That’s a great question. Unfortunately, the short answer is “it depends.” That’s why our plumbing and heating professionals take the time to see what you are currently using and ask the right questions to learn your needs and your budget. However, there are a few considerations that can help to answer this question and act as a starting point.
Here in the greater Madison, WI area, we primarily have a choice of natural gas or electricity in urban areas, and propane or fuel oil in rural and some older areas. Some individual homes or commercial buildings are set up to use solar energy, although its use is growing. Even fewer structures use geothermal energy, but it’s use is growing as well, especially in larger commercial and municipal structures.
In general, natural gas, electricity, propane, and fuel oil are the lowest-cost options, both for initial and ongoing out-of-pocket costs, because these sources have well-established distribution systems and are readily available. Solar and geothermal both typically have higher out-of-pocket cost initially due to their construction costs and they aren’t as readily available as a source of energy. But, again, their use is growing every day.
When it comes to overall efficiency of a water heating system though, solar and geothermal are much more cost-efficient systems to run because they use renewable sources of energy – the sun and the earth’s natural temperature.
We touched on this earlier. As a couple of high-level examples:
Do you have a busy household of multiple people and need to use hot water simultaneously (for example, running the dishwasher and washing machine) or sequentially (for example, everyone getting ready to leave around the same time every morning)?
Or, is it just you, or two people, who aren’t necessarily generating high demand for hot water?
Is hot water a significant input to what you do (for example, food service/preparation, steam cleaning)?
Or, do you just need enough hot water for the few people who work in your office?
Typically, the professionals at EZ Plumbing will determine the size of the water heating system you need by calculating your peak-hour hot water demand. Each of the types of water heating systems produce slightly different amounts of hot water at peak output, and most systems are available in multiple sizes and configurations to accommodate the estimated demand. So, your peak-hour hot water demand is a critical factor in deciding on the system that’s right for you.
Generally speaking, the more energy-efficient the system, the higher the initial cost. As we said before, solar and geothermal-fueled systems are the most cost-efficient but typically have the highest initial cost. The other types of water heating systems vary widely in cost based on style, features, and structure.
You can directly impact both the initial cost of a system and its ongoing operating costs by making various changes to your habits and lifestyles. The U.S. Department of Energy has a very informative infographic on their website that provides lots of suggestions and tips to help you become more energy-efficient, and it provides a lot of good information about water heating systems in general.
The professionals at EZ Plumbing have installed and serviced all sizes and types of water heating systems in many residential and commercial buildings over our 40 years of serving the greater Madison, WI, area. We will help you understand what system(s) will best meet your needs, then help you choose the most appropriate and cost-effective system. If you like, EZ Plumbing can also service the systems we install, making sure you are protected and you get maximum benefit from your systems.