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#1
Old 02-23-2004, 08:13 AM
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Hot Water Heaters: Propane v.s. Electric

This is in G.Q. because I have very specific questions, and some wonderful Doper may have been down this road, and might provide very specific answers.

I currently run my Propane fired hot water heater off a tank in the back. We run the stove off of Propane, but NOTHING else in the house at all. Just the stove and hot water heater.

Our propane bills run $ 325.00/month on average. The huge majority of that is the hot water heater, of course. I am considering altering to electric. My home is electric already, I don't have a huge bias against it as some folks may.

Has anyone done this switch and found it to be cost-effective? I am awful at math and cannot quite figure out how to calculate how much it will cost me to run it. Since I don't use KiloWatts to fire my current hot water heater, how do I go about understanding how many KiloWatts it will take to fire a new one in a month of average use for 4 people? I don't trust my local utility website, their numbers will be skewed to make me want to buy more power. I also don't trust Suburban Propane- they will tell me I'll be homeless and destitute if I stop buying propane and go to electric. ( We'll keep the tank for the stove anyway, but you see my point here )

My gut feeling is that going to electric will save me bigtime, since the propane costs have been rising rapidly in the last 2 years with no sign of slowdown. My electric costs have trickled upwards but nothing like the propane increase. However, I've no hard data to support this gut feeling.

Anyone have the Straight Dope here?

Cartooniverse
#2
Old 02-23-2004, 11:39 AM
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Location: Somewhere near Boston
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Do you really pay $325.00 month for propane, excluding heating? If so, something seems very, very wrong.

I did a few minutes of poking around (nothing very exhaustive) and found a daily use chart provided by the nice people at the Hawaii Electric Company. They claim that a ten minute shower (sort of worst case, unless you have teenagers) will consume 42 gallons of water and 5.1 KWH of electricity. Let's assume that all four members of your household take long showers and that another 84 gallons of hot water gets used for dishwashing, washing clothes, and other uses. That comes to 6 * 5.1KWH or 30.6 KWH/day. At ten cents/KWH (a guess), that would be $3.06/day, or $90.00/month for what I think is a rather exaggerated guess at usage.

Cooking, from what I remember when I used propane, can't be more than $20.00/month, even allowing for vastly increased prices.

So if you're paying 3 1/2 times this much, I'd say that there's either some major inefficiencies or leaks in your existing system, there's some serious hot water wastage going on, or you should ditch the propage heater.
#3
Old 02-23-2004, 12:00 PM
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My home is 3500 sq.ft. with the fully finished basement really being a seperate unit we rent out from time to time. The basement has its own 2 ton propane gas pack and the upstairs has a 3 ton unit same brand/type. There is a gas range both upstairs and downstairs. The hot water heater is a 60 gallon direct vent commercial high recovery unit. Even the grill on the back porch is hooked up to the the main gas system. We are on the "budget billing" system (where we pay the same each month and the actual cost is averaged out over the course of a year. we pay extra if we go over and can get a refund or pay towards next year if our usage is less.) We have never overused and our monthly budget payment is $120.00 with everything gas running off the same system.

There is something BAD wrong for $325.00 per month for a stove and water heater. Maybe their billing is off somehow. I would think a propane leak would be noticed by someone! Get this checked out... onsite maybe by another propane company. Do they give an itemized bill? Do the items check out with the service you receive? In what part of the country do you live?
#4
Old 02-23-2004, 12:02 PM
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Location: Toadspittle Hill
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cartooniverse
Our propane bills run $ 325.00/month on average. The huge majority of that is the hot water heater, of course.
Holy crap that's a lot. How many people live in your house? Are you in Alaska? Your monthly average is light-years above the average ANNUAL bill (even granting a slightly higher cost for propane).

Quote:
The average annual utility bill for an electric water heater is $256, while a gas water heater costs $160 a year to operate.
http://epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPA...y-17/i1081.htm

Basically, everything I've ever read has said that electric is, bar none, the most expensive way to heat stuff. I'd say, stick to propane, esp. since you've got it hooked up already.

Perhaps pick up a tankless water heater, though--more efficient, heats immediately, no heat loss from water just sitting around in a tank.
#5
Old 02-23-2004, 12:11 PM
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I'm gonna go along with the rest. I don't think I pay $325.00 a year for my gas bill, and I use it for heat and water.

Another thing to think about, during a power outage, you still have warm water. Learned that one the hard way.
#6
Old 02-23-2004, 12:26 PM
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Okay. I was misguided, although I still want to decide if I should switch. I'm on now with the nice lady. Here's my data.

Last year- I used 354 gallons of propane, at $ 3.90 per gallon.

