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In this video, This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey explains how new energy-saving regulations affect today’s water heaters.

New water heaters bigger, more efficient

If you think you may need to replace your water heater, be sure to do some checking and measuring first. New federal regulations that went into effect in April 2015 mean that water heaters are now more energy-efficient. As a result, they may be wider and taller than your current model.

Most homes have water heaters that hold 40 gallons of water or less. These water heaters may simpy be a bit bigger due to the extra insulation on the sides and top. But if your new water heater is 55 gallons or more, “the larger water heaters will need to use technologies that are less familiar to consumers — including electric heat pump and gas condensing technology,” according to Consumer Reports.

“Simply put, if you’re replacing a water heater that holds less than 55 gallons, the new one may be an inch or two larger and can likely be placed where the old one was, unless it was in a very tight spot such as a closet,” Consumer Reports said.  “But if you’re replacing a larger water heater, you’ll have to do your homework as the new units may need more space. Before making a purchase, consult your plumber or contractor.”

Experts on This Old House explained the new regulations and showed examples of the new water heaters in a recent episode (see video above). Key points were:

  1. Small-capacity gas-fired water heaters, in the 30-gallon to 50-gallon range, must now have at least 2 inches of insulation on the sidewalls of the tank and 2 to 4 inches at the top of the tank.
  2. Gas-fired water heaters with 55-gallon or larger tanks can no longer be vented into a chimney.
  3. New condensing water heaters must be connected to a PVC vent and direct-vented to the outdoors.
  4. The new electric-powered water heaters with 55-gallon and larger tanks will be hybrid heat pumps that use 50 percent less energy but are much larger and taller than previous units.
  5. The new regulations don’t affect on-demand tankless water heaters.

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