The US Department of Energy has been pushing for tighter home energy consumption guidelines since 2010, and new federal legislation effective April 16, 2015, has changed the types of new water heaters that homeowners will be buying in going forward. The new standards apply to all new heaters, including gas-fired, oil-fired, electric, tabletop, instantaneous gas-fired and instantaneous electric units.
The DOE projects that the newer heaters will save $10 billion and prevent the release of up to 164 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years, the equivalent of taking 46 million automobiles off American highways.
That figure may seem like a stretch, but hot water is an expensive luxury. Household water heating is second only to heating and cooling costs in most households. Together, all three functions account for up to 60 percent of a home’s energy consumption. More efficient water heaters will significantly reduce these costs for consumers both directly and indirectly through a cleaner environment.
Those energy-cost savings may take a while to become evident, though. The newer energy-efficient models are up to two inches longer than older models. High energy efficiency means more insulation around the tanks, so a new tank of the same capacity as the old one will not fit in the same remote closet as your old one did. Fortunately, manufacturers have been sharing information with contractors and plumbers, making the whole installation process a little easier.
Large-capacity heaters that hold 55 gallons or more will make their appearance in larger homes. These work on a different principle than traditional heaters, requiring heat pumps, compressors and evaporator coils similar to those found in refrigerators for increased efficiency. They also cost up to 30 percent more than older models because of the costs associated with their development.
If this sounds like a major and painful expense, it is. Keep in mind that you will recover the initial steeper cost of a new hot water heater in a rather short time because of reduced fuel costs.
On the other hand, you might not experience sticker shock at all. Many manufacturers have been making water heaters that are compliant with the new standards for several years in anticipation of the regulations’ passage. They may cost slightly more than a similar model made 20 years ago, but nowhere near 30 percent more.