If replacing your home’s water heating system is in your plans, new water heater standards could affect your decision. New federal minimum energy efficiency standards take effect April 16, 2015, for virtually all residential storage tank water heaters, though the main effect will be on storage tank models. Affected water heaters manufactured before April 15, 2015, can be purchased and installed after that date.
The new federal standards set higher energy factor (EF) ratings on residential tank water heaters. The standards are meant to significantly lower the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere to slow the pace of climate change. According to one federal government-issued statistic, the new water heater standards will eliminate about 172 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the yearly greenhouse gas emissions of about 33.8 million motor vehicles.
The Price You’ll Pay
While the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts the new standards will save consumers $63 billion or more in energy bills over the next three decades, there’s definitely a price consumers will pay, both in purchasing and installing a new storage-tank water heater.
Efficiency doesn’t come cheap, as anyone knows who has paid top dollar for a high-efficiency A/C or furnace. With the new water heater standards, the cost of improving efficiency – the main one is adding insulation to tanks – will contribute to the purchase price of a new storage tank water heater. That’s not all. The added insulation will make water heaters taller, wider and heavier, even if they hold the same amount of hot water as your old water heater.
If your existing water heater is located in a tight space, you may not be able to upgrade to the same capacity unless you knock down a wall or move the water heater to a bigger room. Venting requirements also will be more involved, adding to the installation cost.
If you have an electric water heater with a tank in excess of 55 gallons, which is common in larger households, you’ll have to upgrade to heat-pump technology, which could double the cost of your new storage-tank water heater.
For standard water heaters, the cost of this improved efficiency is likely to add an average of 30 percent to the cost of replacing the water heater. Of course, the improved efficiency also will result in lower water bills, estimated at about dollar or two a month. That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up over time.
Time’s Running Out
If you know you’ll be replacing your tank water heater in the next year or two, it makes sense to consider taking action now by finding a model manufactured before the April 15 cut-off date. The availability of these pre-high-efficiency models will dwindle as time passes, however. Factories already have started churning out the higher-efficiency tank water heaters. Buying an older model now could save up to 35 percent on the purchase price, as well as substantial dollars on installation.
If you’re not sure about your water heater, it might help to know that the average useful service life of a tank water heater is between 8 and 12 years. If yours is more than 10 years old, you’ll likely be replacing it in the next two or three years anyway. If you have hard water or haven’t maintained your water heater, its life span could be considerably shorter than these numbers.
Other changes you’ll likely see with the new high efficiency water heaters are smaller tanks (residential tanks in excess of 55 gallons may not be available), and size classes may be smaller, too. Some 50-gallon tanks may only hold 46 gallons under the new standards.
Consider Going Tankless
More homeowners probably will be amenable to considering tankless water heaters. They take up less space and offer as much on-demand hot water as you want, as long as there aren’t too many simultaneous uses. Tankless water heaters reportedly already satisfy the new energy factor requirements set by the Department of Energy.
Federal Tax Credit
For consumers who go solar, the federal government is offering some encouragement in the form of the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit. This amounts to 30 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing a qualifying solar water heater.