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(for 40-gallon heater, installed)
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A water heater is an integral part of every home and likely something you do not think about until it stops working. Since the typical lifespan of a water heater is between 8 and 15 years, it is likely that every homeowner will have to replace at least one over the years.
There are two basic fuel types for a standard water heater, gas and electricity. Both have positive and negative attributes to consider. We outline the differences between them below so that you can make an informed decision on which one will be right for your home.
Size impacts hot water heaters in two ways. First, most people are aware of the size in terms of gallons. The more water a tank holds, the larger it will be in general. Both electric and gas heaters come in multiple sizes from 20 to 100 gallons. But electric heaters are also available as point of origin heaters. You install this very small water heater directly at a faucet to provide hot water on demand for things like tea.
Second, the amount of space that a hot water heater takes up in your basement or utility room will be slightly less for an electric heater. Gas heaters need to vent, so they are a little bigger around and have pipes that need to exit your home, thus restricting their placement. Electric heaters can be more compact, which gives you more placement options.
There are also a few things to consider about the hot water availability between the two options. The first is the energy supply because not every home has access to a gas line, but nearly every home has electricity. As long as you do not have a power outage, you will always have access to hot water with an electric heater. However, gas heaters can continue to heat your water even with an outage, provided there is no disruption in the gas line.
The other consideration to make is how much hot water the tank can produce in the first hour of use, which is called the first hour rating (FHR). Both gas and electric tanks have a range of FHR values. A higher number means there will be more water available quickly. However, gas heaters tend to heat up faster than electric heaters, so you can often find higher FHR on a gas heater.
While gas hot water heaters cost less to run due to the lower cost of natural gas, electric heaters are actually more efficient. This is due to the way that the heaters operate. A gas heater must vent the spent gas, which also takes some of the heat with it. An electric heater uses nearly all the energy it receives converting it into hot water, so you have less waste.
High energy-efficiency gas heaters exist and use significantly less energy overall. These are the only type of tank heater that has an Energy Star label. Electric tank heaters are not available in a high energy-efficiency style.
Replacing a gas hot water heater with either a gas or electric one or replacing an electric one with another electric one is typically a straightforward process. When installing an electric heater, it is plumbed and grounded. A gas heater with an existing gas supply is plumbed, the gas supply hooked up, and the vent connected.
The difficulty comes in when switching from electric to gas. In a new gas heater installation, the tank is plumbed like the others, but a gas line needs to be run to the new location. Then, a vent must be created, which may mean cutting or drilling into the side of the home. This can increase both the time and cost of the installation.
Of the two types of hot water heaters, electric costs less to purchase but costs more to run over time. Electric heaters have fewer parts, which accounts for their lower upfront cost. They also tend to be easier to install, so installation costs may also be less. But electricity costs more per month than the same amount of energy from natural gas. So while you pay less up front, a gas heater may pay for itself in lower energy costs over time.
An electric hot water heater ranges in costs from about $250 to $500 while a gas heater ranges from $300 to $600. Installation costs for an electric heater are $700 to $1,000 while the cost to install a gas heater ranges from $1,000 to $2,000 depending on whether you have an existing gas line and vent. This makes the total cost for a 40-gallon electric hot water heater between $950 and $1,500 with the total costs of a 40-gallon gas hot water heater between $1,300 and $2,600.
Both gas and electric water heaters are fairly easy to maintain. Both should be regularly flushed to keep sediment from building up on the bottom of the tank and shortening its lifespan. Some gas tanks may need the vent cleaned on occasion as well if particulates from the gas build up inside. All gas lines should be inspected periodically to prevent gas leaks.
If you have a natural gas appliance or gas line in your home, you run the risk of a gas leak and, therefore, an explosion. Likewise, you are at a higher risk of having carbon monoxide leaks in your home. Proper maintenance needs to be done on the vent and regular checks on the gas line to ensure that these issues do not occur. Electric hot water heaters do not pose these risks.