The Big Changes Coming to Water Heater Standards
Replacing an apartment water heater that is already a tight fit may pose a big challenge for properties starting next year.
With the addition of more insulation, residential water heaters are expected to grow to meet National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 efficiency mandates that go into effect April 16, 2015. Water heater manufacturers are tasked with improving efficiency ratings – by almost double on some sizes – to maintain water temperature and conserve energy.
All residential electric and gas water heaters and brands produced in the U.S. will be affected, and manufacturers won’t be able to even produce non-compliant product after April 15.
Added insulation will increase the size of water heaters
Although existing inventory could potentially be available for several months into 2015, the day will come when apartments will have to replace current models with bigger ones. Size and cost may be an issue, says Bob Brown of Ferguson Facilities Supply.
When production shifts to larger appliances, water heater storage areas that once maximized space for residents could likely be too small. In some cases, it could even require major modifications to apartments on the part of the property owner. To go from two inches of insulation to three inches, standard 30- to 50-gallon water heaters will increase in diameter from 18-20 inches to 20-22 inches, plus get a little taller. The additional foam will increase the energy factor by .05.
Larger capacity models up to 100 gallons will grow even more in diameter and use heat pump technology to reach higher efficiency standards, which will substantially increase costs.
“This is going to impact the multifamily industry, but it’s really going to be tricky on when and how,” Brown said. “If it’s not today, it could be five years from now. The longer it goes, the less the older product will be available. Really, the most at risk are the properties that aren’t looking to change their water heaters for another five to eight years.”
Popular low-boy models may be the most affected
Apartments may be most impacted by changes in the popular 40-gallon electric low-boy model. The stubby water heaters are designed to fit in small, out-of-the-way spaces to maximize floor plans and are expected to grow in diameter, but maintain their height of 30-34 inches, depending on capacity size.
For standard or low-boy units, a replacement a few years down the line may not fit and require potentially costly space modifications.
New regulations won’t affect new production of gas water heaters as drastically, since product meeting the new efficiency standards is already in use today. However, there are similar concerns because even though larger capacity models won’t grow in size, the 30- to 50-gallon models will.
When tackling potential size issues with water heaters, property owners will have to balance replacement expense and desired performance, Brown said. For example, downsizing capacity to fit a tight space may be one option, but reducing capacity could be perceived as taking away value to the resident.
Considering your options now could save in the long run
It’s not all about size, either. Many properties that have not built for zero-clearance may have enough space allocated to absorb the larger sizes. But with newer technology to improve water heating efficiencies comes added expense and that’s going to impact the bottom line, Brown says.
“When you get into a property that has 60-gallon water heater, they are going to cost a lot of money,” Brown said. “It’s not about size. You have entirely different technology due to the efficiency standards they have set on 55-gallon and above. With gas and electric, if you have a 60-gallon water heater and that thing fails, the cost is triple for whatever you have to use.”
Whether gas or electric, Brown says that builders, architects and contractors need to start making provisions in specs and designs now. Property owners should also plan accordingly when calculating replacement costs within their assets, whether existing or with new purchases.
“If you don’t identify it now while product is still available, you’ve eliminated one of your potential solutions,” he said. “Because I do believe that one of your solutions could potentially be changing your water heaters now and saving down the road, depending on product availability.”
When property owners are considering their options for water heaters, remember it is better to be safe than sorry. Brown says the real cost impact could be modifying space and paying upwards of three times more for new technology several years from now. Identifying needs for now and in the future may be the most prudent step.