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New Standards for Water Heaters

April 1, 2015

New minimum energy-efficiency standards go into effect for nearly all residential gas and electric water heaters on April 16, 2015. The Department of Energy’s National Appliance Energy Conservation Act sets higher energy-factor requirements designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions “equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of about 33.8 million automobiles,” according to the department’s website.

Water heaters bought after the standards go into effect will be slightly larger than current models because they have more insulation and redesigned internal parts and thus will have a purchase price about 35 percent higher. But additional installation costs could arise if the new model, because of its bigger size, doesn’t fit into the old heater’s space. 

The new water heaters are wider and taller. Units smaller than 55 gallons are expected to grow 2 to 8 inches in height and 2 to 8 inches in width. Electric units over 55 gallons will also increase in size, as the water heaters will need an additional heat pump, and gas water heaters of the same gallon size will require a new high-efficiency condensing tank to meet the federal regulations.

If utility space is limited, a new energy-efficient water heater that’s the same gallon size as the former unit may not fit. One option is to remodel the space to fit the larger unit. Another is to explore alternative solutions. If space allows, consider downsizing to a smaller gallon water heater and adding a thermostatic mixing valve, which is easy to install and can help double the unit’s output.

Manufacturers and plumbing and heating services will be permitted to sell existing overstock of old models past April 16. It is likely that overstock will be gone within two months, consumers may wish to buy soon if they have an aging unit and want to avoid the cost of the more energy-efficient heaters.

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