You want to buy a new water heater for your home. That's great! But now you have to decide if a gas or electric water heater is best for you. Here's what you should consider when deciding between gas or electric water heaters.

Initial Cost

Gas and electric water heaters are comparable in the initial price of the unit. Depending on how many gallons you want your water heater to hold, the energy output, and the warranty (if any comes with it), costs will vary between $200 and $1,000. However, the installation cost of a gas water heater may be a bit more expensive if you don't already have a gas line running from your supply to the location where you will store the tank. It can be costly to install this line, so factor the cost of installation into the price of the tank itself.

Supply of Power

If your house is already equipped with a gas line and you use other gas appliances (such as a gas stove or furnace), a gas water heater may be a good fit for you. However, if your home is not yet set up to receive gas, then you would need to install a gas line to your home, if gas is available in your neighborhood. This can be extremely costly and would likely add another utility bill to your monthly expenses. If your home is not already set up to use gas, it would be more cost effective for you to purchase an electric water heater for your home.

Operating Cost

If you already have a gas line running to your house and to the location where you want to store the water heater, then the two options are probably neck-and-neck. So now let's look at the operating cost. The cost of gas and electricity differs from city to city, but in most cases gas costs less than electricity. So if you'd like to save on your monthly bill and you have access to a gas line, a gas water heater may be a better option for you.

Efficiency

Lastly, it's important to consider efficiency when purchasing a new water heater. Though gas costs less than electricity, the amount of gas or electricity needed to heat your home's water may make a difference in the operating cost, longer term.

The energy efficiency of water heaters and other appliances are rated on a standard scale called the Energy Factor (EF) system. This allows consumers to compare appliances based on the same standards. A higher EF rating means that the appliance is more efficient. According to the EF system, an average electric water heater has an EF rating of between 0.75 and 0.95. and an average gas water heater has an EF rating of between 0.60 and 0.70.

The EF system shows us that electric water heaters are considerably more efficient than gas water heaters. So while electricity is more expensive than gas, an electric water heater will use much less power than a gas water heater.

Overall, gas and electric water heaters are pretty even, in terms of the initial cost of the unit. However, if you don't already have a gas line running to your water heater location and you purchase an electric water heater with a high EF rating, then an electric water heater will likely be a better fit for you long-term. If you already have a gas supply and gas is significantly cheaper than electricity in your region, then a gas water heater would be a smart purchase.

No water heater will last forever, but most units can have long, useful lives with a little help. Prolong the life of your water heater and get the most out of your investment by taking the following steps.

Try a Water Softener

Depending on your location, the water itself could shorten the lifespan of your water heater. If you live in an area where the water naturally has high levels of mineral deposits, over time the minerals will accumulate inside the tank. This phenomenon, known as scaling, can greatly shorten the lifespan of a water heater. That means it's in your best interest to eliminate the minerals before they have the chance to ruin the unit. Install a water softener to reduce scaling as well as decrease overall wear and tear on the plumbing.

Flush the Tank

Over time, sediment builds up inside water heater tanks and reduces their efficiency. If enough time passes, the sediment can turn into a permanent layer in the tank and cause the unit to overheat or break down completely. To prevent damage and extend the life of an older water heater, flush the tank at least once a year. Though many newer models don't require flushing, most older ones do. If you're concerned about flushing the water heater yourself, call a contractor for professional help.

Add Another Anode Rod

Water heaters can typically withstand serious temperature fluctuations and constant exposure to water. Corrosion inside the water tank, however, can signal the end of a water heater's life. Most units have an aluminum or magnesium anode rod that helps limit internal corrosion. Give your water heater a boost and add a second anode rod to increase its ability to resist corrosion.

Install an Expansion Tank

When your water heater produces hot water, the thermal energy causes the fluid to expand in size. If your water heater operates on a closed system, which means water cannot return back through the water main, the heated water has nowhere to go but out. That often translates to increases and inconsistencies in water pressure. Over the years, this causes undue wear and tear on the water heater and the plumbing system as a whole.

If your system endures frequent changes in water pressure, consider installing an expansion tank. This unit stores the extra hot water to keep the system running fluidly, and it can increase the overall life of your water heater by as much as double.

Test the Pressure Relief Valve

Water heaters rely on the pressure relief valve to release pressure automatically when necessary. Because high pressure can cause the unit to explode, having a functioning valve is critical to prolonging the life of your water heater.

Once a year, test the pressure relief valve, which you'll generally find on top or on the side of the unit. Replace the valve if it malfunctions or shows signs of a leak, since you'll want to be sure it works properly when you really need it.

Extending the life of your water heater goes far beyond just performing regular maintenance. Follow these steps to help your unit live for as long as possible.

As a homeowner, you know that different systems within your home need to be replaced at intervals. One of the biggest systems you need to keep an eye on is your water heater. While water heaters are generally expected to last approximately ten years, this isn't always the case. Depending on a number of factors, your water heater may last 20 years or more, or you may find that it gives out after only a few years. It's good to have an approximate idea of how long your particular water heater will last.

Installation

One of the biggest factors that helps determine how long your water heater will last is how it was installed. Improper installation affects the lifespan significantly. It's crucial that your water heater is installed upright—if it is on its side, there is inadequate support. This leads to structural stress and will cause premature failure of the water heater system. Well-ventilated areas are the best for water heaters. While this helps with nitrous-oxide buildup and fire safety, it also extends the life of the water heater.

Usage

As you're considering how long your water heater will last, make sure you keep in mind how much you use it. The more hot water used throughout the home, the more the system has to work. Water heaters with less usage generally last longer than those with a huge output. Make sure you get a water heater that can stand up to the volume you plan to use.

Water Type

The type of water in your area affects your water heater. If the water is corrosive, it's going to significantly shorten the lifespan of your water heater system. One way to help determine the life of your water heater is to get your water tested for corrosive chemicals. Along with this, hard water is more damaging to water heaters. If you have hard water, you can help extend the life of your water heater by getting a water softener.

Proper Maintenance

Keeping your water heater maintained extends how long the system lasts. If you are purchasing a home with an older water heater, or if it's been a while since you last got maintenance, make sure to get someone over to service the system. A good flush and maintenance helps get rid of dirt, debris, and minerals from the system

System Type

There are many different types of water heaters, and the style of your water heater affects how long it lasts. For example, a glass lined water tank is coated to help resist corrosion. Since there is less corrosion in the system, it is likely to last longer than older systems without this protection. A tankless system tends to last longer than a traditional tank water heater, with life spans of up to 20 years or more.

When you're estimating the life expectancy of your water heater, consider consulting with a professional. They can help you understand how your system works, explain the general span of your system, and offer suggestions to keep it running as long as possible.