How Will the New NAECA Regs Affect Tanked Water Heater Manufacturers?
The day after Tax Day 2015 in the United States is going to be a milestone event for tanked water heater manufacturers. April 16 is the day when the new energy use requirements as spelled out in the latest revision to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act go into effect.
This year’s update to the Act, which regulates energy consumption of specific household appliances, will increase the minimum energy efficiency standards on most tanked water heaters sold in the U.S. market. In water heaters, the efficiency is measured by the appliance’s Energy Factor, an annual measure of the useful energy coming out of a water heater divided by the amount of energy going in. In other words, the EF is an indication of a water heater’s overall efficiency based on the amount of hot water produced given the amount of energy consumed. The larger the percentage is, the more efficient the unit.
Until this year, a commonly installed 40-gallon gas water heater, for example, typically had an EF in the .55 neighborhood. Units sold after Apr. 16 will have to post a .62 EF in order to comply with the 2015 standards. The electric 40-gallon water heater — with current EFs ranging between .75 and .95 — will need to meet a minimum EF of .95 to be compliant with the 2015 NAECA update.
Tankless water heaters are generally unaffected by the new regs, according to the experts like Jason Fleming, marketing manager for Noritz, a tankless water heater supplier in Fountain Valley, Calif., who said, “tankless water heaters already comply and exceed the new energy-efficiency regulations.”
How, then, will the new specifications affect tanked water heaters? Expect them to get bigger: “We expect our water heaters to grow up to two inches,” said Ron Johnson, product manager, water heating division for Rheem. “Most models are staying under two inches in growth. We will see an increase in diameter and height related to the NAECA standards. All of the manufacturers are expecting some kind of growth to the water heaters. We’re going to add some insulation to them to increase the efficiency.”
Chad Sanborn, product marketing manager for the Bradford White Corp., said tanked water heaters with capacities of 55 gallons and less will be able to achieve NAECA compliance simply by adding insulation. Although adding insulation plays a large role in NAECA 3 compliant water heaters, additional modifications may be necessary: “[Larger tanked heaters] will need to incorporate a more radical change with different technology,” Sanborn said. “These changes might include the addition of blowers, heat pumps or fans, for example.”
This brings up an interesting problem. Some typical residential tanked water heater installations are in very tight quarters. What happens if a replacement is required and the new, larger, 2015-compliant units of the same capacity just don’t fit? Will installers need to replace a 40-gallon heater with a 30-gallon heater in order to fit the space?
“For tight applications, manufacturers will most likely provide alternative solutions as opposed to simply installing a smaller-capacity water heater,” Sanborn said. “Although a smaller-capacity water heater certainly is an option, customers will have other options such as changing the venting material to allow installation of a power vented water heater.”
Johnson said Rheem is offering solutions in that many of its professional series models are already NAECA 3 compliant and some, up to 40 different models, are not changing. “Now, if they have a unit that currently does not meet NAECA 3, there will be some decisions that have to be made,” Johnson said. “They may have to go down in gallon capacity. However, a lot of our models [are only getting two inches larger and] most of them are under that — some are even less than an inch,” he said. “We do have a lot of models that we’re not changing a lot on. We knew that installations would be tight with current products, so we are offering solutions and coming up with solutions that will take into consideration the current installations that they have.”
The bottom line for installers, as it is in most cases that involve changes to familiar products to meet more stringent regulations, is education. Manufacturers, after all, have seen this coming for years and have been ready for it. Bradford White’s Sanborn offered up some suggestions for contractors.
“Talk to wholesalers, look at your preferred manufacturer’s website for NAECA information and start to prepare for the various installation scenarios you might face with customers when having to replace an existing water heater with a new, NAECA-compliant product,” he said. “Bradford White representatives will be prepared to help their customers work through potential installation challenges when NAECA requirements become the now normal for the water heater industry at large.”