New Water Heater Regulations Coming in 2015

Change is constant, especially when it comes to technology and politics. In early 2015, technology and politics will meet in a very unusual place: basements and utility closets throughout the United States. New federal efficiency regulations will go into effect on April 16, 2015, and that means you’ll see some significant changes to your next new water heater.

To achieve these new efficiency standards in gas-fired water tanks that hold fewer than 55 gallons, manufacturers will increase the amount of insulation surrounding the tank. By itself, that’s not bad, but the extra insulation will increase both the diameter and the height of the tank by two inches.

In addition, the new requirements eliminate standing pilot lights. Your current water heater may or may not have a pilotless ignition system. If you don’t have a standing pilot light, you have a mechanical, spark-based ignition. Your new water heater will come equipped with an intermittent, electronic pilotless ignition system. Depending upon the tank’s size, it may also be outfitted with a mechanical damper system as part of the tank’s exhaust, both of which will require the addition of 120 V electrical service.

The addition of electronic ignition means that new gas-fired water heaters will not work during a power outage. Homeowners will need to monitor the status of their storage tanks or connect the tank circuit to a backup power supply to guard against freeze-related damage during prolonged power outages.

For storage tanks that exceed 55 gallons, the addition of a condenser unit is the most likely way to achieve the new minimum efficiency requirements. A condensing water heater will require mechanical damping at the exhaust, electrical control for both the damper and the condenser, and a drain to eliminate condensate buildup.

The design changes to a conventional water tank can cause some logistical problems during replacement. If your current water heater is a tight fit, you may not be able to replace your tank with a tank of the same size. A change in the tank footprint of two inches in diameter and the addition of two inches in height could mean the difference between fitting and not fitting a new tank into an existing utility closet. Increased tank sizes also mean re-plumbing your existing water heater connections along with adding electrical service. For tanks that exceed a 55-gallon capacity, condensation drainage may pose the biggest challenge. If your water heater does not already have easy access to a drain, adding one might be technically challenging at the least, if not impossible in some cases.

The changes also significantly increase the skill level required to replace a water heater. Because water heaters have not changed much in size or design in decades, few or no changes to existing plumbing are required to disconnect an old tank and install a new one. With the new regulations, water heater replacement will require plumbing, venting and electrical skills that likely exceed the competence of the average homeowner. In short, these new tanks aren’t your father’s water heaters.

So what options are currently available for homeowners?

In the next several postings on the blog, we’ll take a look at all of the options that are available for homeowners, and the pros and cons of each choice. In the mean time, if you need assistance with an aging water heater, please call us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We can provide a wide range of options for all of your domestic hot water needs.