Ask the Resident Builder: Is it time for an electric water heater?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - May• 27•08

Some water heaters are money eaters.Question: I need a new water heater, and because my home's gas bill is so high, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to get an electric water heater. My husband is not in favor of an on-demand water heater, so I've got to decide between gas or electric with a storage tank. Would putting in an electric water heater be a good move? And what is involved?

Answer: From Pardon Our Dust's "resident builder" Alon Toker:

Going the electric route would be more costly, both in initial costs (you would need to run a dedicated 220V line for it) and in the long run (gas, as expensive as it is, is still a cheaper energy source compared with electricity).

A 220V line, which is needed to power such an electricity-gobbling appliance, could add $500 to $2,500 to the cost of a water heater, depending on several variables: the type of wiring mandated (Romex or conduit) and whether an upgrade to the electrical panel might be needed.

A better idea is to install a high-efficiency gas water heater. But the best choice of all is a tankless gas water heater.

Though more expensive initially, the tankless model would save energy as compared with the tank unit. At my company, we have installed virtually nothing but tankless water heaters for some years with great feedback from clients. These units are more complicated and finicky than tank models, and a water softener should really be considered. But in my opinion, tankless heaters are the way to go.

Alon Toker is president of Mega Builders in Chatsworth.

(Photo: Factricity; illustration: Kathy Price-Robinson)

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One Comment

  1. sheila says:

    why on earth would you not take advantage of the rebates offered by the Gas Company for solar water heaters? the water gets very hot as long as there is light hitting the panels, they are VERY affordable, and you will only need to fire your polluting heater up when you use a lot of hot water in a short period of time. Takagi tankless will accept hot water coming in, so it’s temperature regulator will read the water temp and decide whether or not to fire (as mentioned, usually not).
    please! stop thinking in these old-fashioned, environmentally destructive ways that only factor in “cheapest now,” and start thinking about the life cycle of your major purchases, your impacts on the planet, and the resources you have sitting right in front of you.
    Even if you can’t do that, please consider that at some point, electricity is going to start costing what it actually costs (as in, we are no longer going to give hugely profitable energy companies our hard-earned tax dollars, and in fact, we are going to ask them to bear the true costs of their incredibly destructive environmental impacts). you will wish you had a solar water heater then, even if you only care about price.

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