What you’ll find on this page: The Department of Energy issued new rules on water heater efficiency in 2015 that affect the dimensions of most water heaters and determine what you can buy. Some sizes and types are gone forever.
The Department of Energy released a new set of rules governing the efficiency of residential water heaters, known as NAECA 3 (the previous rules were NAECA 2, if you go rummaging in spec sheets online), on April 16, 2015, and a new metric for determining what Energy Factor number they get. The old metric comprised six draws of 10 gallons each, and was eventually recognized to have little in common with real-world use. Among other things, the new metric has longer and shorter draws to better reflect normal use. It’s not yet clear how the rules will affect solar systems and utility programs that need larger storage for off peak heating.
Under the new rules, nearly all water heaters have to be more efficient. In many cases, that will be achieved by adding insulation, which means that tanks are going to grow wider and taller and may not fit into spaces that old heaters could occupy.
Further, you won’t be able to get a plain water heater bigger than 55 gallons. Anything above that will be a heat-pump electric, or a condensing gas model, and those are much more expensive, although the DOE claims people will recoup the cost over time in lower bills.
From the changeover date, all manufacturers had to build products that comply. However, there were still a lot of the old heaters in inventory all around the country but those are probably gone by now.
Expect water heaters to grow by one or more inches in width and/or one or more inches in height. This could be dismaying if someone shoehorned a water heater into a closet in your house. More information can be found here: http://aceee.org/blog/2015/02/water-heaters-get-efficiency-makeover
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