Chucking my gas heater - how should I proceed

swampwizNovember 16, 2011

First some background info. I own a dirt cheap home that's about 90 years old that currently has a gas water heater, stove, and wall flame unit. I only live in the house for a few months a year during the winter (I teach English abroad), and for this year, I stopped the gas service until I would be back (since the gas company charges about $12/mo for no consumption service, which would be about $120/yr.) So besides the fact that I don't like a dangerous substance floating around, I have not been a fan of having these fixtures.

So I get a proof test inspection of the gas line, and it failed, with the only solution being a very expensive under the house check for the leak (this plumber said that he's seen multiple day jobs fixing these old houses!) So that's enough for me - time to take my utility's suggestion and go all electric.

I can get by with electric space heaters for now (my insurance company doesn't have a problem with gas heat), although I'm thinking eventually of putting in a complete electric HVAC system (I currently have window units), but that's an issue for another forum. So I will be getting an electric stove (also a topic for another forum) and water heater.

So my question for this forum is how should I go. Currently I have a limited power supply (I think it's 100A @ 120V), and would really like to get a water heater that could take the juice off of a current 120V, 20A line (I think I have 20A line, but it may be 15A.) I know that may be a slow heater, but it would be worth it for me to not have to pay the big bucks to get upgraded electric power. I suppose the only way that this could be an option is with a tank heater, since an on-demand heater would obviously take much bigger wattage.

I would appreciate any suggestions.

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You really need to know what your electrical service is for sure: Both the capacity and how modern it is.

If you have a 100 Amp, 240 volt service - reasonably new, you should be fine with a standard electric water heater and stove. If it's really 100 Amp, 120 volt you must replace it to do anything. All major electrical appliances are 240 volt.

Where you will run into trouble is also providing space heat. That's not going to happen on a 100 amp panel. Space heaters are dangerous as hell, both the unit themselves and the high current draw on circuits that weren't design for it. If you have old wiring, (knob and tube) it's really dangerous.

Before you ditch the gas line, determine what your entire electrical load is going to be and evaluate your electrical service.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2011 at 1:47PM
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It's not knob and tube. And I'm along the Gulf Coast, so my needs for heating isn't that extreme, and I can take it down to 55F at night in any case. One 10A heater is all I need for whatever room I would be in. Yes, I should put in a modern HVAC system, but I'd rather not spend the cash now and have to raise the price of my house to make up for it, and just let the new owner do whatever he wants to do. (Of course, just to sell the house I may need to do something in any case.)

Why do you say that the space heater has a current draw higher than what it was supposed to have? If a line is built for 15A, it is built for 15A.

I'm already set on ditching the gas line. With 100 year old pipes, talk about being dangerous already!

There is nothing for the stove. I suppose that I would need to hook up the electrical for that in any case (although there is a nearby 120V-15A outlet that could be used.)

    Bookmark   November 16, 2011 at 2:01PM
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You need to get real about the electrical requirements.

The only electric range that will work on an 120 volt outlet is a hotplate.

A 15 amp circuit isn't designed for 15 amps, it's designed for 80% of its rated capacity under continuous use. Even at 80% you will stress residential 15 amp circuits. One heater will pretty much max out a circuit - you can't have lights, etc.

Just like guys here will tell you to do your plumbing to code, you need to do your electrical to code and not half-ass it.

If you do go ahead and use a space heater, get plenty of smoke detectors. Seriously, space heaters are the number one source of residential fires in old houses.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2011 at 11:28PM
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The $700 or so to replace your gas line from the street is chump change compared to the 3K you will need to spend to upgrade your electrical service from the pole to your house and replace your current panel. All of that will need to be done before taking your home to all electric. Then your utility bills will go up. Electric costs more for the same amount of heat than gas does unless you are somewhere that hydroelectric is the primary means of generation. Now, if you were to install a heat pump system for your heating and cooling, you would see a reduction in energy costs for heating and cooling your home, but you would still need the new electrical service in order to be able to do that, plus the costs of installing the ducting and heat pump system which would be 15-20K on a small house. You would never achieve payback for the expense for the amount of time that you live in the house.

If you want to save costs on the gas line replacement, dig the trench from the street to your home yourself. If piping in the interior of the home needs to be replaced, you can do the distribution system piping as well. Black iron is only moderately difficult to work with for someone who can do a bit of math. Then you can call a plumber out to do the connections at the street and at the regulator outside of your home. That is assuming that your insurance company and municipality do not have an issue with DIY work on gas systems.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 10:13AM
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With utility rates in the New Orleans area, an efficient heat pump is about 20% less expensive to run than an 80% gas furnace. Consider a heat pump mini-split or two. You might also consider a heat pump water heater or solar. It will not be cheap. Installing a new gas line will be less expensive in the short run. 10-15 years down the line, you will be out less money total if you invest in technology now.

How many rooms do you have?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2011 at 6:13PM
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