January 1st, 2013 means a new beginning, resolutions, or maybe just too many bowl games or not enough…you decide. For us, the New Year represents the fundamental transformation of the commercial water heater industry as we know it.

Most have heard of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and their regulation of smog emission through rule 1146.2. It began back in 2000 with large commercial boilers and has been working its way down to smaller apartment buildings (typically 6 – 25 units), which primarily use the 100 gallon, tank type water heaters with 75,000 TO 399,000 BTU’S. Recent heaters have met the current requirements; however, the rule had a Trojan horse (sorry USC, “Go Bruins”) that stated a requirement of “best available technology” provision. No company could meet the new standards, so SCAQMD wrote in a caveat that equipment manufactured before 2012 and already in stock at your local wholesaler could be sold through 2012.

Now we are faced with the new requirements and few options. Bradford White has a line that meets the requirements and has stock, but few others have been able to deliver and when they do, expect a hefty price increase from $800 to $1,400 on average.

A couple of thoughts on the new product –  they are a few percent more efficient which always helps but they cannot be improved on much as the atmospheric system will max out at around 85% leaving 15% for proper natural drafting in the system. If the heater goes above 85%, it will begin to condensate in the vent system and combustion chamber damaging pipes, burners and pilot due to a high PH level on condensate (very acidic). These heaters have in the past been eligible for a $500 rebate through Southern California Gas Company, but you will need to check as the program is year to year and will need to be verified.

Yeah but what about the 98% equipment I have been hearing about? Myth #1, they are 98% at ground water temperature (60 degrees), so if you are heating your water to normal temperatures, you can only expect a thermal efficiency of 88% to 89%. This is not too shabby, but you should evaluate your individual system to determine if 5% additional savings merits that extra upfront cost of $3,000 to $5,000 on average.

A big consideration when deciding on a new unit is that location, location, location works for water heaters too. A heater with a filter can be a nightmare when located in a laundry room with dryer vent not run outside. Gas supply is a critical issue. In the past, low gas meant duration slightly lower output than stated. The new equipment only has four seconds to light and then sends a signal to tell the controller which verifies flames and allows heaters to stay on. This becomes a real problem when the gas line is undersized and the heater is starved causing it lock out, forcing a service call to reset. Proper power supply is necessary for today’s electronic controls and proper operation. Problems can result in numerous failures and fault with the control unit.

What is our take away from all of this? This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile and the days of changing spark plugs or oil have passed for cars and water heaters. Very few of us these days work on cars or water heaters without a four year degree or NASA credential. Don’t give up all hope just yet, because when the heater is installed correctly including a thermal expansion tank for system protection and its properly maintained on regular intervals, you can expect to operate properly through the year and many to come.  

 The above article was written by Tom Squier, President of Pacific Energy Service, Inc. and has been in the hot water business for over 30 years. If you have any questions about your system, please contact him at 800-432-9016 or visit www.pacificenergyservice.com.

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