Over the last 20 years, EPA’s ENERGY STAR Certified Homes program has worked with builders to construct more than 1.6 million better, more energy efficient, homes. Tried-and-true strategies like air sealing and increased insulation form the core of our program, but we’re always looking for emerging technologies that will cost-effectively raise the bar on efficiency.
While some emerging technologies, like the LED light bulbs I discussed earlier, are easy to see, today’s topic is typically out of sight. In fact, as long as it’s running smoothly, homeowners might not even think about their hot water heater but it is the second largest energy guzzler in most homes. A standard water heater will run a family of four hundreds of dollars per year.
Now there’s a way to dramatically cut water heating costs and save home buyers hundreds of dollars or more over the lifetime of the equipment.
Traditional gas water heaters burn gas to generate heat, sort of like a gas cooktop that heats a pot of water. High-efficiency gas water heaters work the same way, but they squeeze as much heat as possible out of the gas before it’s exhausted out of the house. Another type of highly efficient model is now emerging. These gas condensing water heaters use a secondary heat exchanger. By extracting heat not once, but twice, the efficiency is maximized.
Traditional electric water heaters run the electricity through a heating element, like an electric cooktop. In recent years, though, a completely different technology has developed. These new water heaters use a heat pump – essentially a refrigerator run in reverse – to transfer heat from the surrounding air to the water. Using electricity to move heat from one place to another is much more efficient than generating heat. As a result, heat pump water heaters can produce hot water using dramatically less energy. In fact, an Energy Star certified heat pump water heater can save a four-person family $3,500 over its lifetime.
On top of these energy-saving features, technologies like wireless connectivity are being integrated into models for the first time. This enables control of the water temperature from your phone, increasing convenience and the potential for additional savings.
In addition, a greater focus is being placed on how hot water gets from the water heater to the sinks, showers, and appliances that use them. New technologies are emerging to help minimize how much hot water is wasted sitting in pipes throughout your house.
While the long-term savings of these ultra-efficient models are compelling, the first cost is sometimes a difficult barrier to overcome. That’s why many utilities are offering incentives to sweeten the deal. Click here to check out the rebates for Energy Star certified water heaters available in your area.