New regulations affect water heater buyers

The Federal Government is making changes to water heater regulations. Starting in April, all newly manufactured water heaters will have to be more efficient.

“Your water heater is the second largest consumer of energy in your home right behind your heating and cooling system,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “So, any improvement in your water heater’s efficiency is going to pay dividends in your monthly utility bills.”

While these new standards call for higher Energy Factor ratings on virtually all residential gas, electric, oil and tankless water heaters, the most dramatic changes will be in larger capacity models – over 55 gallons – typically found in bigger homes.

“You will have to buy a heat pump water heater, and those water heaters, on top of them, will have a compressor and an evaporator coil, a whole refrigeration system similar to what your refrigerator has in order to heat the water cheaper,” water heater expert Chip Cochran said. “When this happens, it’s going to double or triple the price of a new water heater – electric or gas – if it’s over 55 gallons.”

If your current water heater is in a small utility closet or crawl space, you may need to find a new home for an updated model that requires more insulation and equipment.

“It’s going to be bigger,” added Cochran. “It’s going to be taller. It’s going to take up more room. A lot of water heaters are installed in a very tight quarters. So, all of these things could be a major impact if you are replacing a water heater after April in 2015.”

“So, if you go and buy a new water heater today, you might save a little bit more on the upfront costs and you’re again, going to get some energy efficiency out of it, but come April, there are going to be new models out and they’re probably going to be a little more costly but again, more energy efficient,” said Hicks.

Angie’s List says if your water heater is more than 10 years old and it’s in a location where a leak would cause damage, you should strongly consider replacing it.

“A lot of people like to wait until a water heater fails,” said Cochran. “They use the theory ‘why fix it if it’s not broke.’ The problem with that is it never breaks at a convenient time.”

If you don’t know how old your water heater is, look for the model and serial numbers on your unit. That information has the age and gallon capacity coded into it, which a professional can decode. While increased energy efficiency will decrease operating costs of new water heaters, you may have to pay more for maintenance because of more complex designs and additional electronics.