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Propane Gas Water Heaters: What You Need To Know

Propane water heaters can cut energy costs, making them a valuable upgrade for your clients’ home.

With utility costs on the rise, heating water with a propane system is not only more cost effective than using electricity, but also more energy efficient. Both tank-type and tankless may be good options for your client’s home

Choosing Propane

Standard LP gas-tank-type water heaters can heat anywhere between 40 and 100 gallons of water, depending on the size of a home and its water needs. But advances in technology, coupled by the national push toward using greener and cleaner fuels, have also sparked consumer interest in tankless propane heaters. 

“These units use 50 percent less energy, but also cost significantly more,” says Steve Clark, chief scientist for GREENandSAVE, a Philadelphia-based green consulting firm.

Phil Squair, senior vice president with the National Propane Gas Association, adds that while they may be expensive, an Energy Star-qualified propane tankless heater with an Energy Factor (EF) of 82 percent can save a homeowner up to 60 percent on energy bills compared with a standard electric model.

“Propane appliances are truly an excellent choice from the standpoint of personal economics and environmental impact,” he says.

Tank Water Heaters Vs. Tankless Water Heaters

Tank Water Heaters

The common propane tank water heater has existed for decades, but thanks to technological advances, now operates more efficiently than before. The system uses a large internal container that holds and heats water prior to use. Although tanks cost less than tankless heaters, Clark says the operational costs far exceed those of tankless models. 

For example, the thermostat of a 50-gallon water tank could be set to 120 degrees, even when hot water is not needed for several consecutive days. As a result, the tank heats unused water and creates standby heat loss. “It is kind of like keeping a pot boiling all day to make spaghetti at dinnertime,” Clark says. “Who would do that?”

Tankless Hot Water Heaters

For maximum fuel efficiency, your clients may want to consider a tankless “on-demand” water-heating system. The system works similar to an air conditioner: Water enters the unit and travels through its coils, which are heated by a propane burner. In this case, the water is only heated when it travels to the tap for use.

As a result, tankless propane water heaters can produce up to 60 percent fewer carbon emissions compared to standard electric water heaters, Squair says.

For all of the system’s heating efficiencies, tankless heaters can cost up to twice as much as standard systems. Depending on use, the unit can pay for itself in a matter of months. Plus, it takes up less space than even a small, 20-gallon tank-type model. 

It’s important to consider a homeowner’s lifestyle when making a decision between a tank and tankless system, Clark says.

“A tankless unit may not be cost effective for two retirees but could be for a family of six with four teenagers, a gym or a public pool,” he says, noting that the more hot water your clients need, the more money they will save with a tankless heater.

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