New Water Heater Regulations Are Coming

Changes are coming in April that will make water heaters more energy efficient, but may create some difficulties for homeowners.


You probably wouldn't know that the standard storage tank water heater needs a makeover? But that’s what’s coming April 16, 2015. This change could limit which water heaters are available for you to choose from, and increase the cost.

According to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, water heaters manufactured after April 16, 2015, must meet new energy requirements. This is for all gas, propane, oil and electric water heaters. But this win for conserving energy and reducing emissions will not come easy.

Goodbye to the old

Improving energy conservation is better for the environment and benefits all of us in the long run. And a more efficient use of energy can reduce utility costs for the average home owner.

All the ways that future water heaters will change are still unknown, but manufacturers say there are some things we should be aware of as the deadline approaches. After April 16, only water heaters that meet the new NAECA standard will be manufactured. This doesn’t mean that non-conforming water heaters can’t be sold or installed, but once the old stock is gone, it’s gone.

After the deadline, if you want a water heater that meets the new standards you should specify this to ensure you don’t receive one of the older models.

Expect the unexpected

There is no doubt these water heaters are going to improve efficiency, however it will come with price.


Some models will no longer be built, so there will be fewer options when it comes to size and specific products.

As an example, a standard 50-gallon gas water heater from one manufacturer will increase in diameter as much as two inches. Not a big deal where there is plenty of clearance … but we’ve run into plenty of water heater installations where there isn’t even half an inch to play with.

If your water heater is in a narrow closet or other space with no room to spare, this could make a big difference.

That access through a tight opening; a spot squeezed between the furnace and the garage wall; the enclosure with zero clearance to three sides of the tank … in all of these situations, a minor increase in the size of the water heater could dramatically affect whether a replacement would fit, or need to be completely relocated.

Manufacturing cost

Another added cost will come from manufacturing to the new standards. We may see various water heaters equipped with additional energy-saving technology. This could be anything from more insulation to an electronic ignition system that replaces a conventional standing pilot on gas models.

Gas water heaters over 55 gallons will need to incorporate condensing technology to meet the new requirements. For electric water heaters over 55 gallons, it may mean a heat pump water heater to gain the required EF (Energy Factor) rating. One manufacturer we work with has told us to expect these changes to increase production costs from 10 to 30 percent.

Manufacturers are doing their best to produce products that can directly replace the old models and still meet the new standards. However, some water heaters will not be a standard “drop-in” replacement and will require additional work to install.

Get it right the first time

Need a new water heater? When ordering a replacement, one way to help keep costs down is to have as much accurate information available as possible.

Typically the facts that will help you to get the right water heater the first time are:

● Width and height of tank.

● Any access restrictions.

● Height of water connections coming out of the wall.

● Type of venting: Does it go through the side wall? Is it plastic or metal?

● Brand and model number; the capacity in gallons; and BTUs (for gas or propane).

Be prepared for water heater changes

What should you do to prepare for these changes?

● If you have a tank located in a tight space,  you probably will need to downsize the tank or relocate the water heater to replace it with a more bulky higher-efficiency model.

If you have an older water heater, consider replacing it now with a model of the same size and capacity while they’re still available. This would buy you time before replacing the tank with one that meets the new requirements.

Perhaps by then there will be a product that meets the new efficiency standards, as well as your capacity and space requirements.

● Water heaters are becoming more technically advanced. You may have installed one in the past, but the new changes may require different installation for safe and proper operation.

● Water heaters over 55 gallons that meet the new standards probably will cost more than an older model of the same size. This is another reason to consider a replacement while the product is still available.

There may be ways to get the hot water you need with a smaller tank. It could be worth consulting a professional plumber before making an emergency replacement.