Are Propane Water Heaters Good? Propane vs. Natural Gas Water Heating

Propane water heaters are a reliable and efficient option for heating water, just like natural gas water heaters. They are especially useful when natural gas is not available. However, propane water heaters have different combustion and safety properties compared to natural gas water heaters.

Propane gas, also called LP or liquid petroleum, is commonly used in residential areas, especially in rural areas where natural gas pipelines are not available. LP is delivered to homes by truck and stored in residential tanks located adjacent to the house.

Natural and propane gas water heater
Gas water heater (photo:

When it comes to water heaters, the main difference between propane and natural gas models is the type of gas used, with propane being a good choice for homes without access to natural gas pipelines, and natural gas being more convenient and cost-effective for homes that do have access.

Propane Water Heaters: Considerations to Take Into Account

Since propane gas has a relatively high density, it is important to handle it with great care. Unlike natural gas, which dissipates, propane gas has a tendency to collect and settle at the lowest point of the room where LP water heaters are installed. Therefore, gas detectors are recommended.

When buying one of the propane water heaters brands, you will notice that they are the same as natural gas water heaters and that a conversion kit is usually included. The kit modifies the gas orifice and gas pressure regulator on the unit.

The gas burner is often the same, but propane hot water heaters need more air for LP combustion, so that is what one must be aware of.

Note: Operating gas pressure for propane water heaters is much higher than for natural gas due to the higher BTU and specific gravity.

Propane Water Heating: Benefits

  • LP gas water heater burns clean and non-toxic. It is recognized as “green” energy with low carbon content.
  • Propane is an environmentally friendly fuel with reduced greenhouse emissions, energy, and money savings.
  • Propane-powered heaters are energy-efficient heating units.
  • They cost one-third less to operate than electric heaters but are more expensive than natural gas.
  • Propane water heaters recover hot water twice as quickly as electric.
  • They provide great value as they burn hotter, and it takes shorter to pay for itself via energy savings.
  • They are reliable. The individual storage tanks most often serve homes, so the power supply is virtually uninterruptible.
  • The gas is safe because of the built-in properties and strict regulations.
  • There is a wide selection of sizes, installation, and venting options for heaters.
  • LP water heaters are extremely durable and can last long with the minimum service requirements, while heating elements in electric models usually require replacement several times over their lifetime.
  • Tax credits for propane water heater users.

When searching for propane water heaters, you can choose between the storage or tank type and on-demand or tankless models like natural gas units.

Note: All heaters are rated for combustion efficiency, or how many BTUs are used to heat water. If a standard heater has a combustion efficiency of 80 percent, 80 percent of the available BTUs are being used for heating. The other 20 percent is lost up the flue.

Is Propane Dangerous?

Propane can be dangerous if it is not handled or used properly. Although not poisonous, its vapor can result in asphyxiation, resulting in difficulty or even inability to breathe, especially in high concentrations.

Propane is highly flammable and can ignite or explode if it is exposed to an ignition source. This can happen if there is a gas leak or if the propane is not handled or used properly.

Propane water heaters that are not vented properly can release carbon monoxide, which is a colorless and odorless gas that can be lethal in high concentrations.

The symptoms of propane exposure vary depending on the type of exposure. Inhaling propane gas can result in symptoms related to a lack of oxygen supply.

The following are some symptoms that may occur:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Drowsiness

To reduce the risk of these hazards, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your propane water heater, have it installed and serviced by licensed professionals, ensure that propane tanks are stored and transported safely, and use propane in a well-ventilated area. It is also important to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your home.

Types of Propane Water Heaters

Tank Type

Propane hot water tanks are designed with capacities ranging from 40 gallons to more than 100 gallons and they work on the same principle as storage tanks using natural gas.

Note: A 50-gallon LP water heater can provide as much hot water as 66-88-gallon electric unit in home with 2.5 baths.

When installing these conventional tank-type propane water heaters, you will see in the manual that they are subject to special requirements for venting.

