E=CH4: Electric Versus Gas Hot Water Heaters

We all know that there are numerous ways to reduce your home’s carbon footprint. Some strategies, like turning off the lights when leaving a room or limiting the time you spend in the shower are simple measures that have been ingrained in most of us since childhood. The habit of turning off lights and taking quick showers means that each and every one of us understands that wasting energy equates to wasting money – but how many of us are equally aware of the negative impact wasted energy has on the environment

Thankfully, taking steps to reduce financial waste in the home can often have a positive cause and effect relationship with how green your household really is; turning the lights off when leaving the room will save you money, but it will also reduce the amount of energy that needs to be produced on your home’s behalf.

While people certainly purchase energy efficient appliances for the potential of a reduced utility bill, whether they know it or not, they are also making a decision that will ultimately mean their home will generate fewer greenhouse gases.

Energy Efficient Water Heaters: Where to Begin?

When it comes to purchasing a new unit, whether it’s electric or gas powered, a storage or a tankless water heater, a key determinant will be the unit’s energy factor (EF). Simply put, knowing a water heater’s EF rating will help you compare the annual cost (or savings) of operation as well as help to contextualize each unit’s impact on the environment (this is important because the majority of water heaters available on the market today can claim to be energy efficient to some degree – the question is, how efficient are they really?). It should be noted here that as far as EF’s are concerned, a higher number is better.

A water heater’s EF measurement isn’t strictly about the type or amount of energy it consumes; it also takes into account the unit’s ability to mitigate heat loss as well as its ability to efficiently transfer the source heat to the water. Combined, these two considerations are key to determining how effective your new water heater will be, how cost effective it will be to operate, and how low its environmental impact will be.

Do Electric Water Heaters Typically Have a Better EF Factor Than Gas Powered Water Heaters?

This just happens to be one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to water heaters. And while it’s an important one to ask, also it’s important to recognize that efficiency isn’t the only determinant when considering the environment.

Generally speaking, electric-powered water heaters are more efficient than the gas-powered alternative; and while that may mean a lower cost of operation to the consumer (depending of course, on current energy prices), it doesn’t necessarily mean that one can automatically assume that it is better for the environment. The reason for that has more to do with the method by which the electricity is generated, rather than used.

For example, some jurisdictions burn garbage or coal in order to generate electricity – in this instance, the energy your water heater uses has a larger negative impact than if it were powered by natural gas. If environmental impact is to be weighted equally to the efficient use of energy, one must take into account the way energy is produced in the area.

Of course, if your electricity is generated by a hydroelectric water dam, or by solar panels mounted on your roof, the energy is being produced by a supply of clean, sustainable energy.

What about a Tankless Water Heater?

These days, tankless water heaters are becoming an increasingly compelling alternative for homeowners. While initially more expensive than a conventional water heater installation, tankless heaters require less space and energy to heat the water than a storage tank heater; especially in homes with few occupants.

Unlike a traditional unit, tankless models provide heated water “on-demand” which reduces the opportunity for heat loss that is inherent with storage tank models. As a rule, water heaters that heat water within a tank are insulated very well, but even with the most advanced insulation, heat loss is unavoidable. Heat loss, no matter how minimal, means that the water supply must continually be reheated to maintain a certain temperature.

Tankless heaters aren’t perfect, but if the goal is to install a water heater that will minimize environmental impact and help keep monthly utility payments reasonable, it may be the option for you.

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