I need a new water heater! Gas or electric? With a tank or tankless? Propane? Solar? Heat pump? Which is better?!

Written by Karen Summerskill

Written by Karen Summerskill

At some point, every home owner must replace their hot water heating system.  Since water heating accounts for about 20% of a home’s energy use, it’s worthwhile doing a little research. It quickly becomes apparent that deciding which system is better is not all that simple.

The answer depends on what you mean by “better.”   Purchase price is not the only thing you need to consider.

Doesn’t a tankless water heater use less energy than a traditional water heater with a storage tank?

It takes the same amount of energy to heat water, no matter what system you use.  A traditional system heats water and stores it, so hot water is ready when you want it, but then the tank loses heat (and energy) from the storage tank.   A tankless system uses an intense amount in a short time, but doesn’t have heat loses from stored hot water.

Isn’t natural gas cleaner than electricity?

In Ontario, our electricity is generated mainly by nuclear, water, wind and solar energy.  So, an electric water heater generates less greenhouse gas than a natural gas water heater.  Hold on to that thought while you consider the economics of using natural gas to heat water.

Is it cheaper to buy an electric water heater tank than a natural gas water heater tank?

Yes, electric water heater tanks are generally less expensive to buy than tanks heated by natural gas.

Is it cheaper to heat water with natural gas or with electricity?

Yes, given current prices, it is generally less expensive to operate a tank heated by natural gas than one heated by electricity.

Isn’t electricity 100% efficient?

Water heater storage tank systems are never 100% efficient since the tanks lose heat. Insulating a hot water tank is always a good investment. That said, electric water heaters have an efficiency rating of 90% since almost all the energy entering the heating elements goes directly to heating water.  Conventional natural gas water heaters have efficiency ratings around 60%, while condensing natural gas water heater tanks can achieve efficiencies over 85%.  

Over its lifecycle, which will cost more?  A natural gas or an electric water heater tank?

The lifecycle cost of either system will change as prices change and a household’s use changes, but, in general, an electric system will cost about 30% more over the 13-year lifecycle of the tank.  That could be a difference of up to $300 dollars each year.

What about tankless systems?

Tankless heating provides a limitless supply of hot water, with no standby heating expenses and no heat loss from storage.  No storage tank means extra space.  However, tankless heaters are much more expensive than traditional storage water heaters.  Electric tankless heaters may require upgraded wiring and they will use electricity on demand, which may mean higher costs if high use is during peak billing hours.  Natural gas models are available but tankless water heaters are generally not an option for rural homes due to lack of access to natural gas and problems with mineral build-up in the heat exchanger.  

I don’t have natural gas where I live.  How does propane compare to electric water heaters?

If you are replacing your oil furnace with a propane furnace, you may also be considering a propane water heater.  Propane creates 38% less greenhouse gas than heating oil (source: propane.ca), but hydro electricity generation creates far less GHG than either propane or natural gas.   Propane is not regulated like electricity, which means that the prices will fluctuate, making it harder to budget and sometimes much more expensive than electricity.  

What about solar thermal?

Solar thermal is an excellent choice for seasonal swimming pools.  For year-round systems in Canada, solar thermal panels collect heat in antifreeze, which is then circulated through a heat exchanger to transfer the heat to water.  The system will require roof space, a backup traditional system, and electricity for pumps. A solar thermal system can meet about 60% of a family’s hot water needs and will reduce your energy bill accordingly.  

What about heat pumps?

You will be hearing more about heat pumps in the future.  Heat pumps move heat from one place to another, working like a refrigerator in reverse.  A typical heat pump water heater will cost over $1,100 compared to $350 for a traditional electric water heater tank.  However, according to Natural Resources Canada, heat pumps water heaters use up to 50% less electricity than traditional water heaters.  An average household of four will see a $330 drop in their annual electricity bill.  Look carefully at the efficiency ratings on the energystar.gov website. It’s not a typo: there are heat pump water heater systems with efficiency ratings of over 250%.  In other words, the higher the demand for hot water, the more sense it makes to invest in a heat pump system. 

Heat pump water heaters require a suitable location, where air can circulate freely.   www.energystar.gov/products/water_heaters/high_efficiency_electric_storage_water_heaters/considerations

Any other options?

Your great-grandparents probably managed with a wood stove and a large cast iron pot to heat water.  It’s not an option that most people would consider, but it’s still an option!

For more information, and to compare products, go to


Select the option “Canada” at the bottom of the Energy Star menu to see products available in Canada.

How to Be a Sustainable Student in Kingston

Written by Tess Wittmann

Written by Tess Wittmann

School is just around the corner and it is time to start preparing! There is a lot you can do on your own to positively impact the environment, so check out this list to see how you can become a more sustainable student in Kingston!

1) Check out Boho & Hobo’s eco-products such as the Campus Kit to save money and live zero waste.

2) Go to Tara Natural Foods downtown for a wide variety of wholesome foods, from fresh, local, produce, to the latest developments in health supplements and super foods.

3) Grab a tea or coffee at the Tea Room: North America's first zero-consumer waste, carbon neutral café.

