QUESTION: My electric water heater is leaking and needs to be replaced. I heat my home with natural gas so I’m considering replacing my electric water heater with a natural gas unit. I’ve been told I could cut my water heating costs by 60% if I convert to gas. Can you give me an idea of how much I’m spending on electric water heating and if it’s realistic to expect 60% savings by switching to natural gas?
ANSWER: Heating water with natural gas is usually less expensive than heating it with electricity. How much less depends on how much hot water you use. The efficiency of your water heater, and the price of natural gas and electricity in your area. While a 60% cost savings is certainly possible, conversion savings in the 30% to 50% range are more likely due to relatively low electric rates in our area.
A typical household will use 400 to 600 kilowatt hours each month heating water with electricity and 20 to 25 therms a month heating water with natural gas. At 4 cents per kilowatt hour and 50 cents per therm, that translates to water heating costs of $16 to $24 a month for electricity and $10 to $13 a month for natural gas. That gives you a range of potential dollar savings between $70 and $150 per year. If your electricity rates are above 6 cents per kilowatt hour, the savings may be more and your chances of reaching that 60% figure are more likely.
Another replacement option if gas in not available or if piping or exhaust flue placement is a problem, is to purchase a more efficient electric water heater.
No matter which fuel you use for water heating, it’s important to use your hot water wisely. Conservation measures such as insulting pipes and older water heaters, keeping temperature settings no higher than 120 degrees, installing more efficient showerheads, and fixing those leaky faucets can also reduce your water heating costs.
Contact your local gas and electric utilities for more information on hot water conservation programs and incentives they may be offering.
Produced by the Energy Extension Service, a division of the Washington State Energy Office. Reader questions cannot be answered individually. Questions of general interest will be addressed in this column.