Usually, there are two manuals, one is for installation, and the other describes venting requirements. This is one of the reasons why we recommend a licensed plumber/ professional. More information about propane can be found here.

Tankless Type

Tankless (or on-demand) water heaters do not have a storage tank. Instead, they heat water as it flows through the heat exchanger when the hot water tap is turned on. This provides a continuous supply of hot water and eliminates the need for a storage tank.

Propane tankless water heaters are also popular as they offer modern and space-saving designs; they are much more efficient than tank-type, using less fuel and decreasing emission and greenhouse gases. The process of how they prepare hot water is similar to natural gas combustion. Check out our article about tankless heaters.

Safety Tips

Propane water heaters can be safe when they are installed and used properly. However, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and have the unit installed by a licensed professional.

Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when using a propane water heater:

  • Make sure the water heater is properly installed and vented according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Keep the area around the water heater clear of combustible materials, such as papers, gasoline, cleaning supplies and other chemicals.
  • Have the propane supply and gas lines checked periodically for leaks.
  • Keep the pilot light and burner area clean and free of debris.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in the same room as the water heater.
  • If you notice any problems with the water heater, such as strange noises or odors, have it checked by a professional immediately.

By following these safety tips, you can help ensure that your propane water heater operates safely and efficiently.

Tip: LP water heaters should not be installed in a basement if such installation is prohibited by federal, state, local laws and codes.

How Long Do Propane Water Heaters Last?

Propane tank-type water heaters typically last for 8 to 12 years with proper maintenance and regular flushing to remove sediment buildup. On the other hand, propane tankless water heaters can last for up to 20 years or more, depending on their maintenance and usage frequency. Unlike tank-style water heaters, tankless units do not store water, which reduces the risk of corrosion and other issues that can shorten the lifespan of the unit.

However, the lifespan of propane tankless water heaters can be affected by factors such as water quality, frequency of use, and the quality of installation. To ensure the longevity and safety of your propane water heater, it’s important to have a licensed professional install and maintain it.


Whether or not propane water heaters are worth the investment depends on a variety of factors, such as location, energy costs, and usage patterns.

For homes that aren’t connected to natural gas pipelines, propane can be a good option for water heating. In addition, propane water heaters offer faster and more consistent hot water than electric resistance models, while also being more energy-efficient.

It’s worth noting, however, that propane is generally more expensive than natural gas, and propane water heaters typically cost more upfront than electric models.

When comparing prices between tank-type and tankless propane water heaters, the latter can be up to twice as expensive upfront. However, the savings in operating costs can make up for this higher initial cost, and tankless models can pay for themselves in a relatively short amount of time.

Additionally, propane tanks need to be refilled regularly, which can be an inconvenience for some households.

Ultimately, the decision to invest in a propane water heater should be made after carefully considering the household’s needs, energy costs, and fuel options.


Can Propane Water Heaters Be Converted to Natural Gas?

In most cases, propane water heaters can be converted to natural gas with the help of a conversion kit. However, it’s important to note that not all propane water heaters are convertible, so you’ll need to check with the manufacturer or a qualified technician to ensure that your specific model can be converted.

The conversion process typically involves changing out the burner orifices and adjusting the gas valve to ensure the proper gas flow rate. Additionally, some components may need to be replaced, such as the pilot light or thermocouple.

How Efficient Are Propane Water Heaters Compared to Electric Water Heaters?

Propane water heaters are generally more efficient than their electric counterparts, as they can heat water faster and maintain a higher temperature in the tank. This can result in lower energy costs and faster hot water recovery times. However, the overall efficiency of a propane water heater depends on factors such as the size and insulation of the tank, the burner efficiency, and the amount of hot water used.

Can a Propane Water Heater Be Used in a Mobile Home?

Yes, propane water heaters can be used in mobile homes, but they must be specifically designed and approved for mobile home use. Mobile home propane water heaters are typically smaller and have special venting requirements to ensure safe operation in a confined space.

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