4) Reduce by reusing clothing! Try out thrift shopping at Ca$h for Clothes or the Salvation Army.

5) Did you hear about the petition earlier this summer to ban plastic straws in Kingston? Carry a reusable straw with you! You can find them in many eco-friendly stores in Kingston like the Living Rooms.

6) Be sure to use a reusable water bottle and travel mugs to avoid single-use cups and bottles. Even if they can be recycled, it is better to reuse to reduce consumption!

7) Use reusable bags as an alternative to single-use bags. You won’t have to pay for plastic bags and you will lessen your environmental impact.

8) Take notes electronically or think about eco-friendly notebooks and supplies if you prefer by hand! For example, the Sustainable Earth notebooks by Staples.

9) Use campus recycling and composting. Take a look at Queen’s University Recycling and St. Lawrence College’s Recycling.

10) Promote sustainable transportation by walking, biking, boarding, and rollerblading to school. Here are St. Lawrence College’s bike rack locations and Queen’s University’s bike rack locations. Register your bike at Queen’s University or St. Lawrence College.

Also, use the bus! Learn how to use the Rack & Roll program by mounting your bike on the bus. Watch this video to learn how to use it. St. Lawrence College and Queen’s student cards work as free bus passes, and high school students are also eligible for free bus passes.

11) Buy used textbooks or online copies! Used books are going to cost you less, and they don’t contribute to new printing.

12) Join an environmental club/green team! This provides the opportunity to work with like-minded individuals and brainstorm to create positive change. Check out Queen’s University student initiatives and St. Lawrence College’s student initiatives.

13) Participate in sustainability events such as Sustainability Week at Queen’s University (Sept/Oct), SK’s Climate Change Symposium (January), Pitch-In (April), and Earth Day (April).

14) Carpool to save money, help the environment and reduce traffic! Win-win-win! Carpooling programs exist at both St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University.

15) Grab a drying rack and hang your clothes instead of using the dryer! Save money and energy! 

16) Recycle and compost! It is cheaper than paying for garbage tags, and it's good for the planet.

17) Join a community garden or create your own if you are here for the summer! Have delicious fun while improving the sustainability of our City!

18) Attempt the Queen’s Vegan Pledge! Support a more sustainable lifestyle by going vegan for the month, or even longer!

19) Try the SK Summer Challenge on your own! Avoid bringing or buying single-use items at school by using reusable alternatives.

20) Lush sells a package-free shampoo bar! They eliminate packaging all together and outlast two to three bottles of liquid shampoo.

21) Check out these 10 apps for Sustainable Living.

22) More and more people are ordering stuff online and having it delivered to their door.  While that might reduce the amount that you are travelling, your stuff still needs to travel.  If you are ordering several items, order them at the same time or order things with a friend.  Fewer deliveries means less packaging and fewer trips to your house!

23) If you are furnishing your house, ask older relatives if they have items you can take. If grandma is downsizing, this is the perfect time for you to go retro. If this isn’t possible, buy household items with your roommates and avoid duplicating items that don't get used often.

24) Volunteer at SK or another community organization! We love engaging with excited and passionate students.

Try out a few of these to work toward becoming a more sustainable student and enhancing Kingston’s resiliency and livability as a community! If you try any of these, or have your own sustainable student tips, post about it on Facebook and tag us (@sustainablekingston). Enjoy the school year and reach out if you have any questions.

Why the Future of Sustainability in Kingston is Still Incredible

Written by Kristin Mullin

Written by Kristin Mullin

Despite the uncertainty regarding the future of province led reductions to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, Sustainable Kingston (SK) is focused on its mission and excited about the future of Sustainability in our community. The team at SK continues to lead the way in working with the community to transform our society and create a more resilient Kingston.   

Through its growing Green Economy Program (an SK program that until recently was partially funded by the Ontario Cap and Trade program), Sustainable Kingston has supported 29 local businesses in setting and achieving carbon reduction targets.  In 2017, this program recorded a reduction of over 215 tonnes of carbon emissions – this offset is the equivalent of taking 47 passenger vehicles off the road for an entire year. SK will continue to host its Green Economy Program and plans to expand it geographically to support more businesses. 

Another initiative of Sustainable Kingston is to be a leader in bringing the community together to discuss important issues such as climate change, sustainable transportation, food security, environmental stewardship and economic prosperity. SK is convening with partners such as the City of Kingston, St. Lawrence College, Utilities Kingston, Limestone District School board, KFL&A Health Unit as well as local service groups to provide bold solutions to the issues that face our community.

In just the last 12 months we have seen positive change, created by people and organizations who are willing to directly invest in our community. Some of these changes are city led, such as new electric vehicle charging stations, and the proposed active transportation plan, or grassroots led movements by our friends at Boho & Hobo or Tri-Art Mfg. 

The team at SK is more motivated than ever to continue to provide the services that support positive action in our community, with or without the support of our provincial government, but with strong local members and partners. 

To join our movement, and reduce your carbon footprint please visit sustainablekingston.com