When it comes to energy efficiency and saving money on energy usage at home, your water heater is major component. In this common device, water is heated to a temperature much higher than required by the end use and stored in a large tank until a hot water tap is opened or something demands it such as washing machine or dishwasher.
An alternative to a tank based hot water heater is the spot heater design which heats the water only when their is demand for it. These types of devices are much more efficient than the tank heaters and required considerable less space. A downside to this is that the device is best located near the point of use which often requires that if take up space in areas where space is limited such as the kitchen cupboard or closet.
Water heaters can be powered by electricity only or with fuels such as propane, natural gas, oil or even wood. Solar hot water heaters simple use the sun to heat the water before storing it in a tank.
In the U.S. hot water as a heat source has all but disappeared in recent years but is still very popular and relevant in other countries around the world. Lately the US has focused on reducing home energy usage for appliances and has now turned their attention to commercial hot water heater standards.
Water heater standards changing in the U.S.
Water heaters are in the spotlight this month as manufacturers respond to updated federal regulations with better insulation and more efficient technologies. While changes to efficiency minimums may seem minor, the impacts for certain customers may be significant.
Some homeowners will find their old water heaters aren’t as easy to replace as they used to be.
Updated minimum energy efficiency levels for residential water heaters take effect in April 2015.
George M. Chapman of the Coalition for ENERGY STAR® Water Heaters commented on the changes:
By raising the bar, customers will benefit from units that waste less energy and cost less to operate over time, a meaningful benefit when water heating accounts for one-fifth of household energy costs and hundreds of dollars each year.
Water heater manufacturers are responding by updating their product lines, and in some cases, discontinuing certain models. These updated products may mean that a water heater replacement is no longer a simple swap out.
One major challenge is tight spaces. Storage water heaters with more insulation are wider and taller, and may not fit through narrow doors or into small closets. Customers have a number of options, such as choosing a smaller tank size or a narrower model. Changing the installation location is a more drastic option.
While most customers will find their new water heater fits fine in the existing space, a water heater replacement is a perfect time to discuss the best, most efficient option for your family with your plumbing professional.
A second significant impact affects water heaters that store more than 55 gallons. Electric models will now include heat pumps, resulting in several additional installation considerations. Heat pump models are taller, often 5–7 feet, require sufficient space around them to function optimally, and use drain lines to dispose of condensate. Many gas models over 55 gallons use condensing technology that similarly requires condensate drain lines and corrosion resistant venting. These models typically require access to a power source as well. Most tankless water heaters meet the new standards already and will see few changes.
Consumers have options across a range of styles and efficiency levels. ENERGY STAR, a voluntary program that recognizes energy efficient water heaters made by more than two dozen manufacturers, has updated its criteria too. A plumber can identify which model is best for a home’s layout and hot water needs. Customers will find new options when it comes time for a water heater.
The choice a customer makes regarding a replacement water heater can be made in a minute, but the impacts of that decision on a utility bill can last well over a decade.
The updated efficiency regulations will help ensure customers get the most out of their water heater for whichever model they choose.
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.