Are You In Hot Water? Water Heaters And New Federal Standards

If you'll be in the market for a new water heater soon, you may be interested to know about new federal efficiency standards that took effect in April. The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) is expected to save as much as $63 billion in energy costs over the next 30 years.

More efficient appliances always sound like a good thing. And for the most part, more efficient water heaters are great for homeowners -- they save on operating costs, allowing you to spend less to get warm water for showers, laundry, dishes and more. But new models are much larger, and you may not have space readily available to install one.

Water heaters now being manufactured must adhere to standards set out in the act, but there are still plenty of older models for sale in retail stores and through contractors. So if you're purchasing a new water heater in the next few months, you may have a decision to make. Here's what you need to know.

New Requirements for Water Heaters

The NAECA may save a lot of energy, but it hasn't been a quick and easy transition for water heater manufacturers. To meet the new standards, models had to get anywhere from 3 percent more efficient to more than twice as efficient. The amount depends on the size of the water heater and differentiates between models below 55 gallons and those above.

The smaller water heaters can gain efficiency with more insulation. That's a relatively easy update, but it makes the water heaters larger than past models. Heaters over 55 gallons can't get efficiency without a complete redesign, using a heat pump with a compressor (for electric models) or a condenser (for gas models).

Calculating Energy Efficiency

Because the new standards require a higher energy factor, or EF, rating on all water heater models -- that means gas, electric, oil and tankless -- it's helpful to get acquainted with how the EF rating is calculated.

The energy factor simply refers to how much energy is used just to heat water. All appliances lose some energy for operation and due to heating loss incurred in heating the body of the water heater and the air just around it. So the higher the EF is, the better that water heater model converts energy to hot water.

For example, if you had a 0.85 EF, that means that 85 percent of the energy used to power the water heater actually goes to making hot water. New heaters below 55 gallons may only need to be 62 percent efficient while larger heaters may need to be much more so.

What New Standards Mean for You

There may be some issues with new models of water heaters that cause issues for homeowners. With additional insulation, pumps and condensers, the new size for water heaters can be quite a bit bigger.

  • You'll need to make sure that a professional contractor installs your water heater so it is set up correctly. Improper installation may result in less efficient operation.
  • You may spend more than you would have in the past for a similar-sized model.
  • The size of new water heaters may be different, so you'll have to make more room or even re-locate your water heater. This can be expensive.
  • You will need to be especially careful to ensure that the size of the water heater you choose will serve your house and your family size.

Your best bet is to work with an HVAC or plumbing contractor or water heater specialist from a business like Wright Total Indoor Comfort to find the right model for you and get it installed correctly. If you move fast, you can choose from the older types (if space is an issue) or new models (for increased energy efficiency).