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How to Tell if Water Heater Is Gas or Electric? – Detailed Guide

Fact checked by Stephen Conklin

how to tell if water heater is gas or electric

Did you not buy your water heater yourself or supervise its installation? And, you are wondering how to tell if water heater is gas or electric? People moving into homes or RVs with existing water heaters might also want to know if their water heater runs on electricity or gas.

Differentiating between a gas and electric water heater is a cinch. I will share some steps to ensure you know if your water heater is gas or electric.

Things You Need for This Guide

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I also presume you no longer have the owner’s manual or user guide. Otherwise, there is no point in going further into this article because the information you need is already in the guide.

On second thought, it would be nice to check your water heater’s brand, model, and serial number. You can use these pieces of information to search online. Water heater manufacturers provide downloadable user guides in PDF formats for their customers.

Differentiating an electric water heater from a gas water heater does not require any tool, except for a screwdriver for loosening the water heater’s access panel. The access panel secures a chamber containing the gas water heater’s pilot light.

Steps to Tell if a Water Heater Is Electric of Gas

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Step 1. Open the hot water tank’s access panel and look for the pilot light with a blue flame.

Look at your water heater and check the access panel near the tank’s bottom. Some water heaters have a small viewing window you can look through to check for a pilot light. It would be best to remove the fasteners of the water heater’s access panel if it does not have a viewing window.

Remove the access panel and check the chamber for a blue flame-lit pilot light. The pilot light is almost similar to the igniter in your conventional gas stove. It emits a consistent and intense blue flame, keeping the gas burner operating.

If you see a pilot light, you know you have a gas-powered water heater. After all, only pilot light-integrated water heaters use gas.

Eaglewood Homes has an exciting video about checking and lighting a water heater pilot light.

Step 2. Look for a power cord plugged into a nearby outlet.

You might be asking yourself, how does an electric water heater look like? You will be surprised to learn that it does not look very different from a gas-powered water heater, except it runs on electricity, not natural gas or methane gas.

Like any device running on electricity, an electric water heater will always have a power cord to draw power from the main electric supply lines.

I recommend looking for a power cord extending from either the top or the side of the water heater. You can try following the cord to see if it plugs into a nearby electrical outlet. If there is a power cord, you can be sure you have an electric water heater.

Step 3. Check the top of the water heater for a structure resembling a vent.

Do you know how a gas water heater look like? It might have the same design as an electric water heater, but gas-powered units have a vent or chimney for conveying exhaust gas into the outside environment.

We know gas water heaters use fuel combustion to operate the burners and heat the water. Unlike electricity, the thermal process releases potentially noxious chemicals into the air. That is why some homeowners prefer electric water heaters because of the gas fumes in gas-powered units.

Check the top of your water heater and look for a large-diameter pipe or duct leading upward. You can also follow it as the vent exits through the wall. If you see this structure, you know you have a gas water heater.

Step 4. Open the house’s electrical panel and look for a circuit breaker labeled ‘water heater.’

Most electric water heaters require hardwiring to the main electric supply line because they consume about 4,000 watts per day. That is why installers always set electric water heaters with a dedicated circuit breaker.

It is always an excellent idea to check the electric panel to determine if your water heater is electric or gas. Look at each circuit breaker and find the breaker marked ‘water heater.’

If you cannot find such a label, you might want to turn off all circuit breakers in the panel. Next, look at your water heater if it is turned off, too. If it is also off, you have an electric water heater. If it is still operating, you have a gas-powered unit.

You can also employ this step to answer your question, how do I know if my RV water heater is gas or electric? Your RV has an electrical distribution panel similar to the electric breaker box in your home.

Step 5. Check the tank’s bottom for a copper or black pipe.

Another foolproof way to answer the question, are water heaters gas or electric, is by looking for a copper or black pipe connecting to the hot water tank’s bottom.

The black pipe is about half an inch thick, while the copper tube is a quarter of an inch thick. You can only see either pipe in your water heater’s bottom, signifying the system’s gas supply line.

Hence, if you see either pipes (black or copper), you know you have a gas-powered water heater.

Conclusion

You now know how to tell if water heater is gas or electric. Gas water heaters have a pilot light, an exhaust vent, and a black or copper gas pipe. On the other hand, an electric water heater will have a power cord or a dedicated circuit breaker at the electrical panel.

Can you help your friends determine if their water heaters are gas or electric, too? You can share this guide with them if you like. If you have questions, feedback, or comments, I will gladly take them all.

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