She said the average household with my two devices drawing uses roughly 200-225 gallons. I'm exceeding this in a serious way.

She lowered my cost per gallon to $ 2.90/gallon. Nice of her, no? Significant savings right there.

I now have to think about whether or not the roughly $ 1,300.00 I spent would be outstripped by using an electric heater. They are going to send a guy out to check for leaks in the system. ( There are no underground pipes, so that should be easier rather than harder to do ).

Those of you who were amazed, were correct. I thought I was doing $ 350.00 per month, it was roughly $ 350.00 every 2-3 months. Hence, the 4 deliveries totalling 354 gallons.

I now ought to get with my Utility and find out what power will cost me, and what the power consumption is for a hot water heater of comparable size.......
#7
Old 02-23-2004, 12:31 PM
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Location: Richmond, VA
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Have you had the system checked for leaks? I assume you haven't smelled gas, but if it's leaking to the outside, that may account for the seemingly excessive use.
#8
Old 02-23-2004, 12:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heater
I'm gonna go along with the rest. I don't think I pay $325.00 a year for my gas bill, and I use it for heat and water.

Another thing to think about, during a power outage, you still have warm water. Learned that one the hard way.
Love the member name.

I have to correct you. This isn't exactly a wood-burning stove. As a safety feature, the hot water heater shuts down if there is no electricity. For, lacking electricity, the venting system doesn't work and carbon monoxide fills the house. Bad......bad. In fact, I cannot imagine ANYONE whose hot water heater would fire and work without electricity. Electric? Nope. Gas or propane? Unable to vent, so....nope.

If the power goes out, we don't bathe.
#9
Old 02-23-2004, 12:52 PM
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??sDartooniverse] As a safety feature, the hot water heater shuts down if there is no electricity. For, lacking electricity, the venting system doesn't work and carbon monoxide fills the house. Bad......bad. In fact, I cannot imagine ANYONE whose hot water heater would fire and work without electricity. Electric? Nope. Gas or propane? Unable to vent, so....nope. If the power goes out, we don't bathe. [/QUOTE]

With our direct vent heater, the venting system is passive so we still have hot water because the pilot lighht is still on. We do need the generator to run the well pump though.

She lowered the cost to $2.90????? Here in NC the going cost per gallon is $1.45!!! But my company's customer service sucks. I've been trying to get an underground tank installed (takes two weeks I'm told) for the last 4 months.
#10
Old 02-23-2004, 12:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cartooniverse
Okay. I was misguided, although I still want to decide if I should switch. I'm on now with the nice lady. Here's my data.

Last year- I used 354 gallons of propane, at $ 3.90 per gallon.

She said the average household with my two devices drawing uses roughly 200-225 gallons. I'm exceeding this in a serious way.

She lowered my cost per gallon to $ 2.90/gallon. Nice of her, no? Significant savings right there.
As toadspittle said, HOLY CRAP! Where do you live? For my last delivery, I paid $1.15/gallon and I still bitched about it. If you're paying $2.90, I don't see anyway that propane can compete with electric.
#11
Old 02-23-2004, 02:51 PM
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My propane gas bill runs about $16 a month. We have a passive gas water heater which fires up only when we use hot water. We also have a propane stove and oven. I think your propane gas company is overcharging you a lot or you have a very big leak in your tank. We are three people, myself, my wife and our maid.
#12
Old 02-23-2004, 03:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robcaro
My propane gas bill runs about $16 a month. We have a passive gas water heater which fires up only when we use hot water. We also have a propane stove and oven. I think your propane gas company is overcharging you a lot or you have a very big leak in your tank. We are three people, myself, my wife and our maid.
Perhaps I should have said that we have a "demand" type water heater instead of "passive."

The only problem with this type of water heating is the flow factor. Usually they will only heat about 4 gal per minute, so you can only have one source using hot water at a time.
#13
Old 02-24-2004, 10:39 PM
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They're sending out a tech to check for leaks in the propane line.

I also learned that a huge factor is my hard water- the minerals gather in the bottom of the glass tank, and essentially build up a thick layer of stone- stopping the gas fired jets below from heating the water as quickly or efficiently.

THAT will be resolved by flushing out the tank once a month or so, by draining it with cold water running down into it, with a drain hose screwed into the port at the bottom.

It sits perhaps 3 feet from the back door, this proceedure won't actually be much of a pain at all to do, and will flush out the building sediments. Even with an electric heater, the sediment problem is key here, apparently. I've gotten that from both the Propane company and a local plumber, AND from the plumbing guy at Home Depot.

