Water Heater Fuel Types

YP Editors

Water heaters differ in terms of the fuel they require. Each type of water heater has its strengths and drawbacks, including fuel type, and it can be helpful to know what these are before investing in a unit.

Electric water heaters heat water using coils that resemble those in an electric oven. The prime benefit of this type of heater is that it's less expensive and can be easier to install. However, electric water heaters are usually less energy efficient than heaters that use other types of fuel. They also have limitations around how much hot water they can provide, and are best suited for homes with fewer than five people.

Natural gas water heaters heat water via a gas burner. The resulting carbon dioxide and water vapor is released outdoors via venting that connects to the home's chimney. Gas water heaters offer excellent efficiency, but they tend to be more expensive than electric models. They also require that venting be installed in the home, which can be a costly process.

Propane water heaters also use a burner, but they're powered by propane instead of gas. These heaters are usually used in homes with no access to natural gas. The propane is stored in a tank on the property, and it needs to be regularly replenished. Certain fuel companies can provide weekly or monthly propane deliveries.

Oil water heaters generate heat by igniting a mixture of oil and air. They are similar to propane heaters in that they are used only when gas isn't available, and they also require a large tank to be located somewhere on the property. The oil required for these water heaters is delivered by a fuel company.

Solar water heaters rely on the sun's heat to deliver hot water. A panel mounted on the home's roof absorbs solar heat that is used to warm a heat exchanger. The heat exchanger warms the water, which is kept in a storage tank. Solar water heaters may be used in tandem with heaters that use other fuel types, which can help reduce home-energy costs.

Heat-pump water heaters pull heat from the air. They boost the temperature of that heat, and transfer it to a tank containing water ready for use at home. Heat-pump water heaters need to be installed in rooms that will stay between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit all through the year, and must be surrounded by at least 1,000 cubic feet of air space. They tend to reduce the temperature of the rooms they're placed in, and will not function efficiently in cold spaces. Heat-pump units can be up to three times as efficient as electric water heaters, but they often have higher upfront costs than water heaters that use other fuel types.

Water Heater Installation

Installing a water heater can be dangerous, and it's best to hire a plumber or contractor. These professionals are able to simplify the installation and give you advice on which type of water heater is best suited for your needs. The cost of installation varies tremendously, and will depend on the type of water heater being installed.