How many amps is a 50 gallon hot water heater?

When it comes to hot water heaters, one of the most important factors to consider is the amperage or electrical load that the appliance will put on your home’s electrical system. For a typical 50 gallon residential hot water heater, the amp draw can vary quite a bit depending on the fuel type, construction, and features of the specific model.

Key Factors That Determine Hot Water Heater Amperage

Some of the key factors that affect hot water heater amperage include:

  • Fuel type – Electric vs gas vs propane vs tankless
  • Construction – Standard vs hybrid vs heat pump
  • Power rating – Watts, voltage, phases
  • Special features – Multiple heating elements, recirculation pumps

In general, fuel type has the biggest impact on amp draw. Here is a quick overview of how amperage can vary across the different fuel source options for 50 gallon models:

Electric

An electric hot water heater uses electric heating elements to heat the water. This makes electric models the highest in amperage requirements. A standard 50 gallon electric heater will typically draw around 25-50 amps depending on the wattage rating and whether it has one or two heating elements.

Gas

Gas water heaters use natural gas or propane to heat the water, making their electrical needs much lower than electric models. A standard gas storage heater only needs around 1-2 amps to run the pilot light, controls, and burner. The specific amp rating depends on whether it’s natural gas or propane.

Tankless

Tankless or on-demand water heaters only heat water as needed, so they can be powered by gas or electricity. Gas tankless heaters have minimal electrical load similar to gas storage units. Electric tankless models have varying amp draw depending on the activation flow rate – models with higher flow rates need higher amperage.

Heat Pump

Heat pump water heaters use compressor and evaporator coils to extract heat from the air to heat water. They pull some electrical power like an electric heater, but much less as they don’t rely solely on heating elements. A 50 gallon heat pump heater may draw around 15 amps.

Standard Amp Draw by Fuel Type

Here is a breakdown of the typical amperage range for common 50 gallon residential water heater types:

Fuel Type Standard Amperage Range
Electric 25-50 amps
Gas (natural or propane) 1-2 amps
Tankless Electric 15-60 amps
Tankless Gas 1-2 amps
Heat Pump 10-15 amps

As you can see, standard electric storage water heaters have by far the highest amp draw ranging from 25-50 amps. Gas, tankless gas, and heat pump models all need significantly fewer amps for operation.

Factors That Increase Electric Water Heater Amperage

For electric hot water heaters, the main factors that can increase the amperage above the standard range are:

  • Multiple heating elements – Having two or more elements adds amp load.
  • Higher wattage – The higher the watts, the higher the amps.
  • 240V vs 120V – 240 volt heaters pull more amps than 120V models.
  • Recirculation pump – Some heaters have built-in recirculation pumps that add 1-2 amps.

Many 50 gallon electric tank heaters have dual heating elements with both lower and upper thermostats. This allows each element to work independently to optimize efficiency and recovery time. But it also effectively doubles the amperage draw compared to a single element heater.

Likewise, larger 5500W elements will draw more amps than smaller 4500W elements when running at 240V. And any recirculation pump built into the unit will also add to the electrical load in amps.

Do You Need 50 Gallons?

Before deciding on a 50 gallon hot water heater, it’s important to consider whether that size is ideal for your household needs. The fuel type, construction, and features of the heater all play a role in determining the appropriate capacity.

Here are some factors to help decide what size hot water heater makes sense for your home:

  • Number of occupants – More people need more capacity.
  • Peak usage times – Are there periods with lots of hot water demand?
  • Flow rates of fixtures – High flow can deplete a smaller heater faster.
  • Usage habits – Frequent long showers? Lots of baths? High capacity washing machine?
  • Climate – Colder inlet water needs more energy to heat.

For many average families, a 40 gallon unit is often perfectly sufficient. But for larger households with high demand, a 50 gallon heater may be the better choice. It’s also worth noting that with tankless heaters, you essentially have unlimited hot water capacity. So a tankless unit may be able to meet your family’s needs with higher flow rates rather than needing a larger tank.

Choosing the Right Size Breaker

When installing or replacing a hot water heater, it’s crucial to make sure you have an appropriately sized circuit breaker supporting the electrical load. A circuit breaker that’s too small can trip and interrupt operation. Here are some tips on breaker sizing:

  • Check the heater specs for amp rating and recommended breaker size.
  • Allow some extra capacity – don’t size at 100%.
  • For dual element heaters, ensure the breaker can handle both elements.
  • Have a qualified electrician confirm breaker size if uncertain.

In many cases, a 50 gallon electric tank heater will need a 40-60 amp double pole breaker. However, the manufacturer specifications should always be checked to identify the proper breaker based on the exact heater model and features.

It’s also advisable to have some safety factor and size the breaker above the absolute minimum required amps. This avoids potential tripping issues if the elements cycle on more frequently or you install a recirculation pump down the road.

Tips for Maximizing Efficiency

To optimize hot water heater efficiency and minimize electrical costs, here are some helpful tips:

  • Insulate hot water pipes to reduce standby losses.
  • Install heat traps on inlet and outlet fittings.
  • Set temperature only as high as needed.
  • Use low flow showerheads and faucet aerators.
  • Fix any drips and leaks promptly.
  • Consider a tankless or heat pump model.
  • Add a timer to restrict overnight water heating.

Proper insulation and heat traps prevent heat loss from the tank and pipes. Lowering the temperature setting saves energy since less heating is needed. Low flow fixtures reduce waste so less hot water gets flushed down the drain.

Tankless and heat pump water heaters can also provide greater efficiency, but may not make sense for every home. Installing a timer to limit heating during overnight hours when hot water isn’t needed can also save electricity.

Energy Efficient Options to Consider

If you’re looking for an energy efficient 50 gallon hot water heater, here are some top options to consider:

Heat Pump Water Heater

This efficient option uses compressor heat exchange and air temperature to heat water. Models like the 50 gallon Rheem EcoH200L offer energy savings up to 63% compared to standard electric heaters.

Condensing Tankless Water Heater

Condensing technology helps tankless models achieve over 90% efficiency. The Takagi 50 gallon tankless uses gas condensing for endless hot water with low electrical load.

Hybrid Electric Heat Pump

Hybrids like the 50 gallon GE GeoSpring combine a heat pump and standard electric elements to optimize efficiency and recovery. They reduce energy use but keep backup heating capacity.

Solar Water Heaters

Solar models use free heat from the sun to pre-heat water entering the tank. This allows the conventional heating elements to do less work, reducing electrical load.

Rebates and Incentives

There are often great rebates, tax credits, and incentives available for homeowners who invest in an energy efficient water heater. Some options to explore include:

  • Federal tax credits – 26% of costs for heat pump and solar heaters.
  • Manufacturer rebates – Up to $300 back from brands like Rheem, AO Smith, Rinnai.
  • Utility company rebates – Local power companies often provide rebates of $200-$500.
  • State/local programs – Check for additional regional rebates and incentives.

Between federal tax breaks, manufacturer deals, power company rebates, and state programs, the incentive savings can really add up. Be sure to explore all available options before choosing a new energy efficient hot water heater.

The Bottom Line

For a standard 50 gallon electric storage water heater, you can expect an amp draw in the range of 25-50 amps depending on the wattage rating and number of heating elements. Dual element models will be at the higher end of that range. Gas water heaters have very low electric load of just 1-2 amps. Newer options like tankless and heat pump models offer efficiency advantages with electrical loads ranging from 10-60 amps. Choosing the right size circuit breaker and taking advantage of rebates can lead to long term savings on hot water energy costs.

Leave a Comment