Gas, Electric, Heat Pump or Solar?

The first thing you need to consider when choosing a new water heating system is how you are going to power it. Many people ask “What is the best type of hot water heater?” There is no decisive answer to this question, but depending on your area, you might be limited in the types of fuel you have convenient access to, and this must factor in to your decision. The most commonly used power supplies for hot water heaters are:

  • Electricity – Widely used in the UK with tanked or storage water heaters, electric tankless water heaters are now becoming increasingly popular in the US and Europe. Early models of tankless electric water heaters often required huge amounts of power to provide for any kind of substantial hot water demand, which resulted in high electricity costs. Thankfully, more recent models have addressed this issue, and because of convenience this has led to an increase in demand. Electric heaters are also extremely accessible when it comes to placement. They do not use combustion to heat water, so they do not require any kind of ventilation. As a result of this, they can be located almost anywhere throughout the home.

  • Natural Gas–If your home has a mains gas supply, a natural gas hot water heater is a viable option for you. Natural gas hot water heaters use the gas from your mains supply, and you can keep a track of your usage via your gas meter. As with electricity, natural gas water heaters can be used with both tanked and tankless hot water heaters. Gas water heaters use combustion to heat water, so they require both an air intake and a ventilation system. Typically, air is drawn in at the bottom of the heater, and is vented through a flue or exhaust pipe at the top. Many modern gas heaters use a horizontal exhaust pipe, which provides flexibility for those living in apartments where a vertical exhaust might not be practical.


  • Propane – Propane hot water heaters are a popular choice for those who do not wish to use an electric hot water heater but do not have access to a natural gas mains supply. Propane heaters, also known as liquid petroleum heaters, are far more common as storage heaters than they are in their tankless form, although tankless propane water heaters are available. The main issue with propane as a fuel source is that unlike electricity or natural gas, it is not mains supplied. The onus is on you to ensure that your propane tank does not run out when you are not expecting it. It is advisable that if you do choose a propane hot water heater, you should always have a backup supply of propane to keep you going until you manage to refill your main tank.

Aside from these three main fuel supplies, there are two alternative types of hot water heaters. They are:

  • Heat Pump Hot Water Heater – Heat pump hot water heaters work in the same manner as a regular heat pump; taking the heat from a warm location like the air in a basement or an outside space in a warm climate, and transferring that heat to the water tank. Heat Pump water heaters are slower to heat your water than a standard energy supply, and you need to have specific conditions in place for them to be effective. Before choosing a heat pump water heating system, you will need to have a professional visit your home to assess the viability of the system.

  • Solar Powered Hot Water Heater – Just like it sounds, solar hot water heaters use the heat of the sun to heat a water storage tank. This storage tank is generally quite a bit larger than your standard tank, and it is excellently insulated to retain heat. Solar powered heaters are not practical for most households because as well as requiring an extra-large tank for storage, few households can be guaranteed enough sunlight throughout the year to sufficiently power the heater. Solar water heaters require a backup water heating system to compensate for days when demand cannot be met.

These are the options available to you. Are you ready to answer the question “What is the best hot water heater” yet? Not just yet, there are a few more things you need to consider. Perhaps you already know exactly what kind of energy source you are going to use, or maybe you are still in two minds. Not to worry, the next question you need to ask yourself is whether you are going to go for a conventional storage hot water heater or a modern tankless hot water heater.