Are Propane Water Heaters Efficient?

Ron Marr
Ron Marr
A propane tank holds fuel to power a water heater.
A propane tank holds fuel to power a water heater.

Whether or not propane water heaters are efficient is highly dependent upon how one defines efficiency. Efficiency can refer to convenience, ease of use, or the certainty that hot water will be available at all times. It can also refer to energy costs and environmental friendliness. Water heaters that run on propane are generally quite efficient under all these criteria, at least as compared to electric water heaters.

Approximately one-fifth of the average US household’s yearly energy costs are caused by its hot water heater. The price of showers, baths, hot tubs, and dishwashers do not come cheap. They do however, become somewhat less expensive with propane.

A side view of a residential propane tank.
A side view of a residential propane tank.

Water heaters basically come in two forms. Most heaters are of the storage tank variety. They hold 50 gallons (about 189 liters) or more of water, and keep it heated at all times. The second type of heater, which is usually more expensive at the onset but very cost-effective in the long term, is the tankless water heater. These devices may have a somewhat lower flow, but they heat and provide water only as needed.

Some hot tubs use propane heat.
Some hot tubs use propane heat.

Propane water heaters of the storage tank design will fill up and heat water in about half the time of an electric model. Moreover, they will do so at approximately one-third less cost. Savings increase even more with tankless water heaters that use propane. Power bills are sometimes as much as 60% lower than electric models.

Environmentally speaking, propane is also the more efficient choice. As less electricity is needed or used by the individual consumer, power plants that produce electricity are able to lower their capacity. In the case of coal-fired power plants, this translates to fewer carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere.

With any type of hot water heater, efficiency can be enhanced with a few simple steps on the part of the consumer. Often, efficiency is based not so much on the heater itself, but on how a homeowner cares for and uses it. Heating the water for a 20-minute shower requires less power than heating water for a 30-minute shower. Also, insulation of both the water heater itself, and hot water pipes, will do much do reduce stand-by heat loss.

Another simple step is to lower the temperature on the water heater. As a rule, hot water heaters are set to 140°F (60°C). Reducing that temperature to 120°F (about 49°C) can produce a surprising amount of savings.

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Discussion Comments


I paid $1.28/gallon in January 2013.


Does it take more propane to heat the water to take a bath than it does to take a shower?


according to my propane supplier, the less propane you use, the higher the cost you pay per gallon. this doesn't encourage one to use less hot water. apparently, you get screwed no matter what you do!


For the other poster if your spending $1200 a year on a LP water heater there is something wrong. I pay $2.75 a gallon for LP. I fill my 150 gallon tank 80 percent once a year. It costs me about $300 a year for the LP to heat my water. There are only two people living in this house and we take showers every day.

If I were you I would call some one to check your water heater. Or maybe you have 12 people living there and you still use hot water to wash your clothes (waste of money). My whites come out just as white in cold as they do in hot.


How can propane be more cost effective when the price is uncontrolled, and right now hovers at about $4 per gallon. It costs about $1200 per year to heat water only for a two person household. Not including the cost of water! Your research is faulty. For the same house I heat a hot tub 12 months of the year with electricity for less than $30 per month- that is outside, and always hot.

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    • A propane tank holds fuel to power a water heater.
      By: Ty Konzak
      A propane tank holds fuel to power a water heater.
    • A side view of a residential propane tank.
      A side view of a residential propane tank.
    • Some hot tubs use propane heat.
      By: EpicStockMedia
      Some hot tubs use propane heat.