How does one tell if a hot water heater is electrically powered?
February 22, 2017 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I want to know if the landlord is paying for the hot water or if I'm paying for it, however I can't find any obvious indication of how the hot water heater is powered. Is there an easy rule of thumb or specific types of connections I should be looking for around the unit?

It's an old house with an oil furnace. Judging by some of the idiosyncrasies of the house I suspect it was not converted into four suites by a professional. The landlord is kinda slummy and the property managers who live next door are pretty intrusive so I try to deal with them as little as possible.
I found out after moving in that my suite's electricity is shared with another suite as well as the common areas ie I get billed for more than my own use. It's annoying but not a huge issue. I basically just divide the electricity bill up 40:40:20 and take the money owed of from the next month's rent. I recently began to wonder if the hot water heater is powered by electricity. If it is I'll have to adjust the way i'm dividing up the electricity bill.
posted by peterpete to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Do you have access at all to any of the utility closets where the hot water tank would be standing? It shouldn't be too far (typically) from where the furnace sits. The label on the tank should be indicative of whether it's electric or gas powered - without a label, you can also just see by the type of fixtures going in - the gas powered tank will also have a flue on the top of the tank to vent outside of the house. The electric tank will not have this.

Another option, but less likely - If you have access to all the breaker boxes for the home you can also see if there's a breaker with a label for water heater.
posted by Karaage at 4:55 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a diagram of gas vs. electric water heaters here under step 4 that might help. Basically a gas water heater has an incoming gas supply line and a flue at the top.
posted by cabingirl at 4:57 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Without being able to see the heater or the main breaker box, impossible to answer.
posted by humboldt32 at 5:03 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

A fueled heater will have a flue for the exhaust gasses, you can look for this item in a wall or roof.
Sometimes it is ganged with the heater flue.

A fueled heater will have an input line with a gas shutoff valve.

If there is one utility, then most likely there is one breaker box, and one large circuit breaker for an electric water heater. 40Amp or above.
posted by nickggully at 5:54 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it's a gas heater, you will probably be able to see or hear the flame when the water is being heated.
posted by kindall at 6:09 PM on February 22, 2017

It's possible that your water is heated by your oil furnace.
posted by unreasonable at 6:35 PM on February 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Has the property been up for sale in the past decade or so? You might be able to find an old online listing that specifies.
posted by teremala at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2017

Do you have access to the water heater? If so, agree with checking for the ventilation (indicates gas).

Do you have access to your own circuit breakers? If so, you could turn them all off for a whole day and see if the hot water turns cold. This would only be a reasonable experiment if the breakers were within your own dwelling.

Also, is there a gas meter outside? If so, you could check it month by month and see how much gets used for a clue. Are there other gas appliances in the suites that you know of?
posted by reeddavid at 12:57 AM on February 23, 2017

In my state, shared meters like that are not legal in most circumstances, if that's of interest to you.
posted by metasarah at 7:20 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

In New England, it's not uncommon for an oil furnace to also provide hot water. It's not really efficient.
posted by theora55 at 2:18 PM on February 23, 2017

Thank you all who read the question and provided helpful advice on where and what to look for. I located the water tank's flue and have thus determined it to not be electric!

@humboldt32 I think you misread (or didn't read) the question which was "Is there an easy rule of thumb or specific types of connections I should be looking for around the unit?"

@metasarah same. It's not great but at this point I consider it leverage in case things go sideways.
posted by peterpete at 12:09 PM on February 26, 2017

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