Buying a water heater may pay off over the years, but Ontario homeowners have, traditionally, preferred to rent.

In Ontario most homeowners rent a water heater, but in Alberta virtually nobody does.

It’s hard to explain the difference other than habit. Whether one or the other is a better deal depends on how you look at it. In straight cost terms, over time buying is a better deal. When you factor in convenience and hassle-free service for many people renting may be worth the extra cost.

The cost of renting in Ontario is between $13 and $26 a month from Direct Energy or Reliance Home Comfort depending on the size of the heater. You don’t have to worry about maintenance or replacement. When you buy you’re on the hook for any issues that arise after the warranty expires.

The heaters cost between $800 to $1,200 depending on the size, plus $300 to $400 to have them installed. Since a typical heater lasts about 15 years, owning trumps renting after six or seven years, assuming no maintenance is required over that time.

Warren Healy, president of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), says it’s important to read and understand the contract before you rent because it can be long and sometimes difficult to understand.

“Take the time to read through the document, have a friend or neighbour read it, and ask questions to ensure you understand what you are signing,” he said.