Water Heaters: FAQs


What type of water heater do I have?

The fastest way to tell the difference between a gas and electric water heater is by opening your water heater’s access panel. Do you see a blue flame? If yes, that is your pilot light and you have a gas water heater. Electric water heaters do not have pilot lights. It is as simple as that! Gas water heaters also have pipes for the gas connected to the water heater, whereas electric water heaters have an electric cord going into either the top or side of the unit.

What is the difference between an electric and gas water heater?

Electric water heaters use electric heating elements to heat the water in the tank. They cost less upfront than gas water heaters, but because they are less energy efficient, they cost more monthly. Electrics require less maintenance than gas and have fewer safety concerns, however, in the event of a power outage, your electric water heater will not work. Gas water heaters cost slightly more upfront, but their efficient use of energy should result in lower monthly costs. They have a faster recovery time than electric water heaters and are not affected during power outages.

What is the life expectancy of a gas or electric water heater?

With proper installation and maintenance, water heaters should last around ten years. Of course, the quality of the water heater and its components make a difference. More expensive models typically last longer than cheaper models. Features such as thicker insulation, larger heating elements, and corrosion resistant tank coatings add to the price, but they also extend the life of the water heater. 

What are the advantages of having an electric water heater?

Electric water heaters have a less expensive initial cost than gas water heaters. They are easier and safer to install and are also more energy efficient.

What are the disadvantages of having an electric water heater?

Even though electric water heaters are more energy efficient, they may cost you more in monthly energy bills because electricity is usually more expensive than natural gas.

What are the advantages of having a gas water heater?

Gas water heaters have a faster recovery time than electric water heaters, meaning that your hot water supply will be replenished more quickly. You will likely spend less on monthly energy bills because natural gas is usually less expensive than electricity.

What are the disadvantages of having a gas water heater?

Gas water heaters are more expensive and cost more to install than electric water heaters. Because of the inherent danger around gas, extra precautions must be taken when installing and maintaining a gas water heater.

What size water heater do I need?

While there are several factors to take into consideration, the number of bathrooms is a good start for determining what size water heater is needed. We generally recommend a forty-gallon tank for one bathroom, a fifty-gallon tank for two bathrooms, and a seventy-five-gallon tank for three bathrooms. Other factors such as the tank’s location and your family’s water usage are also taken into consideration. Our plumbing technicians will work with you to meet your family’s hot water needs.

What is an expansion tank and why do I need one?

An expansion tank prevents the buildup of excess pressure in your water heater. It looks like a miniature water tank that is connected to pipes near the top of your water heater. As it heats up, the water in your tank expands. This is called thermal expansion and it occurs regardless of your heat source. The excess pressure from this expansion must be released. Back in the day, hot water could flow back into a city’s main water supply, efficiently relieving the pressure. However, changes in plumbing regulations and city ordinances prohibit this method, making the use of an expansion tank necessary. Without the expansion tank, the pressure would damage your water heater and could even cause it to burst. 

What is a tank booster?

A tank booster is a valve that mixes cold water with hot water to improve the efficiency of gas and electric water heaters. The booster allows for water in the tank to be stored at a higher temperature than the water it delivers to your outlets. Mixing increases the amount of usable hot water and prevents scalding.


What should I set the temperature at on my water heater?

We recommend setting the temperature to 120-degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures cause scalding and are less energy efficient unless you have a mixing valve.

Why do I need earthquake straps?

For water heaters to meet plumbing code, they must be secured by two strong metal straps that wrap around the tank, top and bottom, and that are anchored to a stud or masonry. The purpose of these straps is to prevent your water heater from falling over during an earthquake. A toppled water heater can cause significant water damage, gas leaks, and fires. 

Why should I purchase a water heater from a plumber?

Despite two water heaters having the same brand name, there is a difference between a water heater purchased at a big box retailer versus a water heater purchased from a plumber. To offer consumers lower prices, water heaters from large retailers usually are made from less durable components, such as thinner metal and plastic parts. The same brand water heater from a plumber will be constructed from higher quality materials, made to last longer.

Some local plumbing supply stores will only sell to plumbers. Others will sell to the public but at a marked-up price. Even if you buy a water heater from a plumbing supply store, you will still need to hire a plumber to install the system. Installing your own equipment runs the risk of having no support if there is a problem, plus you will have to transport the new unit and dispose of the old one. Consumers may also not be familiar with current plumbing codes created to keep you and your home safe from injury or damage.

In addition to the difference in quality, there are other factors to consider. A plumber will assess your family’s hot water usage and provide a system that best meets your needs. A common mistake made by consumers is purchasing a water heater that is undersized for their home. You will also need to consider the length and coverage of the warranty as well as ease of access to replacement parts. Many big box retailers sell the water heaters, but not the parts.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. When you hire a plumber to supply your water heater, you are getting higher quality equipment, professional installation, and saving time, energy, and money in the long run.