A 50-gallon water heater is usually the recommended size for houses with one to three bathrooms and families of three to six people. Millions of homes fall into this category, so the 50-gallon water heater is one of the most popular models on the market.
Given that there are a limited number of reputable manufacturers making these devices, choosing the right model would seem pretty easy. However, each brand produces a whole host of different models, and the decision isn’t as straightforward as it may first appear.
In this article, we examine the key performance issues that will affect your decision. Use this information and a selection of real-world examples to help identify the best 50-gallon gas water heaters for your home.
- BEST OVERALL: Rheem Performance Platinum Gas Water Heater
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Rheem Performance Atmospheric Gas Water Heater
- BEST LOW NOx: A.O. Smith Signature 100 50-Gallon Gas Water Heater
- BEST ULTRA-LOW NOx: A.O. Smith Signature 100 Ultra-Low NOx Water Heater
- BEST SHORT: Rheem Performance Atmospheric Short Gas Water Heater
- BEST PROPANE: Rheem Performance Platinum Propane Water Heater
- ALSO CONSIDER: Reliance 50-Gallon Tall Natural Gas Water Heater
What to Consider When Choosing a 50-Gallon Gas Water Heater
Choosing the best water heater can be a complex process, but for the purpose of this article, we have taken size out of the equation. However, the fact that all of our choices are 50-gallon gas water heaters is only part of the equation, and the following aspects still need to be considered.
First-Hour Rating and Recovery Rate
The first-hour rating is the volume of hot water that can be supplied per hour, assuming that the tank is already full to a temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the standard set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Gas models are usually more productive than their electric counterparts. The first-hour rate for an electric model might be somewhere around 60 to 70 gallons, while for gas it could be 80 to 100 gallons.
The recovery rate is how quickly the water reheats if the tank is completely emptied. Some manufacturers give the length of time to fill the tank, while most give GPH (gallons per hour). However, these figures can sometimes be difficult to find.
Tank vs. Tankless
For those who are debating whether to choose a tankless hot water, there are pros and cons of tank vs. tankless water heaters.
To summarize quickly, tanks like the 50-gallon gas water heaters listed in this guide generally cost less to purchase, install, and maintain. Tankless models heat water on demand. They are typically more economical to run but initially more expensive. They may also struggle to supply sufficient hot water if, for example, two people shower at the same time.
Fifty-gallon water heaters are made of two steel tanks—one inside the other—with a high-density foam injected between them to provide insulation. The outer tank is usually painted. The inner tank is either stainless steel or carbon steel with a ceramic coating inside (often called “glass-lined”). Both approaches combat corrosion. Stainless steel is more durable but also more costly.
A sacrificial anode (a metal alloy pipe) positioned inside acts like a magnet to corrosion, drawing it away from the more sensitive parts of the heater. An important maintenance task is to check this every few years and replace it if it’s in poor condition. Fitting a new one extends the life of the main unit.
Some water heaters have anti-scale devices, and these are worth considering for those who live in areas with hard water. However, this feature is not common. Connectors and the drain valve can be plastic or brass. Brass is considered a sign of quality and is arguably more durable, though modern polymers are plenty tough.
How fast the water heats up depends on a number of factors, but the raw performance figures are useful for comparison. With gas water heaters, the figure to look for is BTUs (British thermal units). Higher numbers are better, though this can have an impact on the economy.
Energy efficiency is a key factor in reducing utility bills, which for most people are the second highest cost after household heating. Since 2015, the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) has set the minimum standards. More recently, the DOE has established a uniform energy factor (UEF), and every water heater should provide this figure. Most gas water heaters can have a UEF between 0.60 and 0.70.
While 50-gallon gas water heaters aren’t inherently dangerous, they do contain a live flame, so certain precautions are sensible. All gas water heaters should have venting to prevent gas buildup, and some of the better models have sensors that will disable the ignition circuit if this happens. It’s also important to ensure good airflow around the unit to prevent carbon monoxide (CO2) concentrations. Installing a CO2 monitor in the vicinity of the water heater is worth considering.
Flammable materials (anything from waste paper to paint thinners) should always be kept well away from the water heater, even if they are in sealed containers.
In addition, the heaters can produce low nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are responsible for adding to air pollution and can cause severe breathing difficulties. Some states regulate this feature to reduce harmful emissions into the atmosphere, requiring low or ultralow NOx ratings on appliances like gas water heaters.
Many low-cost 50-gallon gas water heaters are “dumb” units in that they are connected, set to temperature, and then left to self-regulate. More modern models feature electronic controls and a few have digital displays. These allow precise water temperature settings. They may also display water flow rate, and some have fault diagnostics.
The very latest 50-gallon gas water heaters are smart models that can offer Wi-Fi connectivity (usually as an extra). This can allow monitoring and control from anywhere through a smartphone as long as the water heater is within range of a Wi-Fi signal. It is important to check the features offered since they vary considerably.
