Navigate the New Water Heater Standards and Identify Alternative Solutions

New water heater regulations go into effect on April 16, and property managers will have to make adjustments.
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New water heater regulations go into effect on April 16, and property managers will have to make adjustments the next time they have to repair or replace existing water heaters. According to the standards announced by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010, all water heaters manufactured after April 15 must carry higher energy-efficiency ratings. To meet the new regulations, manufacturers have been forced to make design changes that increase the height and width of water heaters compared to current units of the same gallon size.

Increased energy efficiency achieved through the new standards will provide long-term benefits—reducing impact on the environment, as well as energy costs. In the short term, however, the standards will create a few significant challenges for property managers and maintenance technicians.

The first thing to consider is cost. Manufacturers will have to invest more time, equipment and raw material to create more efficient units. The additional materials will be costly for manufacturers and that expense is passed on to customers.

In addition to cost, the increased size of water heaters may force property managers to incur additional expenses and/or consider alternative options just to maintain the same output as the current or previous water heaters.

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.

Property managers can also upgrade to a compliant water heater that has sufficient output without taking up too much space. The Rheem XR 90 Model is a unit under 30 gallons that provides more hot water than most 50 gallon models.

Tankless water heaters, which are 99 percent efficient compared to tanked units, are a viable option if utility space is limited. Downsize to a smaller unit and add a small tankless unit to produce enough hot water. Running the two water heaters together will ensure that the output stays the same, despite the decrease in gallon size. Some tankless water heaters are also Wi-Fi accessible, allowing property managers to control energy usage from their smart phones.

Another option is to go completely tankless. Electric tankless water heaters are high power units that have low installation costs and little to no maintenance requirements. While they require a larger upfront investment compared to tanked units, electric tankless water heaters are more energy efficient and better for the environment. Gas tankless units are another possibility. While they are marginally cheaper to operate than electric tankless units, gas tankless water heaters have venting requirements and need annual maintenance, so there may be an increase in installation costs.

Before deciding which option is best to accommodate the new regulations, determine available utility space, water usage and current water heater size. If space permits, it may be most cost efficient to install a unit of the same gallon size that meets the new standards. But if space is restrictive, consider a variety of options before deciding to completely restructure the utility space.

Gina Perry has been with The Home Depot for more than 15 years. During that time, she has spent more than nine years as a merchant in both Merchandising and Installed Services. She has also held positions in Field and Store Operations.