At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

How do I Choose the Best Propane Water Heater?

Ron Marr
Ron Marr

Selecting the best propane water heater is dependent upon your household needs. Standard heaters are available in tank sizes ranging from below 40 gallons (151.4 liters) to over 100 gallons (378.5 liters) but energy-efficient tankless models are gaining in popularity as prices drop. A tankless propane water heater requires less space and saves on long-term heating bills, but the initially low price of a standard propane water heater attracts many buyers.

Standard propane water heaters utilize a holding tank that keeps water at a constant temperature regardless of use. A heating element is located in the bottom of the tank, holding the water at the temperature determined by a thermostat setting. The constant heating process leads to high energy use and considerable inefficiency. The heaters have remained popular because propane has traditionally been a relatively low-priced fuel.

A propane tank.
A propane tank.

This type of water heater is also attractive to those on a restricted construction or remodel budget, as the unit is approximately half the price of a tankless heater. Standard heaters hold the advantage of being a known quantity, as they have been in use for decades. Many buyers, and some contractors, are still uncomfortable with the idea of the relatively new tankless technology.

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

A tankless propane water heater provides hot water on demand, just like a standard heater. The difference is that the water is heated only when the valve on a faucet, shower or tub is opened. The unit senses an open valve, ignites the propane, and heats coils through which water flows prior to moving toward the faucet. A tankless heater is in fact a type of heat exchanger, and water is heated almost instantaneously. Hot water arrives at the faucet just as quickly as with a standard water heater.

A tankless propane water heater is superior in most every way over a standard tank heater. It is energy-efficient, small and saves enough fuel to pay for itself in less than a year. It can be mounted almost flush with a wall, in contrast to the large, stand-alone tankless heaters that require a good deal of installation space and outdoor venting.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


After researching the various kinds of water heaters, I guess the tankless propane water heater and the propane tank water heater both have good aspects about them, but I still prefer an electric water heater. With electricity there is less chance of an explosion and when you use a timer on the electric ones they are very energy efficient.

The electric ones also last longer than the gas water heaters on average because they have fewer parts to go bad.


One of the first things that jumped out at my girlfriend and me when we first looked at our current house when we were viewing houses was the big old propane water heater in the corner of the kitchen. It was in plain sight and none too attractive.

We have made a blind of sorts out of a couple old doors that we painted. The water heater is totally blocked from view now except for the pipe coming out of the top. She still wants to get rid of it and buy a tankless propane heater because of the size alone, but we are waiting until we can afford one.


Whenever I tell someone I am going to buy a tankless propane water heater all I ever hear is that the tankless heaters are much more expensive and not worth the extra cost. After reading this article, I can see that this type of thinking is short sighted.

If the tankless heater is going to pay for itself in such a short time as mentioned in this article then the real waste of money would be buying one of the less efficient heaters with the tank. A year will pass quickly, and if you chose to buy the water heater with the tank then you will be paying more for this old style water heater for the rest of its life.

If you buy the tankless propane water heater then after a year you are saving money every time you use hot water. This sounds like an easy decision to me.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • A propane tank.
      By: Ty Konzak
      A propane tank.
    • A side view of a residential propane tank.
      A side view of a residential propane tank.