A Massachusetts homeowner planned a “simple” project to replace a leaking hot water heater in his three-bedroom, 2,100-square foot residence. The thought process behind it, however, was anything but.
Taking into consideration a recently installed a solar panel PV system and concerns with regards to product reliability, long-term cost and the impact on climate change, Tom Dennen chose to install a 55-gallon HTP Elevate for his home’s hot water heating needs.
Dennen had already installed a solar PV system to reduce his monthly energy cost. Shortly afterwards, his gas hot water system began leaking at both the inlet and outlet ports. Frustrated by the premature failure of another hot water heater, Dennen’s decision to go solar cascaded into a whole other set of choices about how to provide reliable domestic hot water. Arriving at the selection for his next water heater was deliberate, conscientious, and thoroughly studied.
A Failed System
Dennen purchased the home in 2014. The HVAC system used natural gas. The gas hot water system failed before even reaching nine years. At a previous home, Dennen also found a natural gas hot water heater had failed prematurely. His home’s hot water might not have reached the boiling point, but his temper certainly did.
“Both the feed and return lines of the gas hot water heater began leaking,’’ Dennen says of his gas unit. “The fittings were constructed of junk metal. The typical life of a hot water heater in Massachusetts is 10-12 years, and this was my third hot water heater that failed. Cleaning up the mess afterwards was quite tiresome.”
One of the top priorities in selecting a new hot water system was reliability.
“I wanted a unit that is expected to have a long operating life,’’ he adds. “These days, too many appliances have become very poor quality. I wanted something that would last.”
During the winter of 2022/23 energy prices skyrocketed due to global tensions. To reduce market exposure, Dennen installed a PV system in January 2023 to reduce monthly energy costs.
“In the future I wanted to eventually replace appliances that would only consume the excess electrical power produced from the solar system and reduce the need for natural gas,’’ he adds.
He replaced his failing gas water heater with the HTP Elevate for that purpose. But he also adopted other methods to improve efficiency and reduce annual power consumption.
“By doing this I’m able to use the excess power for other appliances and a planned future EV,’’ Dennen says.
The measures Dennen took to improve efficiency included the addition of a heavy-duty mechanical timer to shut off the heater at night for 12 hours per day.
“By preventing the hot water heater from heating for 4,380 hours a year, it significantly reduces power consumption,’’ he says.
He also lowered the operating temperature for the heating elements to their lowest settings. The thermostatic temperature water mixing valve is also turned down until water temperature at the faucet is approximately 115 degrees. Anything warmer does not meet his family’s needs.
While an electric hot water heater is significantly more energy efficient to operate than natural gas heaters, the cost of operation is about 30 percent higher. Massachusetts has one of the nation’s highest average residential electricity prices, according to the Energy Information Administration.
“Due to the Ukraine war, last winter the utility rates for both electricity and natural gas in Massachusetts jumped more than 100 percent,’’ he says. “Many homeowners were faced with monthly energy costs well over $1,000 a month. The solar panels helped me avoid much of the financial pain. Many homeowners purchased watt meters to determine the power consumption of various home appliances to save power and reduce cost.”
In the past Dennen investigated using stainless steel water heaters for previous replacements but found the price differential prohibitive.
“While stainless hot water heaters remain expensive the relative cost difference has narrowed,” he says. “In my case, where I hope never to experience a leaking hot water heater again, it was the right choice. A lifetime warranty with the Elevate made the decision an easy one. Long term it is a cost savings.”
The 316L stainless steel components in the Elevate are among the top features in the product. Stainless steel is broadly defined, but 316L is considered the best choice for corrosion resistance. It contains less carbon than 316 stainless steel, and better intergranular resistance. Its welds won’t decay, unlike other stainless steels. The costs differences between the various grades of SST are relatively minor.
The Elevate’s low-watt density titanium heating elements are designed for increased corrosion resistance and extended element life. They are more durable than traditional steel or inconel (chromium and nickel based) electric elements. A premium grade aluminum anode rode also protects against corrosion.
As a former engineer, Dennen said he is familiar with the properties of metal and the heating elements used in hot water heaters. He has used them in the past in several industrial applications.
“I also noticed the insulation is a closed cell polyurethane,’’ he says. “This has greater insulation properties than fiberglass. With HTP being in Massachusetts, this was a significant factor.” The polyurethane is environmentally friendly and made with a non-ozone depleting blowing agent.
The Elevate is designed to fit into the footprint of a traditional 80-gallon electric water heater, but its size and 316L stainless steel construction make it far lighter than traditional gas-lined models. A top mount electrical junction box facilitates wiring and ensures simple installation in new and retrofit projects.
The Elevate also offers dynamic capacity, providing the same amount of hot water as a 100-gallon electric water heater from a 55-gallon tank. Integrated scald protection ensures heated water is delivered at a consistent, safe temperature, and automatic surface mounted thermostats control the temperature and includes a manual energy cut-off to prevent overheating.
Installation proceeded smoothly, but Witch City Plumbing in Salem, Mass. did need to make some adjustments to the system.
“The previous gas hot water heater was fan-forced vented, which utilized PVC Schedule 40 pipe,’’ Dennen adds. “This no longer meets building codes as it’s a potential fire hazard. The old pipe was capped off and rendered so it may not be used in the future.”
The vent was later re-used as part of a radon mitigation system. By eliminating gas for his hot water, Dennen says he saves about $20 per month on his natural gas bill.
One other factor played into Dennen’s decision. He has seen the impact of climate change and wants to do his part to support the global initiative.
“Excessive CO2 emissions and its aftereffects are the most serious threats faced by humanity,’’ Dennen said. “The current atmospheric concentration is greater than 420 parts per million and rising. At the start of the second Industrial Revolution in 1880, when steam engines, automobiles and electricity were starting to become a large part of modern society, CO2 concentrations were approximately 290 PPM. It’s now higher than any other period over the past one million years.”
Dennen realizes his contribution won’t save the world. At the same time, he’s conscious that individual efforts only make a small impact. He wants to do his part for the betterment of future generations.
“While future climatic changes will not affect me during my lifetime, I am worried for my children and especially my grandchildren,’’ he said. “Even though individual contributions to reduce CO2 emissions matter little, I’m making a conscientious personal effort to reduce my own greenhouse impact wherever I can.” l
Thomas Renner writes on building, construction and other trade industry topics for publications throughout the United States.