Heaters

Important factors to weigh when deciding between gas versus electric water heaters include:

A key metric used to rate water heaters is the first-hour rating (FHR), measured in gallons. The FHR quantifies how many gallons of hot water the heater can supply in the first hour of operation after the tank has fully depleted.

A higher FHR equates to better performance. Gas units often have a higher FHR than electric, meaning they can heat more gallons of water per hour. This makes gas heaters a better choice than electric ones for larger homes with greater hot water demands.

While gas water heaters tend to cost less up-front, electricity is cheaper than gas in most regions. Over the 10 to 15-year life span of a water heater, an electric unit will generally cost less to operate. Regional electricity prices and gas rates impact the cost comparison.

To estimate the operating costs of gas versus electric water heaters in your area, use the Department of Energy’s cost calculator. Input information on fuel rates, unit specifications, and more to compare total lifetime costs.

Electric water heaters convert a higher percentage of their energy input directly into heated water, giving them a leg up over gas heaters in efficiency. This also means electric heaters have a lower carbon footprint.

However, today’s condensing gas water heaters now approach electric units in overall efficiency. Condensing gas heaters capture waste heat through a secondary heat exchanger to reach efficiency ratings of 95% to 97%.

Installation and venting requirements differ between gas and electric heaters. Gas units require ventilation through the roof or walls. Electric models only need a nearby 120V electrical outlet to plug into. Installation costs are cheaper for electric units as a result.

Purchase and Installation Cost Comparison

The up-front purchase price and installation costs also differ between gas and electric water heaters:

Heater TypeEquipment CostBasic Installation CostTotal Installed Cost
Gas Standard$600 – $1,500$300 – $1,000$900 – $2,500
Gas Condensing$2,000 – $3,500$500 – $1,500$2,500 – $5,000
Electric$400 – $1,500$0 – $500$400 – $2,000
Heat Pump$1,100 – $3,500$0 – $500$1,100 – $4,000

So, Is a Gas or Electric Water Heater Better for You?

Ultimately, there’s no definitive answer to whether gas or electric water heaters are better across the board. The right choice comes down to your household’s specific needs and priorities.

Carefully weigh the pros and cons before deciding which type of water heater is the best, most practical fit for your home. If you’re still unsure between gas and electric, enlist a professional plumber’s help. They can assess your current setup and provide personalized advice.

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FAQs About Gas and Electric Water Heaters

What are the most energy-efficient water heaters?

The most efficient residential water heaters are condensing gas heaters and heat pump electric units. Both can achieve efficiency ratings of over 90% by using waste heat.

Do tankless water heaters use gas or electricity?

Tankless water heaters are available in both gas-powered and electric models. They heat water only as needed instead of maintaining a tank full of hot water.

How long do water heaters last?

The average life span is 10 to 15 years for both gas and electric storage tank water heaters. Tankless heaters may operate longer when properly maintained.

What temperature should a water heater be set to?

120° F is the typical water heater thermostat setting. Any hotter wastes energy and poses a scalding risk. Lower temperatures allow for bacteria growth.

Editorial Contributors
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Jonathon Jachura


Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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Jeff Zoldy

Jeff is a writer, editor, and marketer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been editing on the Home Solutions team for over a year and is passionate about getting homeowners the information they need when they need it most. When he’s not working, Jeff can be found at baseball games, golfing, going to the gym, reading, watching movies, and playing video games.

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