New ENERGY STAR levels for water heaters identify top performers

With new minimum standards now in effect for water heaters, plumbers are asking: what does this mean for ENERGY STAR models? While minimum standards apply to all water heaters, ENERGY STAR is a voluntary designation for premium models that exceed the minimum standards to save energy and lower customer utility bills. For contractors and customers alike, the ENERGY STAR label is the national symbol of energy efficiency, and the best way to easily identify the most efficient water heaters offered by more than two dozen manufacturers. These levels took effect in April.

Premium benefits add up

Selling customers on high efficiency can be difficult when customers can’t tell the difference between individual models. The ENERGY STAR label makes it easier. While most customers won’t remember brand names or understand efficiency ratings, they do understand the value of ENERGY STAR. Today, 87 percent of American households recognize the ENERGY STAR label, and national surveys confirm that consumers see the value in purchasing appliance and equipment featuring the logo. Premium products often mean higher margins and more valuable jobs for contractors. Customers appreciate equipment that lowers their energy bills over the life of the water heater. In addition, high-efficiency water heaters may qualify for rebates offered by local utility companies or efficiency programs. A 2014 national survey of efficiency programs found dozens of programs offering rebates for ENERGY STAR-qualified water heaters, with average rebates of $100 for gas storage models, $300 for tankless models and $400 for heat pump water heaters. Even where rebates aren’t available, energy savings typically pay back any higher upfront cost with lower operating costs within a few years. Perhaps more importantly, ENERGY STAR water heaters are a way to promote efficiency to your customers while distinguishing yourself as a skilled and knowledgeable contractor.

New ENERGY STAR levels

The new ENERGY STAR levels are the second update since the label was first introduced for residential gas, electric and solar water heaters in 2009. Program requirements are developed in a transparent and inclusive manner, and performance levels change as technology improves. The latest revisions for water heaters acknowledge the growing market share of heat pump and condensing technology. The revision process considers performance criteria and consumer needs before gathering comments from manufacturers and other stakeholders. Once finalized, water heaters are only eligible to carry the ENERGY STAR label after testing by third-party certifying bodies to measure actual energy use.

While water heater standard and test methods are changing—and UEF will soon replace EF as the efficiency descriptor—one thing remains the same: the ENERGY STAR logo will continue to identify energy-efficient water heaters. The ENERGY STAR qualification criteria for electric water heaters require heat pump technology. Qualifying electric models with tank sizes of 55 gallons or less must carry an EF rating of 2.00 or higher, and models storing more than 55 gallons need an EF rating of 2.20 or higher. Gas products use a different scale. The minimum EF for qualifying gas storage water heaters of 55 gallons and under has not changed, and remains at 0.67 EF. Storage models over 55 gallons now require an EF of at least 0.77 EF. The criteria for gas instantaneous water heaters has risen from 0.82 to 0.90 EF, meaning qualifying tankless models are condensing equipment.

While the ENERGY STAR program treats commercial equipment separately, it also recognizes that light-duty commercial units are often installed in homes. These light-duty water heaters feature an input rate between 75,000 and 100,000 Btu per hour, and tank sizes up to 100 gallons. For now, energy efficiency is measured by Thermal Efficiency (TE), but these light-duty commercial models will soon adopt UEF ratings like their residential cousins. Until then, qualifying ENERGY STAR units offer a TE rating of 0.90 or higher and meet additional requirements, minimizing standby heat loss. There’s even an ENERGY STAR category for solar water heaters. Qualifying models feature a Solar Energy Factor of 1.2 or greater (for systems with a gas backup), and 1.8 or greater (for systems with an electric backup).

Find out more

More information about ENERGY STAR water heaters, updated qualification criteria and the new minimum standards is available at Regional trade associations, energy utilities and energy efficiency programs offer low- or no-cost training opportunities covering installation techniques and local rebates.

The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) is the U.S. and Canadian consortium of gas and electric efficiency program administrators. The group works together to accelerate the development and availability of energy-efficient products and services for lasting public benefit. 2

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