New Water Heater Regulations 


NAECA Requirements to take effect April 16, 2015

After April 15, 2015 new water heater regulations may cause a routine water heater replacement to become an unexpectedly expensive event for homeowners.  The U.S. Department of Energy will begin enforcing new energy standards for hot water heaters in residential buildings.  The updates to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) require new water heaters to be more environmentally conscious.  These new heaters are larger and more costly than the water heaters that are presently available under current regulations.

These new regulations impose new environmentally friendly standards and are aimed at increasing the Energy Factor (EF) ratings.  EF ratings are a unit of measurement used to gauge the total amount of energy used by an appliance.  Unfortunately these changes come with a cost. 

Our customers could face price increases of 15% to 35% when replacing their existing water heaters.  Not only will the cost of water haters increase an average of $100-$150, but installation and maintenance costs will likely rise as well.  As a result of the new regulations, a more complicated installation and an increased amount of system parts necessary, homeowners could face a hefty replacement fee in the short run. 

To achieve these new efficiency standards in gas-fired water tanks that hold fewer than 55 gallons, manufacturers will increase the amount of insulation surrounding the tank. By itself, that’s not bad, but the extra insulation will increase both the diameter and the height of the tank by two inches or more.

 In addition, the new requirements eliminate standing pilot lights. Your current water heater may or may not have a pilotless ignition system. If you don’t have a standing pilot light, you have a mechanical, spark-based ignition. Your new water heater will come equipped with an intermittent, electronic pilotless ignition system. Depending upon the tank’s size, it may also be outfitted with a mechanical damper system as part of the tank’s exhaust, both of which will require the addition of 120 V electrical service.

The addition of electronic ignition means that new gas-fired water heaters will not work during a power outage. Homeowners will need to monitor the status of their storage tanks or connect the tank circuit to a backup power supply to guard against freeze-related damage during prolonged power outages.

For storage tanks that exceed 55 gallons, the addition of a condenser unit is the most likely way to achieve the new minimum efficiency requirements. A condensing water heater will require mechanical damping at the exhaust, electrical control for both the damper and the condenser, and a drain to eliminate condensate buildup.

The design changes to a conventional water tank can cause some logistical problems during replacement. If your current water heater is a tight fit, you may not be able to replace your tank with a tank of the same size. A change in the tank footprint of two inches in diameter and the addition of two inches in height could mean the difference between fitting and not fitting a new tank into an existing utility closet. Increased tank sizes also mean re-plumbing your existing water heater connections along with adding electrical service. For tanks that exceed a 55-gallon capacity, condensation drainage may pose the biggest challenge. If your water heater does not already have easy access to a drain, adding one might be technically challenging at the least, if not impossible in some cases.

The changes also significantly increase the skill level required to replace a water heater. Because water heaters have not changed much in size or design in decades, few or no changes to existing plumbing are required to disconnect an old tank and install a new one. With the new regulations, water heater replacement will require plumbing, venting and electrical skills that likely exceed the competence of the average homeowner or handyman. In short, these new tanks aren’t your father’s water heaters.

The Department of Energy  has more information on new requirements for water heaters coming this spring. To avoid a potentially costly situation, hot water heaters getting close to the eight-year mark or older can be replaced in the coming months before new regulations take effect. Homeowners are encouraged to contact as soon as possible, once old inventory has been exhausted only new models will be available.

Other Sources: 

AO Smith, the makers of State Water Heaters, Explain the New NAECA Regulations

A short video by Rheem is available by clicking here.

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