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Each New Year seems to bring new legislation that steers our industry to a path of great change. Last year it was the new Low Lead Requirements and this year brings the Department of Energy’s National Appliance Energy Conservation Act (NAECA). The DOE has recently issued higher minimum water heater efficiency standards that will become effective for all water heaters manufactured after April 16, 2015. This new legislation is somewhat more forgiving and differs from than the new low lead requirements by allowing distributors to sell existing stock of non-compliant products after April 16.
Virtually all gas, electric, oil and tankless residential water heaters will be affected, as well as some light commercial water heaters. So just how are manufacturers changing product to meet the NAECA standards? In general, product below the 55-gallon storage capacity will feature additional insulation that will increase the overall size of the unit. Product above the 55-gallon storage capacity will change both in size and with the addition of condensing or heat pump technology. This all boils down to just one thing — the changes in size and technology will be the biggest disruption.
On product less than 55 gallons, the width and height of the units could increase up to two inches. At first glance, an increase in size of two inches doesn’t appear to cause too many problems. But a larger size unit will cause space problems, allowing fewer units to be shipped per truckload and thus, fewer larger units can be stored in existing warehouse space. But both of these problems can be solved with good communication and planning among distribution partners. The larger sized problem centers on retrofit installations, since millions of water heaters are installed in spaces that were built for the size dimensions of current water heaters
The new units simply won’t fit or have room to be serviced when a larger unit is installed.
The obvious answer is to install a tankless hot water heater, but in areas where there is no access to gas, propane can be very expensive. Additionally, many multi-family buildings offer no physical way to install a tankless product with venting.
A second option is to install a smaller tank with less capacity, but this solution will likely cause many consumer complaints regarding the unavailability of an adequate amount of hot water. The only viable answer then, may involve an ingenious product developed by Cash Acme called the Tank Booster Pro.
Tank Booster Pro is an add-on thermostatic mixing valve, which will allow the homeowner to raise the temperature in their water heater to 140°. The thermostatic mixing valve will then control the water temperature to 120° when delivered to the fixtures. Raising the stored hot water to 140° will boost the amount of hot water available by as much as 50%, depending on incoming water temperatures. It will also protect from scalding and eliminate the potential growth of Legionella, which can only be killed when water is stored at a minimum 140°. The installation of a 30-gallon lowboy with a Tank Booster Pro in place of a 40-gallon lowboy will provide just as much hot water capacity along with the additional protection for the consumer.
The heat is on
Tanked water heaters greater than 55 gallons will need to change to new technologies in order to meet the higher efficiency guidelines. It’s likely that gas tank units will be transformed to tankless or become fully condensing units. The biggest change, however, will be electric tanked units that will need to be converted to heat pump technology. Electric heat pump water heater technology is extremely energy efficient, but it requires a great deal of product education for the distributor, installer and consumer. Installing a heat pump water heater on my own home four years ago, I became fully acquainted with the numerous differences a consumer must understand.
First, the heat pump water heaters are much larger in size. They essentially feature small air conditioning units on top of the tanks. Secondly, their design is a good deal more complicated because of their compressors, blowers, electronic controls and condensate lines. They also work differently in distinctly different ambient air room temperature locations. For example, the unit that is installed in my normally hot, humid garage of my Florida home performs very well in this hot environment and provides a good recovery time. It also exhausts a small amount of air-conditioning, which helps keep the entrance from my garage into my laundry room cooler and dryer. If the unit was installed in the basement of my former home in Buffalo, N.Y., it would take a considerably longer amount of time to recover the heat, and air-conditioning exhausted into a basement for most of the year in that environment would not be ideal. Lastly, heat pump water heaters are considerably nosier, making them nearly impossible to be placed in closets near living areas, and they also require regular maintenance of cleaning the filter and replacing the anode rod.
Distributors also must take extra precautions when transporting and storing heat pump hot water heaters. The units cannot be stored or transported on their side. A heat pump water heater that is stored or transported incorrectly will likely cause a compressor failure. Most heat pump hot water manufacturers won’t allow for repairs of the compressors in the field, meaning a complete replacement of the entire unit!
Hot, hot, hot
Storing hotter water in super insulated tanks can lead to additional problems such as the precipitation of scale deposits and chemical reactions that can be accelerated by increasing water temperatures. Scale deposits on heat exchanges and electronic elements can reduce water heating efficiency by 30%. This may then be the opportune time to offer products such as the Fluid Dynamics Non-Chemical Scale prevention devices. These devices work well in high temperatures and can maintain the tank, elements and heat exchangers scale-free with a very small installation footprint.
More is better?
Various contractors have informed me that the best option for the consumer that requires more than 55 gallons of hot water is to install multiple tanked units. But installing two 40-gallon hot water heaters together instead of one 80-gallon unit will not only require a great deal more space, but installation costs will increase greatly as well.
All of this change will certainly cost everyone more. There will be an increase in cost of the new water heaters, new storage and transportation, additional installation and consumer education. This higher cost will be passed on to the consumer and may take years for them to recoup from actual energy savings.
Don’t get caught in the cold
With just a few months left to prepare for the new NAECA legislation, there’s no better time to act than right now. All the major hot water heater companies have excellent information-packed websites, explaining in great detail the new legislation and the changes made to their specific product. Meet with your water heater company representative and ask them to train your team on the best practices to transport, store, handle, sell and install the new units. Educate your customers on the options available to them when a replacement unit is required and be able to illustrate to the customer an example of payback calculations.
This analysis should include energy savings, tax credits and local utility rebates. This is the opportunity to present your professionalism to your customers and improve the inefficiencies of the entire water heating system. The NAECA truth isn’t always something to be afraid of.