Water heater prices could jump soon, installers say

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Gina Duwe
March 5, 2015

Most people only replace their water heater when it breaks.

But those who replace one that's nearing the end of its life now will save money before federal regulations kick in next month to increase the cost of units and, possibly, installation.

“It would be very wise to get it now because they will save money,” said Terry Addie, co-owner of Addie Water Systems in Janesville.

Addie said 99 percent of people wait for water heater problems to arise before acting on them.

New federal mandates going into effect April 16 require manufacturers to increase energy efficiencies, which will increase the cost of water heaters, local business owners say.

“The new water heater will physically get larger because of added insulation to make the heat stay inside,” said Jim McCue, co-owner of Al Beyers Indoor Comfort Systems in Janesville.

That can be a problem if your water heater is tucked tightly into a closet or some small space in an apartment or mobile home.

Addie's business services some apartment complexes where units are jammed tight against a wall, so installing larger units will likely be an issue.

“We honestly don't know what we're going to do,” he said.

For some home or business owners, it could mean relocating the unit or modifying the existing location. In addition, some new models might require a power source, which could be an added expense homeowners, McCue said.

Some wholesalers have increased water heater prices 10 percent, Addie said, and he's been told to expect a “significant increase” in a few months. That could mean about $40 more for a standard unit and up to $80 or $100 for power-vented units, he said.

“Basically, technology is driving these prices up,” he said.

Some models, such as an 80-gallon electric heater, won't be offered anymore because manufacturers can't comply with the required energy ratings, Addie said. He stocked up on those units, knowing people will want them, he said.

The government last increased energy standards in 2004. A standard 40-gallon heater that McCue sells has a .59 Energy Factor rating, and the new requirement seeks a .62 rating, he said.

Addie said current models are efficient, so “to make a real efficient heater a little bit more efficient, your cost is a lot more, (and) your payback is marginal.”

Signs your water heater is nearing the end of its life include inconsistent hot water, signs of rusting or corrosion and a leak or water on the floor, McCue said.

“All the water's suppose to stay in the heater,” he said. “If you see any signs of leakage, it's not going to get better with age.”

The longevity of a water heater is directly proportional to how much water goes through it, McCue said. A unit can easily last 10 to 15 years for some people while a large family's unit might fail sooner.

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