December 20, 2008

What does it cost to heat a gallon of water?

I found this site Ask Mr. Electricity that has a calculation of how much it costs to heat water with a hot water heater.

Bottom line is that given their calculations, it costs about 1¢ to 2¢ to heat a gallon of water.

The exact amount will depend on the efficiency of your hot water heater, whether you use gas or electric and exactly what your electric or gas costs are.

From the Ask Mr. Electricity site:

"Energy required to heat a tank of water

  • A Btu, or British thermal unit, is the amount of energy needed to raise one pound of water from 60°F to 61°F at sea level. (Wikipedia)
  • A gallon of water weights 8.33 lbs.
  • If the incoming water is 60°F and we want to raise it to 123°F, that's a 63°F rise.
  • Heating a gallon of water thus requires 8.33 x 63 = 525 Btu's, at 100% efficiency.

Cost to heat water in a gas tank

  • A typical gas tank water heater is only 59% efficient. So it takes 525 ÷ 59% = 890 Btu's to heat a gallon of water in a gas tank.
  • One therm is 100,000 btu's. So one Btu is 0.00001 therms. (Pacific NW Natl. Lab.)
  • 890 Btu's is 0.0089 therms.
  • So we've got 0.0089 therms to heat a gallon of water, or 0.0089 x 40 = 0.356 therms to heat a 40-gallon tank.
  • At $1.42/therm, it costs 0.356 x $1.42 = $0.51 to heat a 40-gallon tank.
  • Another source comes up with a similar figure: 0.40 therms for the tank (based on 0.11 therms to heat 11 gallons of water. (Multi-housing Laundry Association)
  • MHLA also says it takes 3.3 therms to keep 11 gallons hot for one month.

Cost to heat water in an electric tank

  • A typical electric water heater is 90.4 to 95% efficient. Let's call that 92.7% on average.
  • So it takes 525 ÷ 92.7% = 566 Btu's to heat a gallon of water in an electric tank.
  • One kWh is 3413 Btu's, so one Btu is 0.000293 kWh.
  • 566 Btu's x 0.000293 kWh/Btu = 0.166 kWh.
  • So we've got 0.166 kWh to heat a gallon of water, or 0.166 x 40 = 6.63 kWh to heat a 40-gallon tank.
  • At $0.11/kWh, it costs 6.63 x $0.11 = $0.73 to heat a 40-gallon tank."

The two keys they had were that it cost $0.51 to heat 40 gallons using gas or $0.73 using electric. Thats $0.01275 per gallon for gas and $0.01825 per gallon with electric.


  1. Thanks so much for this information, it was really helpful. I'm going to be citing it in a post about low flow shower heads and linking your post.

  2. Great needed information. I certainly appreciate it.

  3. Wow this was incredibly thorough, detailed, and very helpful. Thank you for laying this out and including all of the calculations clearly. One of the best written posts I've ever seen on the Internet, period. And that's no exaggeration.

  4. How much does the price differ from 2008 to 2016?

  5. Anna,

    The cost is up or down 10-20%. Depends.

    I don't have a precise answer to that.
    electricity rose ~1% a year from 2008 to 2012 which is the latest data I see :

    So over 8 years I'd expect the cost to be up maybe 10% total.

    On the other hand natural gas is down around 20% in the period from 2008 to 2014 :

    Of course costs vary based on where you live and what your utility charges. So these are just national averages.


  6. Agree w ^above posts....Most Excellent! Thank you! Now I can win the argument w/ SO about cost of my bubble baths, as the miser seems to think I'm putting him in the poorhouse every time I take a full �� bath!


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