I live in New York State, and the prices charged by Suburban Propane ( a nationwide outfit ) are normal for this area, sadly enough.
#14
Old 02-25-2004, 06:19 AM
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Quote:
Last year- I used 354 gallons of propane, at $ 3.90 per gallon.
I ran the numbers about a year ago for this. $4/gal is apx the break even point for a 100% eficient gas vs electric. Since I use so little propane I was payign $3/gal last year and got so pisses off I almost bought all electric appliances. The change is now in the $2/gal.

I
#15
Old 02-25-2004, 07:26 AM
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Quote:
With our direct vent heater, the venting system is passive so we still have hot water because the pilot light is still on. We do need the generator to run the well pump though.
Same here. We've had a few outages in the past from ice, but the water heater keeps on trucking. I'm on "city water", so the pumps usually keep the water flowing.

It's always been my impression that electric heat is way more expensive than gas. Sorry, no cites, just what I've always heard.
#16
Old 02-25-2004, 10:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cartooniverse
THAT will be resolved by flushing out the tank once a month or so, by draining it with cold water running down into it, with a drain hose screwed into the port at the bottom.
Is this an older tank? If so, how are your plumbing skills?

These drain valves have a bad habit of leaking when they're opened for the first time in years. You should probably be prepared for the possiblilty that the valve will need to be replaced after the first time you drain the tank.

If you have a good bit of deposits, you might be better off removing the valve anyway. Then you can stick an unbent coat hanger through the hole and really root around, scrape out all the big chunks. I've pulled buckets of sediment out of a water heater this way. Pity so much of it is still ground into the floor surrounding the heater.
#17
Old 02-25-2004, 10:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by heater
It's always been my impression that electric heat is way more expensive than gas. Sorry, no cites, just what I've always heard.
I would tend to disagree, based on my personal experience. I'd always heard that as well. My house has a thermostat in every room. When I am alone in the house, ALL thermostats are backed way down. The drop in power consumption is of course immediate, since they are electric baseboards. The heat comes up immediately as well, when the thermostat is turned up.

Instead of having "zones" in the house to deal with, I just turn the thermostat for my office up a bit, and I'm fine. The cats aren't exactly freezing to death upstairs, but the house is cooled down overall during the day. I know that people can do setbacks on any heating system, but I cannot think of ANY heating system that would be as room to room efficient as electric. Why? The whole "Zones" thing I mentioned up there. If I am in the office downstairs, it would likely have been only one room in a zone in the house's heating system. Probably since I live in a split-level house, where there are now 4 distinct "floors" we live on, my office would be on a zone with the bathroom, and bedroom on this floor as well as the heating unit in the mudroom down the hallway on the way outside. For me to be comfy, the entire floor would be heated up. Hardly necessary, and since I have electric heat, only my office gets turned up a bit. The rest of this level, in addition to the other areas in the house, are turned way back.

There are other factors. I've been in this house for 11 1/2 years. For the first 8 years, my TOTAL maintenance costs for my home heating system were exactly $ 20.00. That's right. Not per year, but total. I had a circuit breaker fail, and I bought a new one, and replaced it myself. A few years ago, one of the baseboards wasn't coming on. Turns out a wire was wearing. I felt it was a bit beyond me to suss out what the issue was, so we had an electrician in. No mess, no fuss. The wire was replaced. The visit probably cost me about $ 150.00, because the fellow was here a few hours.

I have no yearly cleaning. No oil deliveries ( or gas, for the house heat at least ). No pumps, no circulators. No dry forced air. No potential for molds to grow in air ducts. In the springtime, it takes me quite literally 60 seconds to shut down the entire heating system. I drop the breakers to Off, and voila. There is no voltage going to the heating elements in the house. When it gets colder in autum, I flip the breakers back on.

In my humble opinion ( I know..heh..wrong Forum ), electric is absolutely more cost effective. As for the bills, my average summertime bill is $ 100- 150. My worstcase wintertime bill was this past month, when we had sub-zero temperatures for a week or two at night, and single digits without reprieve during those days. My electric bill was $ 450.00. That's titanic- but I keep it in perspective. We are wearing thick winter clothing, that electric bill also reflects more time spent firing the electric dryer. And, the weather was record-breaking. My average wintertime electric bill is $ 250-300. Of course, this also includes a house with teenagers who would rather have anaesthetic-free surgery than turn off a lightswitch or computer.

Cartooniverse
#18
Old 02-25-2004, 10:37 AM
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Seems like the main problem is the enormous amount you spend per gallon. I must assume you have 75 or 150 gallon free standing tank. The prices are definately tiered. We use propane for heat and hot water and have a 1000 gallon underground tank. The propane this year was 131/gallon.
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