Gas vs Electric Water Heaters: Which Is Better?

Researched & Written by Craig

Choosing how to heat your home or apartment is a pretty big deal.

They last for years, and make up a large part of our utilities bills. But should we opt for a gas or electric model? Which will cost more to run, and perform better over the years?

I’d been stuck with these questions, so I dove into some research and this article contains everything I’ve found. Including comparisons between:

  • Upfront Prices
  • Running Costs
  • Power & Performance
  • Durability & Functionality

Sound good? Then let’s dive in.

Summary

As much as I love research, I know that this is the internet. People are in a rush. There’s deals on Amazon to be found, and puppy videos to be watched. So here’s the quick answer.

Gas water heaters are more powerful, more efficient, and more durable. However, they cost more. Alternatively, Electric heaters are easier to install and more commonly available. Generally, gas seems to be a better option unless you have gas line problems that could complicate installation.

There’s a lot more to be said, though. To help clear things up, I’ll run compare each important aspect one by one. Try to bear in mind which of these headings will be most important to you and your home.

Upfront & Installation Costs

Let’s start with the initial hit to the bank balance.

Like most appliances, a simple electric model is the cheapest and easiest option available.

Their prices start from around the $450 mark, and extent into the multiple thousands.

We’ve all (hopefully) got working electricity in our home, so adding in an electric appliance is quick and easy. Unlike gas, electric water heaters CAN be installed with a bit of DIY. (Even if that’s call the family handyman).

Alternatively, gas models can be a lot more expensive. The lowest you’ll find a decent model is for around $650, and equally these extend into the thousands for top-end whole-house models.

The key difference is that gas must be installed by a professional contractor. Not only that, but the job can take that contractor longer than an electric install – especially if they need to manipulate your gas line at all.

That’s the 1st point for electric.

Power

Just like main characters of Game of Thrones, we all want a sizeable amount of power. Especially in our armies of dragons water heaters.

Unfortunately, we’re out of the dragon water heaters at the time.

Since we’re harnessing hot flame, gas models unlock a much higher level of heating power than any electric heating element can offer.

The difference here is like cooking on an electric stove compared to a gas one.

Sure, electric stoves look cool and they’re easy to install. But when it’s time to cook, the slow response of electric will never match the raw power of a gas flame.

Water heaters work the same way. Instead of cooking food, you’re heating water. This is either done through a series of electric heating elements (which are slow to heat up) or a gas flame.

That’s 1-1. We’re even, Steven.

Efficiency

Electric heat is 99% efficient. Any electric water heater will proudly display that as a big pro on their side.

And they’re not wrong. Since it’s so hard control, the efficiency of a real flame is never fully channeled into the type of heat we want.

So, in that sense, electricity wins.

However. (Of course there’s a however!)

Since gas is much more powerful, and heats much more quickly, you tend to need less of it to heat the same amount of water. So while your watts:heat ratio looks great, it might not match the raw speed and power supplied by a gas stove.

The heat conversion of electricity is super efficient, but the actual heating itself isn’t.

I’ll call this one a draw.

Cost to Run

With efficiency covered, let’s look at operational costs.

In short, this depends on the utility prices. As far as I’m aware, electricity is more expensive per measure of heat than gas (and likely always will be).

The bottom line is that an electric model will always cost more to run than a gas one.

Here’s a typical example.

I’ve found two water heaters with roughly equivalent first hour rates (the gallons of hot water they can provide in their first hour). As you can see, the gas model will easily save you a significant amount of money. Multiply this by 10 – 15 years and we’re looking at a difference big enough to cover the cost of the heater itself!

That’s gas up ahead – it’s 2-1.

Durability

Gas heaters tend to last much longer than electric ones. Think roughly 8-12 years for an electric model, versus maybe 12-16 years for a gas one. Add around 4 years to both of these if you’re going for a tankless model (though that’s a whole other article).

Why the difference? It’s actually quite simple.

Electric heat comes from the heating elements. This means that these parts are being constantly heated on and off, every day. This naturally causes wear and tear over the years, leading to eventual breakdown.

In a gas model however, the heat comes from a flame. There’s no ‘element’ – simply a flame and some channels to re direct that heat. Since there’s no ‘active’ parts involved, there’s much less wear and tear. Leading to a longer effective lifespan.

3-1 to gas. Electricity’s on the ropes.

Extra Notes

Power Outages. One advantage that gas will always hold over electric is reliability. Particularly during a power outage. If you live in an area that sees frequent black-outs, I’d definitely side towards a heater that’s not reliant on the grid.

Gas Installation. While I mentioned above that installation can be tricky for gas, it can REALLY be tricky. If you don’t have a gas line in your home, it’s probably too much of a headache to set one up just for a water heater. Though if you’re planning to be there for decades, then maybe run the savings numbers yourself first.

Home Value. This isn’t always the case, but a good gas water heating system can actually increase your home value. The lower running costs and higher reliability can quickly offset (or even let you profit) from the water heater purchase. If you may not be in the neighbourhood long, it could be worth consulting a local real estate agent.

Size

Last up – and this is quite a small point – but gas heaters are also smaller than their electric siblings.

Simply down to needing space for heating elements versus a simple flame, gas models are easier to fit for smaller utility rooms or apartments.

Pros & Cons

Sometimes the best way to compare two things is through a classic pros and cons table.

Well would you look at that – there’s one right here!

I’ve summarised all the comparison points between these two heater types. I hope it helps give you a good birdseye view.

Pros Cons
Gas Water Heaters
Cheaper to run Costs more upfront
Heats up quicker Needs gas line / tanks
Tends to last longer
Smaller
Cheaper to maintain
Can reach hotter temperatures
More efficient
Electric Water Heaters
Cheaper upfront Costly to run
Easier to install More energy needed to heat
Plenty of Options Heats up slower
Less efficient
Noisier

Conclusion

Water heaters are a crucial part of any home heating system.

When winter comes, you want the comfort of knowing you’ve got a great to rely on. Not the anxiety of worrying how long your hot shower’s really going to last.

I hope this article has given you plenty food for thought when it comes to gas vs electric water heaters.

While I’m (clearly) a little biased towards gas models, this is generally the view shared across the market as a whole. That said, be sure to compare other sources to draw your own conclusions.

If this content has helped you out today, please consider checking out some of our other free guides!

Thanks for reading! I hope you have a great day.

-Craig