The Evolution of Water Heaters In the Last Decade

How have water heaters gotten better? They use less energy, for one. Check out modern (and money-saving) improvements to water heaters.

Water Heaters: How Have They Gotten Better In 2019?

Hot running water inside your home at a simple turn of the wrist? That was a seemingly impossible dream until the first patent was filed near the end of the 19th century by Edwin Ruud. Ruud’s Automatic Water Heater consisted of a cast-iron shell, enclosed burners, copper coil heating tubes, and gas valves controlled by a thermostat to keep water at a consistent temperature inside the tank. Since then, water heaters have slowly evolved to increase consistency of water temperature and improve safety features. However, in 2015 water heaters as we knew them began another important change.

New Energy-Efficiency Standards for Water Heaters

If you haven’t had to buy a new water heater in the last four years, you may not be aware of some changes in the industry which will affect your next purchase of a new hot water heater. In April of 2015, The water heater industry was rocked by dramatic changes in the energy efficiency standards demanded by the US Department of Energy. These new standards apply to gas and propane water heaters, which are in 50 percent of American households, electric water heaters which are in 41 percent of homes, and oil residential tank heaters.

While the next water heater you purchase for your home may cost a little more than you were expecting, it’s important to note that your added cost will be more than made up for by eventual energy cost savings. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) most homes with water heaters following the new guidelines will see a savings of about four percent on water heater tanks of 55 gallons or less. Larger units, such as those more commonly found in larger commercial facilities, will see more dramatic differences as they are required to change to new technologies in order to meet the new standards. Adapting to the new guidelines for those facilities will allow for savings in energy usage and cost from between 25 to 50 percent.

How will the Changes in Energy-Efficiency Standards Affect Me?

For most homeowners, the new standards will not make a significant change in the appearance of their next new hot water heater. It will probably be slightly larger, so this could be a problem if space is an issue, such as those whose hot water tanks must be placed into small closets, etc. Some installers have noted that in some cases closet doorways have had to be dismantled, enlarged and replaced in order to install the larger tanks, which results in further costs for those homeowners. However, in the majority of cases, the new tanks fit in the same spaces reserved for the older style tanks. For tanks over 55 gallons, the size increase is more substantial and adaptations in space may be necessary.

Although the new hot water heaters holding 55 gallons or less do not appear dramatically different, those who have larger tanks may have to familiarize themselves with new technologies, such as electric heat pumps and gas condensing technologies. Heat pumps transfer heat from the surrounding air back to the water. According to the ACEE the new condensers conserve energy by reclaiming escaping heat by cooling exhaust gases below 140 degrees F. where water vapor condenses into water.

Homeowners should also be aware that with their next purchase of a new hot water heater, many of the familiar models and specific products are no longer being built. Fewer options are now available than previously. Prices have also increased due to manufacturers’ costs for applying the new standards and equipment for energy-saving technologies. Production costs have increased by ten to thirty percent, which is then passed on to consumers. However, you can expect to make up the initial cost increase by energy cost savings.

Most water heaters are expected to last ten to fifteen years. If you have an older model, you can consider being proactive and having it replaced now with a newer, more energy-efficient model.

How will the Changes in Water Heater Energy Standards Affect our Environment?

According to the US Department of Energy, these new efficiency standards will result in an estimated $63 billion in energy cost savings nationwide. It will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 172.5 million metric tons. Despite initial concerns in the hot water heater manufacturing and installation industries, the new energy efficiency guidelines have made a significant positive impact on our environment. These benefits to the environment will increase as time passes and more hot water heaters are replaced by the new ones that follow newer guidelines.

Resources— Consumer Reports, Washington Energy Services