Gas vs. Electric Pool Heater: Which Should You Choose?

Written by Michael Dean
June 5, 2023

gas vs electric pool heater

There’s nothing like hopping into a perfectly warm swimming pool for some fun. If you’re thinking about investing in a pool heater and are not sure if you should get a gas or electric pool heater, I’m here to help! Below, I cover the major similarities and differences between the two, and which pool owners should get each type of heater.

Main Takeaways

  • Your choice depends heavily on your budget, climate, pool size, local gas/electricity, and existing house infrastructure.
  • The average market price of a 200,000 BTU gas pool heater is $1,700-$2,000; the average market price of a 92,000 BTU electric pool heater is $1,000.
  • Whatever you invest in, you should also buy a solar pool cover to reduce heating costs and help keep your pool equipment in good shape.

Main Similarities Between Gas and Electric Pool Heaters

Gas and electric pool heaters share a few similarities. Let’s discuss these before we jump into the differences:

  • They both heat water using natural gas, either directly or indirectly.
  • The heaters are similar in size, build, and structure.
  • They both must be installed near the pool, either 3 feet above or below the pool’s surface.
  • Contrary to what you might hear, trying to install the heaters yourself is not recommended. In both cases, a professional’s services are necessary.
  • They both work on the principle of energy conversion by drawing in the pool’s water through a filter, heating it either through gas fire or an electrical coil, and sending the water back out.

Main Differences

Now let’s cover how they are different:

  • Gas heaters are more commonly used and cheaper than electricity.
  • Gas heaters tend to heat the water faster, but cost a bit more to install compared to electric pool heaters.

The following sections will expand on these differences in heat performance, energy efficiency, and installation costs (initial and ongoing). But first, a visual comparison so you can get your bearings.

Gas Heater Diagram

Gas pool heater diagram: 1) heat exchanger, 2) burner, 3) fan, 4) cold pool water entry, 5) heated water exit.

Electric Heater Diagram

Electric heater diagram: 1) condenser, 2) compressor, 3) evaporation coil, 4) fan, 5) cool air, 6) warm air.

Heat Performance Comparison

Winner: Gas

Gas is better and faster at heating a pool. The temperature needed to raise the heat is usually calculated by a metric called a British Thermal Unit (BTU). Typically, one BTU is required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. A 20,000-gallon pool (or 166,908 pounds) would need 166,000 BTU to raise the temperature by a few degrees over several hours.

Electrical pool heaters on the market currently offer far lesser BTU output (E.g., EcoSmart is a popular choice that offers a model with an output of only 92,000 BTU), so you’re looking at much slower heating performance and one that is not all that energy-efficient compared to a 200,000 BTU Hayward gas-fired model. In that sense, electrical models are better suited for small indoor pools or spas.

Energy Efficiency Comparison

Winner: Gas

The efficiency of the pool heater unit depends on your local region and the amount of gas or electricity being used. As a general rule, try going for a unit with a thermal efficiency of 80-90% or higher, no matter if it’s a gas or electric pool heater – this helps lower the bill.

When it comes to the specifics, a gas-fired heater wins here as well. While the energy required to raise the temperature of the pool is high, the transfer of heat conducted by the gas pool heater working at 85% efficiency is better than a unit with an electrical element working at 100% efficiency.

Installation Costs Comparison

Winner: Electric

If you already possess a natural gas pipeline, constructing a gas pool heater would be easier but still a bit pricier than an electrical unit. If not, you might need to buy and install a propane tank or a natural gas pipeline, which increases the overall installation cost up to $3,000-$4,000.

After purchase, the base labor cost of installing a gas pool heater can run up to $1,500, which is still a bit on the higher side. It would be ideal to schedule a consultation with a pool company to get a quote that factors in your budget, the size of your pool, the BTU required to heat it, your local climate, and any other additional installation costs necessary for a gas heater (connection to a gas pipeline/installation of propane fuel tanks/installation of vents, etc.).

On the other hand, electricity is more economical to install, costing around $500-$1,000 for labor. So an electric unit would be the winner here in terms of installation costs. However, there are ongoing costs to consider as well.

Ongoing Costs Comparison

Winner: Gas

The ongoing costs of gas pool heaters depend on your local gas and propane prices. Prices will vary according to demand, but you can expect to pay an average of about $2.50 per gallon. Depending on the size of your pool and other factors that affect the price, expect to spend about $8-13 for every hour of propane. And if you’re relying on natural gas, a gas pool heater can average around $300-$400 a month to run, depending on your usage.

An electric pool heater is on the higher side here, with costs running up to possibly $500-$600 a month. Gas is arguably cheaper in the long run in this case.

Maintenance and Repairs Comparison

Winner: Electric

A pool heater is a substantial investment and benefits from checkups and servicing like any complicated piece of machinery. Overall, it’s much easier to maintain and repair an electrical pool heater than a gas pool heater, which usually needs components replaced towards the end, with the worst-case scenarios being damaged heat exchangers or burner trays.

It’s also usually cheaper to get parts for an electrical pool heater compared to gas. Comparatively, costs for upkeep and maintenance are much higher for a gas pool heater. Users also complain about gas pool heaters’ lack of durability and high upkeep costs.

Maintenance Tips

The maintenance of both types of heaters is essential and should be carried out by a professional once every pool season to ensure the equipment is running smoothly. It goes without saying that it costs less money to ensure your pool heater is in good condition than to install a new one.

You should also check up on it yourself once in a while – here are some quick tips for DIY maintenance, regardless of whether it’s a gas or a pool heater:

  • Check your burner intake ports regularly and keep them free of any blockage or debris, and keep an eye out for general wear and tear
  • Have your filter cleaned periodically to ensure a steady flow of clean water
  • Make sure your pool skimmer remains unclogged
  • Check for excessive water leakage inside the heater
  • Purchase a pool cover to bring the bill down and increase the lifespan of your pool’s equipment
  • Maintain the proper pH balance of your pool

When it comes to repairs, I recommend hiring an expert. And as an added tip, try to get a good warranty plan for your heater and other pool equipment. Being diligent about your pool maintenance also helps ensure the pool heating unit’s manufacturer cannot claim negligence on your part if something needs to be repaired or replaced under warranty.

Need to Install a Pool Heater?

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Bottom Line

It all boils down to where you live, how long you want to extend your pool season, and your budget. If you’re in a cold region with low natural gas prices (compared to electricity) and your house has a natural gas pipeline connection, a gas pool heater would be a sensible option since it’ll heat your water quicker at a lower rate.

On the other hand, if your electricity rates are cheaper than your gas and you have a smaller pool, an electric pool heater may be the way to go.

Do you have any more questions about which type of heater to get? Let me know. Also, be sure to read my guides on pool heater sizing, the best pool heaters (if you’re searching for a new one for your swimming pool), and some related columns below.

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