The new squeeze: water heater size

A new water heater for under 55 gallons — a typical size for single-famly homes — will get bigger without an increase in capacity. That’s due to the extra insulation federal regulations demand. —Information from American Water Heater.
A new water heater for under 55 gallons — a typical size for single-famly homes — will get bigger without an increase in capacity. That’s due to the extra insulation federal regulations demand. —Information from American Water Heater.

It’s a problem many homeowners won’t run into for a while, but when they do, they may find themselves between a basement floor and a hard place.

New federal water-heater insulation standards — meant to ensure the heaters are as energy-efficient as possible and not throwing off heat to their surroundings — have been enacted as of April 16.

According to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act’s provision for water heaters, on that date manufacturers had to stop making whatever their previous models were and could only manufacture water heaters that meet the new standards.

The change will filter down to homeowners when it’s time to replace old heaters.

Those who have a small water heater in a small space, such as a main-floor closet in a condo or a short corner in a basement, may find themselves looking for a new spot or having to change their water-heater technology entirely.

What are the standards?

For water heaters for under 55 gallons (see accompanying graphic) if you choose a new unit with the same gallon capacity, the overall size will increase by:

• 2 or more inches in height

• 2 or more inches in diameter

• 3 or more inches in space around the unit

With water heaters over 55 gallons:

• the setbacks are even larger

• any residential electric models must be changed out for hybrid electric heat-pump design, which should save energy and money for homeowners.

• any residential gas model must be of the condensing, high-efficiency design

Manufacturers and installers are warning consumers that if their over-55-gallon heaters are already “crowded” into a space, they may have to change to pairing two smaller units or switch technology entirely.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the changes to water heaters will play a part in saving approximately $63 billion over the next 29 years and 317 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Look to the Department of Energy’s webpage on residential water heaters at www1eere.energy.gov/buildings/appliance standards/product.aspx/product id/27 for more information.

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