For the first time since 2003, widespread changes to water heaters are being enacted nationally and they will affect your next purchase. In a move toward more efficient performance, all water heaters manufactured and purchased after April 16, 2015, must have higher energy efficiency standards.
This is good news for homeowners looking to get more energy efficient appliances. The transition to more efficient units will heat water at a lower cost to the homeowner, as well as reduce more than 172 million metric tons of greenhouse emissions. The trade-off is these water heaters have added components and insulation, making them larger and more expensive to purchase.
If your water heater is in a narrow location or enclosure without much room for adjustment, you might have issues going to a new model. The added insulation making these units more efficient increases the diameter wider and the height taller; therefore, installations in closets and other narrow areas might need to be relocated.
The majority of homes have either a 40- or 50-gallon hot water heater, but for units above 55-gallons there are other new efficiency standards. For water heaters larger than 55-gallons, consumers will have to purchase a tankless or heat pump water heater to achieve the new energy efficiency standards. These types of water heaters are significantly more expensive than tank-style, but they offer far superior efficiency. While some consumers may have initial sticker shock, the savings in utility costs over the life of a unit often end up saving money for homeowners.
For cost-conscious consumers, the good news is you can still purchase and install a water heater with 2014 efficiency standards, as long as it was manufactured before April 16, 2015. Working with a savvy company with a large inventory you can still purchase the cheaper, less-efficient 2014 units until they sell out of stock.
For gas water heaters 50 gallons or less, there is not much change in the EF standards. 60-, 75- and 100-gallon tank style water heaters will need to be replaced with tankless or hybrid units to achieve the required efficiency factor.
Electric water heaters have always had high efficiency standards, but they’re now even more stringent. This is because electricity is less efficient for heating water than natural gas.
For water heaters larger than 55-gallons, there is a major jump in efficiency standards. The EF minimum increases by more than 2 times. So while these units will be more expensive, operating costs at the same consumption-level should be less than half the current standard rate.
So you have a large electric or gas water heater and can longer replace it with another tank-style unit – what are your options?
- Install multiple smaller units: Instead of replacing a 75-gallon water heater with the according-sized tankless or heat pump unit, you could opt to install two 40-gallon heaters to work in tandem instead.
- Convert to tankless: Tankless water heaters heat water as needed, as opposed to constantly. This allows them to function much more efficiently. There can be expensive retrofit and installation costs, but with a average lifespan of 20+ years, a homeowner should break even or save money in lower utility bills over the useful life of the unit.