Study Supports Switch to Propane Water Heating

A new research study gives high marks to specifying a propane tankless water heater over an electric unit, especially in the Northeast.

Decisions on where and when to invest in residential, energy-efficient upgrades can be difficult for a homeowner, especially when it comes to paying a premium for higher efficiency equipment. As a way of helping construction pros to be able to understand and explain the efficacy of propane upgrades, the Propane Education & Research Council commissioned a study by Newport Partners to serve as a guide for answering questions related to prioritizing energy upgrades for existing homes. Newport Partners, based in Davidsonville, Md., performs technical, regulatory, and market research and analysis related to the built environment, with special focus on the energy performance of buildings and building systems.

Covering a range of climates, its "Whole-House Analysis of Energy Efficiency Upgrades for Existing Homes," released in October 2010, evaluated dozens of energy-efficiency measures (EEMs) at 10 locations across the United States. Because the study was executed from a homeowner's perspective, energy savings of various EEMs were considered relevant in so far as they were found to be cost-effective. The metric for cost-effectiveness was simple payback, which is an expression for the years required to recoup a first-cost investment (labor and materials) in an EEM based on expected annual energy costs savings. If an EEM was found to have a payback of 10 years or fewer, the emissions savings associated with the payback were also reported. Emissions data could thus serve as a second evaluation point to assist homeowners in choosing among EEMs with comparable paybacks.

One of its key findings concerned the energy and cost savings offered by specifying a propane tankless water heater over an electric unit. Not surprisingly, an EEM such as water heating was a strong regional performer. For example, while economics and emissions savings for water heating EEMs were minor in warmer climates, they were especially attractive in the Northeast. There, two of the three systems with paybacks of fewer than 10 years (when compared with a standard electric tank water heater) used propane. Of these, the propane tankless condensing unit had a payback of five years and offered the highest annual emissions savings at 0.62 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The study also found that propane tankless water heating technology offers ancillary benefits such as a high hot water delivery rate and a life expectancy that's more than 50 percent longer than storage tank units.

For further details on how propane water heaters performed in relation to electric and heat pump water heaters, download the study and an accompanying fact sheet.

To learn how to incorporate propane products into your next project, be sure to check out our free online CEU courses, available at the Propane Training Academy. The product categories mentioned in this article are discussed in the following training courses:

A Comparative Analysis of Residential Heating Systems

Condensing Tankless Water Heaters: Using Propane for the Most Efficient Water Heaters on the Market

Water Heaters: Retrofitting from Standard Electric to Gas Tankless


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