This fall, Energy Star launched a new national campaign aimed at encouraging homeowners to proactively upgrade their out-of-date water heaters with more-efficient, Energy Star–certified technology.

For plumbers, remodelers, and other contractors, the water heater promotion is an excellent opportunity to earn new business by capitalizing on the increased consumer awareness. With the Energy Star brand attached to the promotion, pros can point to their trusted resources to explain the opportunity — without looking like you’re trying to drum up more business. (For more resources to discuss water heater replacements with your customers, visit knowyourwaterheater.com or check out our incentives page to find rebates for propane water heaters.)

To learn more about the campaign and the current state of water heater technology, staff writer Jeffrey Lee spoke with Energy Star’s water heater expert, Abigail Daken. Check out the video, or read the full transcript below.


Energy Star’s Abigail Daken on Water Heater Upgrades

This fall, Energy Star launched a new national campaign aimed at encouraging homeowners to proactively upgrade their out-of-date water heaters. To learn more, staff writer Jeffrey Lee spoke with Energy Star’s water heater expert, Abigail Daken.


Buildwithpropane.com: How important of a role does water heating play in the energy efficiency of a home?

Abigail Daken: It’s very important. Water heating generally uses about 17 percent of the energy that a typical home uses, so that’s a big role.

BWP: Why doesn’t water heating get as much attention as things like renewable energy or even LED retrofits?

AD: It really should, because there’s a lot of opportunity to save. But none of us really like to think about our water heater until it breaks.

BWP: Have there been important advancements in water heating technology that have led to energy efficiency improvements?

AD: There are two main technologies that are spreading through the market. There are tankless water heaters that only heat water when you need it. And there are condensing water heaters that are just more efficient. Both of them have been in use for years, and now they’re widely available on the market.

BWP: Describe condensing propane or gas water heating technology. What makes that such an important advancement in energy efficiency?

AD: [With] a regular water heater, about a sixth of the energy in the fuel ends up going right out the flue as exhaust heat. Condensing water heaters run that exhaust through another heat exchanger. They actually cool it so much that the water vapor in the exhaust condenses out. That heat that was taken out of the exhaust is then used to heat your water. So about 95 percent of the energy in the fuel ends up heating water.

BWP: For projects located away from the natural gas main, is there an opportunity to use propane to achieve some of those same benefits?

AD: There definitely is. Most natural gas water heaters can use propane. A new condensing tankless Energy Star water heater would use only 130 gallons of propane a year for the typical hot water needs of a house.

BWP: Why is it a good idea for homeowners to proactively upgrade their water heaters, and what can contractors do to encourage them?

AD: Replacing a water heater before it breaks can save a homeowner time, money, and trouble. When the water heater breaks, you need it replaced immediately, so you have an expensive service call, you have to choose from what your contractor has available and can get that day usually or the next day, so that limits your choices. You may have to pay for costly cleanup, as well, if you have water all over your basement or wherever space your water heater’s in.

If you have a water heater more than 10 years old, you have an opportunity to approach it with a little more thought, which means you can plan what time you want the contractor to come when it’s convenient for you, you can research the model you want, find an efficient model, research if there are any rebates available for an efficient model, which often there are, and often it doesn’t matter if it takes a little longer to order it.

And in fact, it’s an energy-saving and money-saving step. A typical homeowner replacing an older tank-style propane water heater can save $180 a year with a new Energy Star condensing tankless water heater. So that’s a significant savings as well.

For contractors, they’re really the front line for encouraging homeowners to choose to replace early. And any time a contractor’s in a home, it’s an opportunity to explain the opportunity to homeowners. It can come across like a way to drum up more business, so in that sense, having an Energy Star website to refer to can lend a little more credence to the recommendation.

BWP: What are some of the barriers to upgrading to more-efficient units, and what can pros and remodelers do to overcome those barriers?

AD: To be honest, the biggest barrier is lack of familiarity. Installers who are familiar with tankless water heaters and condensing water heaters have found that they’re no harder to install than any other water heater, particularly in new construction. In fact, they’re much easier to stock, because the tankless units are physically smaller, so they’re easier to have on a truck.

As a homeowner, you want to look for an installer who’s familiar with the technology. So in new construction, realistically familiarity is the only barrier.

In replacement, there are some adjustments that need to be made. So typically your installation will be a little more expensive if you are swapping out a tank-style unit for a tankless unit or a regular, old-fashioned water heater for a condensing water heater. So it might require a little more thought.

Sometimes the initial cost is going to be a little higher. Typically, the homeowner is going to make back that difference through lower utility bills.

BWP: Tell me about Energy Star’s early replacement campaign, and where can the audience go to learn more?

AD: Energy Star, this fall, is running a campaign in partnership with energy efficiency organizations, trade groups, retailers, and some states to inform and educate homeowners about the benefits of replacing their water heater before it fails.

Over 40 percent of water heaters in the U.S. are more than 10 years old, so there’s a big opportunity to educate homeowners about the benefits of avoiding a costly cleanup and an emergency replacement. In some states, there are also rebates available so an efficient unit can save homeowners even more.

To find out more, visit Energy Star’s water heater page.

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