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Industry adopts redesigned residential water heaters

As they adjust their products to comply with NAECA standards, manufacturers pave the way with ingenuity and contractor education.

By Cheryl Weber

It's been a year since new energy efficiency standards for residential water heaters went into effect. When the Department of Energy updated its National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA) requirements in 2010, manufacturers scrambled to redesign the equipment in time for the April 2015 rollout. Those changes have been felt from the top to the bottom of the distribution chain, from manufacturers to wholesalers, installers, and consumers.

The standards focused on reducing standby heat lost from the tank, and so the most visible change is in the product footprint: Many water storage tanks are about two inches wider because they have twice as much insulation. At A. O. Smith, 30-gallon, 40-gallon, and 50-gallon tanks were the ones affected, as 75- and 100-gallon tanks already met the standards, says Ralph Perez, the company's manager for sustaining products. Its less popular 65-gallon tank was discontinued rather than upgraded.

While A. O. Smith's 50-gallon footprint increased only slightly, the company was concerned that its 30-gallon and 40-gallon tanks would no longer fit inside the tight clearances of older installations. For those models, "We used foam insulation inside a sealed jacket that was the same dimension as the old heater, and added a fiberglass blanket that can be wrapped around the heater," Perez says. "Because the blanket is so compressible, if there is some side clearance, it can be squeezed in there. That was enough to bump the energy efficiency up to where it needed to be."

Bradford White also added insulation to most of its 20- to 50-gallon gas-fueled storage tanks to meet the NAECA requirements, which increased the diameter and/or height by up to two inches. "We spent roughly three years educating all facets of the industry to prepare for this change, which allowed those involved in new construction to allot additional space for the new products," says Carl Pinto Jr., director of marketing at Bradford White. "As far as issues with tight fits in replacement gas applications, the issues have been minimal."


Bosch Greenstar
Buderus GB142
Click to enlarge
A.O. Smith’s GDHE-75 Vertex Power Direct Vent gas water heater is 96% efficient and offers a recovery rate of 129 gallons per hour.

An opportunity to go tankless

Electric water heaters, by comparison, have gotten considerably larger and use heat pump technology to meet the new energy efficiency benchmark (heat pump technology has drawbacks in some applications).

That's leading some pros and homeowners to evaluate propane tankless water heaters, which take up less space, can be hung on a wall, and deliver an endless supply of hot water, says Joe Holliday, senior director of business and product development at Rinnai America. "Because of these reasons, we have, and will continue to see, a switch to more energy efficient gas tankless water heaters," he says.


"We spent roughly three years educating all facets of the industry to prepare for this change, which allowed those involved in new construction to allot additional space for the new products."


Steve Allen, president of Allens Plumbing, is based on Maui, where gas appliances are almost always fueled by propane. He has been replacing a lot of 40-gallon gas water heaters with propane-fueled tankless models since the NAECA requirements went into effect. Tankless installations are up almost 100 percent, he says, because 2016 gas hot water tanks are 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive than the previous models. "The price is closer to tankless, and the energy savings and footprint of a tankless are better."

For pros, staying current on product changes in the wake of NAECA is vital to providing customers with top-notch service. And with propane-fueled storage tank and tankless water heaters in your product palette, you'll have the right options available for any replacement scenario. Learn more about the NAECA products changes and compare your water heating options on the water heating research page.

 

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The Ultimate Guide to Tankless Water Heaters Vol. 2
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