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Does a Gas Water Heater Need Electricity? (Answered)

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

does a gas water heater need electricity

Does a gas water heater need electricity? Some folks might laugh at the notion that a gas-powered appliance requires electricity. However, some gas-fueled water heaters do.

Appliances with an electronic component will require an electric current to operate that component. Hence, if the gas water heater has an element dependent on electricity, it needs electrical power to ensure the proper functioning of such a constituent.

We know you’re confused. And that’s why we implore you to read on and understand whether gas water heaters use electricity.

Table of Contents

Does a Gas Water Heater Need Electricity?


Yes, and no. Some gas water heaters don’t need electricity to work, while others rely on electrical components to ignite the pilot and burner to heat the water. Hence, everything depends on the gas water heater type.

How Does a Gas Water Heater Work?


Let us appreciate how a gas water heater works. Doing so lets us understand whether these work without power (electricity).

Imagine a storage tank-type gas water heater as a large pot of water on your stovetop. Switching the ignition creates fire in the burners. It’s the same thing with a gas water heater.

A storage tank-type gas water heater has burners at the bottom connected to a propane or natural gas supply. When you open the gas control valve, gas flows from the flexible tubes to a small pipe next to the burner. This tiny tube, which we call the pilot, supplies flame to the burner.

Once the burner is lit, it heats a water heater component that conducts heat to the tank. This action raises the water temperature and gives you hot water.

So, to answer the riddle question, “Where does gas water heater get power?” we must appreciate two things. First, a gas water heater relies on fuel (propane or natural gas) to heat the water. Second, the pilot requires a mechanism to create a flame that will ignite the burner.

Like your stovetop, a natural gas or propane water heater can feature a mechanical igniter or an electric version (i.e., hot plate or coil). And that’s our next stop.

When Do They Need Electricity


Gas water heater electrical requirements vary across types and ignition systems. For example, although a gas water heater needs propane or natural gas to heat the water (like boiling water in a large pot), its ignition system determines whether an electrical connection is necessary.

Factors Influencing the Need for Electricity for Gas Water Heaters

We know how a gas water heater work without electricity. We also know some models require electricity to operate optimally. So, when does a gas water heater need electrical power?

1. Non-electrical ignition system


Most gas water heaters have a mechanical or non-electric ignition system. These appliances are immune to a hot water power outage. Your electrical devices and gadgets might not work, but your gas water heater will continue delivering hot water.

A gas water heater with a non-electrical ignition system features a piezoelectric device. It differs from other igniters (i.e., a flame from a matchstick or BBQ lighter stick) as piezoelectric mechanisms rely on friction to create a spark.

It’s like striking two stones to create a spark and ignite kindling at a camp. Piezoelectric systems produce heat and sparks by banging or hammering the piezoelectric components.

The piezoelectric mechanism connects to a button on the water heater’s exterior. The components strike one another when you press the button, similar to how you ignite your barbecue rig.

The principal advantage of a non-electric ignition system is you can light the pilot with an ordinary BBQ lighter wand if the piezoelectric igniter malfunctions.

Another advantage is that the pilot is always on. It allows you to heat the water regardless of a power outage. The only time you might need to relight the pilot is when there’s no gas flowing into it.

Unfortunately, an always-on pilot light isn’t efficient because it still uses gas.

2. Electric ignition system


Gas-powered water heaters with an electric ignition system address a standing pilot light-type’s energy inefficiency. These appliances feature a pilot that doesn’t demand round-the-clock operation. Hence, you save on gas.

Electronically-controlled gas-powered water heaters have one of two ignition systems: hot surface and intermittent pilot.

  • Intermittent Pilot Light Igniter

This electric ignition type is nearly identical to a piezoelectric mechanism, except it delivers a small electric charge to create a spark. It also has a button that you can press to ignite the burners.

The pilot light dies out as soon as the burners are on. Unfortunately, heating the water is cumbersome because you’ll press the button every time you need hot water, and the burner’s flames die out.

  • Hot Surface Igniter

A more efficient solution than an intermittent pilot light ignition system, hot surface technology is similar to your stove top hotplate.

Water heaters with this technology feature silicon carbide, silicon nitride, or other thermally-conductive materials to absorb heat generated by electricity. The hot surface ignites the water heater’s burners.

3. Tankless water heaters


Gas-powered tankless water heaters might not require electricity to heat the water. However, these appliances need electricity to operate pressure valves, temperature gauges, flow sensors, digital displays, user control interfaces, and other technologies.

4. Examples


Most conventional gas water heaters have a mechanical or non-electric ignition system. Hence, we’ll look at some examples of gas-powered water heaters that need electricity to run.

One of the best examples we could cite is the Rheem Professional Prestige Maximus Series.

This appliance has a leak sensor, an LCD screen, a system health notification system, and an audible alarm. It also features the EcoNet wireless technology, Vacation Mode, Max Mode, and Leak Detection system.

These innovations run on electricity, although the water heater is gas-powered.

Not to be outdone is AO Smith’s Polaris natural gas water heater with a Hot Surface Ignition system requiring about five amps of electricity mated to a 120-volt circuit. Its DynaClean fully-automatic sediment-removal system also demands electricity.

What Happens if the Power Goes Out?


Gas water heaters with standing pilot light ignition systems are immune to the effects of power outages. After all, these appliances are independent of electricity. You can even use a BBQ lighter wand to light the pilot when the piezoelectric mechanism fails.

On the other hand, gas water heaters with electronic components will no longer work without electricity. A power generator might help you solve this issue, provided the device has sufficient wattage to supply the electronically-controlled gas water heater.

Benefits of a Gas Water Heater that Needs Electricity


The principal benefit of an electronically-controlled gas water heater is higher energy efficiency. The pilot doesn’t have to be on all the time, allowing homeowners to lower their water-heating-related fuel expenses.

Another advantage is unparalleled convenience. Many electronically-controlled gas water heaters feature high-tech innovations, including intelligent sensors, fail-safe systems, and intuitive user controls. These appliances make excellent additions to a smart home.


Does a gas water heater need electricity? Most don’t, but some do. Here’s a clue. There’s a good chance your gas water heater doesn’t require electricity if it has a piezoelectric ignition and no fancy features (i.e., digital displays, user controls, and advanced pressure and temperature sensors).

On the other hand, your gas water heater needs electricity if it has the features we mentioned. Moreover, its Uniform Energy Factor (UEF) rating will be higher than most. After all, it’s more energy-efficient than non-electronically-controlled gas water heaters.

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