April 16th, 2015 is right around the corner and the old standard storage tank water heater is getting a makeover. I thought it would be good to go over a few things as this new change could limit what’s available in water heaters and increase the cost.
Per the NAECA (National Appliance Energy Conservation Act) as of April 16th, 2015, the vessel storing and maintaining gallons of hot water day and night with its constant glow of the pilot at the ready, will no longer meet the new energy standards. Water heaters built thereafter will have new energy requirements. This goes for gas, propane, oil, and electric water heaters. This win for conserving energy and reducing emissions is not without growing pains.
According to the US Department of Energy, new mandatory standards “will result in approximately $63 billion in energy bill savings for products shipped from 2015-2044. The standard will avoid about 172.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of about 33.8 million automobiles.”
Improving energy conservation is better for the environment, and benefits all of us in the long run. And a more efficient use of energy can reduce utility costs for the average home owner. All the ways that future water heaters will change are still unknown, but manufacturers say there are some things we should be aware of as the deadline approaches. After April 16th only water heaters that meet the new NAECA Standard will be manufactured. This does not mean that non-conforming water heaters cannot be sold or installed, but once the old stock is gone, it’s gone. After the deadline, if you want a water heater that meets the new standards you should specify this to ensure you don’t receive one of the older models.
Though these water heaters are going to improve efficiency, it won’t come without a price. Some models will no longer be built so there will be fewer options when it comes to size and specific products. As an example, a standard 50 gallon gas water heater from one manufacturer will increase in diameter as much as two inches. Not a big deal where there is plenty of clearance, but we’ve run into plenty of water heater installations where there isn’t even half an inch to play with. That access through a tight opening, that spot squeezed between the furnace and the garage wall, the enclosure with zero clearance to three sides of the tank, all could make a minor increase in size dramatically effect whether a replacement water heater would fit or need to be completely relocated.
Another added cost will come from manufacturing to the new standards. We may see various water heaters equipped with additional energy saving technology; anything from more insulation to an electronic ignition system that replaces a conventional standing pilot on gas models. Gas water heaters over 55 gallons will need to incorporate condensing technology to meet the new requirements. For electric water heaters over 55 gallons it may mean a heat pump water heater to gain the required EF (Energy Factor) rating. One manufacturer we work with has told us to expect these changes to increase production costs from 10% to 30%.
Manufacturers are doing their best to produce products that can directly replace the old models and still meet the new standards. However, some water heaters will not be a standard “drop-in” replacement and will need more work to install than we are used to.
What should you do to prepare for these changes in April 16th, 2015?
• If you have a tank located in a tight space, and that size tank is no longer available, you will probably need to downsize the tank or relocate the water heater. If you have an older water heater you might want to replace it now with a model of the same size and capacity, while they’re still available. This would buy you time before replacing the tank with one that meets the new requirements. Hopefully by then there will be a product that meets the new efficiency standards, as well as your capacity and space requirements.
• Water heaters over 55 gallons that meet the new standards will probably cost more than an older model of the same size; another reason to consider a replacement while the product is still available. Know that there may be ways to get the hot water you need with a smaller tank. A professional plumber would be worth consulting before an emergency replacement.
• When ordering a water heater replacement, one way to help keep costs down is to have as much information on your water heater as possible. Typically the things that will help you get the right water heater the first time are: width and height of tank, any access restrictions, height of water connections coming out of the wall, type of venting (does it go through the side wall, is it plastic or metal), brand & model #, gallons, and BTU’s (for gas or propane).
• Water heaters are becoming more technically advanced. You may have installed one in the past, but the new changes may require different installation for safe and proper operation.
Although there are some concerns with meeting the new mandatory energy standards, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions is the future for energy consumption. Ultimately, it will mean a cleaner environment, and will reduce the operating costs of our appliances.
When it comes to your water heater, regardless of these upcoming changes, the best thing you can do is be prepared and proactive. Know the age of your water heater and how to shut it down in an emergency. Plan to replace a water heater on your terms, rather than letting it become an out of service and/or property damaging problem.