Our Top Picks
The following picks offer an excellent balance between performance and price, and as a result, each is what we believe to be the best 50-gallon water heater in its particular category.
The Rheem Performance Platinum 50-gallon gas water heater is rated as suitable for households of three to five people. The 40,000-BTU burners give first-hour production of 78 gallons and a recovery rate of 40.4 GPH. While these figures are not exceptional, few rivals produce this amount of hot water while maintaining a UEF of 0.68. This is possible thanks to a clever flue damper that traps heat within the tank. Rheem claims that over 12 months, this model can save about $200 in energy costs compared to standard 50-gallon water heaters.
The Rheem Performance Platinum requires a standard 110-volt electrical feed, but the benefit is that this provides reliable electronic ignition and means no pilot light is necessary, which increases safety. This model also has electronic diagnostics and can have Wi-Fi fitted for remote monitoring and control. The required connectivity module does cost extra.
- UEF: 0.68
- First hour: 78 gallons
- Recovery: 40.4 GPH
- Powerful 40,000-BTU burners
- Electronic ignition
- Wi-Fi compatible (extra cost)
- Premium price
- Not ultralow NOx
Get the Rheem Performance Platinum 50-gallon gas water heater at The Home Depot or (with Wi-Fi) Walmart.
Standard 50-gallon gas water heaters like this Rheem Performance Atmospheric model offer a basic yet well-proven design. The 38,000-BTU burners may not be as powerful statistically as the more advanced Performance Platinum, yet this unit is equally capable of providing hot water for three- to five-person homes. At 85 gallons, the first-hour rate is actually higher than some other models, and a 38.4 GPH recovery is competitive.
Economy suffers a little with a UEF of 0.63. Nevertheless, this gas water heater compares favorably with similar rivals. There isn’t any electronic ignition or control, but the push-button starting is reliable and doesn’t require an electrical connection, which simplifies installation. The combustion system needs no filters, so there is zero maintenance beyond checking the anode every few years.
- UEF: 0.63
- First hour: 85 gallons
- Recovery: 38.4 gph
- Renowned reliability
- Virtually maintenance-free
- Budget-friendly price
- Basic temperature control
- Modest economy
Get the Rheem Performance Atmospheric 50-gallon gas water heater at The Home Depot.
The A.O. Smith Signature 100 50-gallon gas water heater underlines many of the reasons gas models are popular. The 0.62 UEF is fairly ordinary, but the 40,000-BTU heater delivers an impressive first-hour rate of 81 gallons and recovery of 41 GPH. It heats water quickly and continues to refill the tank rapidly as it is used. Although there’s no digital display, electronic control allows precise water temperature settings.
The A.O. Smith brand has a tremendous reputation for reliability and durability. The tank is glass-coated with a self-clean function to limit sediment buildup. The heater is also rated low NOx, which produces less emissions. The A.O. Smith Signature 100 is also very competitively priced.
- UEF: 0.62
- First hour: 81 gallons
- Recovery: 41 GPH
- Low NOx
- Electronic control
- Competitive price
- Modest efficiency
- Occasional shipping damage
Get the A.O. Smith 50-gallon gas water heater at Lowe’s.
ULN stands for “ultra-low NOx.” This feature contributes even less noxious emissions than low NOx water heaters, so it should meet the regulations in states that have set standards. It would be easy to assume that a ULN water heater would produce lower performance than a standard model. However, at 84 gallons, the A.O. Smith Signature 100 ULN actually ranks among the best first-hour figures seen from this type of gas water heater. Recovery of 42 GPH is equally impressive.
Otherwise, this 50-gallon water heater is much like A.O. Smith’s standard model. It is glass-filled for durability, features self-cleaning, has safety features that monitor excess vapor, and includes a temperature and pressure-relief valve.
- UEF: 0.61
- First hour: 84 gallons
- Recovery: 42 GPH
- Environmentally friendly water heater
- Rapid heating
- Very affordable
- A few reports of burner problems
- Plastic drain valve
Get the A.O. Smith ULN 50-gallon gas water heater at Lowe’s.
Fitting a 50-gallon gas water heater into new builds is usually straightforward, but in older buildings it can be more problematic, especially in basements where low beams can get in the way. With a height of just 51 inches, the Rheem Performance Atmospheric Short offers an effective solution. Diameter does increase, of course, so it will be important to check the available space. Still, the unit is only 3 inches wider than standard water heaters.
In terms of hot water supply, the figures are once again sufficient for a household of up to five people. It has an 86-gallon first-hour heating and 40.4 GPH recovery. Its UEF, at 0.64, is better than that of many competitors. The push-button ignition leads to relatively straightforward installation.
Although some owners have reported leaks, this doesn’t seem to be a common problem. Without precise details of the installation and who performed it, it’s impossible to know where the fault originated.
- UEF: 0.64
- First hour: 86 gallons
- Recovery: 40.4 GPH
- Ideal when height is restricted
- Economical performance
- Competitive cost
- Larger diameter than standard
- Occasional leaks reported
Get the Rheem short 50-gallon gas water heater at The Home Depot.
Although natural gas supplies reach much of the United States, there are rural areas where it isn’t available. Electric water heaters are one option, but many models don’t offer the same levels of economy. Another solution is to use a propane water heater. This pick is based on our top choice for natural gas, the Rheem Performance Platinum, and it shares many of its features.
With a UEF of 0.68, it is equally efficient. The propane version has a slightly higher first-hour rate of 85 gallons, though recovery drops to 36.4 GPH. Like the natural gas version, this water heater requires a 110-volt supply, and as a result, it benefits from the same electronic ignition and control. There’s also the ability to add Wi-Fi connectivity.
While it certainly isn’t an inexpensive 50-gallon water heater, maintenance costs can be reasonable. Using propane often results in savings over the life of the unit when compared to many electric alternatives.
- UEF: 0.68
- First hour: 85 gallons
- Recovery: 36.4 GPH
- Gas efficiency anywhere
- Energy Star certified
- Wi-Fi compatible (module is extra)
- Premium price
- Works only with propane
Get the Rheem propane 50-gallon gas water heater at The Home Depot.
Although Rheem and A.O. Smith nearly dominate the 50-gallon gas water heater market, this model from Reliance is well worth considering. Piezo electric ignition means it doesn’t require external power and thus is relatively easy to install. Unlike some models that have only basic heat adjustment, the Reliance features a precise control valve, allowing an accurate setting of hot water output.
The 40,000-BTU burners provide an impressive first-hour performance of 81 gallons. A UEF of 0.62 is common for 50-gallon water heaters of this type. However, we were unable to locate a recovery rate from retailers or via the Reliance website. We have no reason to think it wouldn’t be similar to competitor models, as the cost is comparable.
- UEF: 0.62
- First hour: 81 gallons
- Recovery: Not available
- Powerful 40,000-BTU burners
- Electronic temperature control
- Competitive price
- No recovery rate provided
- Not for use in California or Utah
Get the Reliance 50-gallon gas water heater at Ace Hardware.
The Rheem Performance Platinum is a 50-gallon gas water heater that provides excellent output for households of three to five people and offers lasting economy. Wi-Fi control can be added for monitoring and management. While not the most expensive water heater, it does carry a premium price tag. The standard Rheem Performance Atmospheric is a basic, low-cost solution that many people will find perfectly acceptable.
How We Chose the Best 50-Gallon Gas Water Heaters
In our experience, gas water heaters have changed little over the years. However, to make sure we had all the relevant information, the Bob Vila team researched all the leading manufacturers and the latest products.
There are relatively few makers of high-quality 50-gallon gas water heaters, but each produces a variety of models. The main features we looked for were energy efficiency, reliability, ease of use, and low maintenance.
Budget is always important, but buying a gas water heater based on price alone can be a false economy. We looked for a well-established reputation for durability first, then tried to find models across as wide a range of prices as possible.
There is a lot of useful information in the article above, and we’ve answered many questions you might have had about features and performance. However, while we were researching the best 50-gallon gas water heaters, we came across a number of related queries that deserve more focus, so we have responded to those here.
Q. How many showers can you get out of a 50-gallon water heater?
It depends on how long you spend in the shower and the flow rate of the showerhead. On average, you would expect to get two or three 8-minute showers from a 50-gallon water heater before it goes cold.
Q. How long does it take for a 50-gallon gas water heater to heat up?
The performance will have an impact as will the water temperature required. Assuming a typical water supply of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and an output requirement of 140 degrees, it should take between 45 minutes and an hour to heat a 50-gallon gas water heater.
Q. Is a 50-gallon water heater worth it?
A 50-gallon water heater is recommended for households of three to six people. Statistics also show that a 50-gallon gas water heater costs no more to run than a 40-gallon model.
Q. Can I install a water heater myself?
If you have the necessary understanding of gas fittings, you likely can install a water heater yourself. Be aware that there may be building codes that restrict where you site the heater. However, if you’re not 100 percent confident, we recommend consulting a professional. They have the skills and knowledge to install your gas water heater safely.
Q. What are the signs of a water heater going bad?
There are several common signs that a water heater is going bad:
- Hot water runs out sooner than expected.
- The water isn’t getting as hot as it once did.
- The water looks brown or contains small particles.
- The water heater has become noisy.
- The water heater has developed a leak.
A quick examination by an expert should indicate whether the fault can be repaired or if a new water heater is necessary.