Water Heater Numbers

Water Heaters by the Numbers: What to Ask, What to Know

By Peter Biermayer

Commercial water heaters and hot water boilers, like all of the other systems, have a life expectancy. Heat pump water heaters last an average of 10 years, while conventional storage models can last an average of 13 years, although local water hardness and proper maintenance can affect product lifetime.

So how can business owners or managers predict when their water heater's number will be up? The manufacturer's warranty period can serve as a good starting point in determining where a commercial water heater is in its life expectancy.

Typical commercial water heater warranties range from six to 12 years. More efficient models can have a life expectancy of 20 years or longer. Businesses can use their commercial water heater or boiler's warranty, together with the installation date and maintenance history, to gauge where the system is in its lifespan.

Other things they can look for to gauge the system's operational health include any sign of water buildup, which can be a sign that either a pipe or connection to the system is loose or there may be a larger issue at hand. Visible cracks or sediment from water flow can also signal the need for a necessary repair or replacement. Noises during operation may be evidence of increased sediment in the system. And if a commercial water heater no longer provides the same quality or consistency of temperature as it had in the past, that's another sign that it may be time for an upgrade.

The bottom line is it's a numbers game when deciding how to prepare for a commercial water heater or hot water boiler upgrade. Here are some numbers to go by to help make the right decision.

6 Questions to Ask a Contractor About an Upgrade

  • What is the initial cost of the equipment and installation?
  • Do I benefit more from installing a commercial water heater or water management system myself?
  • At what time period do energy savings repay the initial cost of the upgrade?
  • How does Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) Energy Efficiency Financing (EEF) program factor into my savings?
  • What can I expect for my ongoing maintenance costs?
  • Do water heaters that require higher maintenance costs provide more energy efficiency in the long term?

5 Types of Water Heaters To Choose From

  • Commercial gas water heaters now use a condensing technology, where more heat is extracted from combustion of gas than before. Natural gas or propane can be used in storage, tankless and indirect water heaters.
  • Electric heat pump water heaters extract heat from the air and use it to heat water instead of heating with electricity.
  • Solar water heater systems can help California businesses utilize natural resources to save on utility costs. Businesses can choose from active or passive solar water heating systems, depending on how much efficiency they are looking to achieve. A contractor can help them measure the solar energy factor and solar fraction to determine the type of energy efficiency they require.
  • Recirculating systems pump cold water back to the hot water tank instead of down the drain, preventing cold water from being wasted. This ensures that only hot water is delivered to the end use. The recirculation pumps should only operate during business hours or as needed. There are also on-demand water recirculation systems with pumps that only operate when water is being drawn.
  • Point-of-use water heaters heat cold water in the location where it's being used instead of transporting it from a storage tank where it loses heat during operation.

3 Key Considerations

  • Installation vs. operating costs: Differing installation costs for gas storage, tankless and electric or heat pump water heaters should be compared to the operational costs of each type of heater.
  • Peak demand: Energy efficient water heater replacement can lower peak demand.1 Demand response programs can help businesses further gain energy savings.
  • Integration: Businesses can mix and match commercial water heaters and hot water boilers to gain the most operational savings and energy efficiency. For example, a facility can use a condensing water heater to heat cold water and use a conventional water heater to keep the water warm in a recirculating loop. A business can also use a storage water heater for large uses in a kitchen but use a point-of-use electric water heater for a remote restroom sink.

1 Helpful Resource

  • In addition to Energy Efficiency Financing, PG&E offers a variety of incentive and rebate options to help businesses make the right investment when choosing a commercial water heater. For example, a business that installs a new commercial boiler or direct contact water heater may be eligible for rebates.2 In another case, a standard office using a small water heater could qualify for different rebates. Additionally, midsized commercial enterprises may qualify for rebates to insulate large pipes running from a gas water heater to the point of use.

Businesses can reduce their current water usage and save on energy costs when they have the right information and partner to guide them on cost-effective and efficient water heater investments. Download the "How to Get the Best Results from a Lighting or HVAC Project" eBook from PG&E to find other ways to reduce energy consumption and decrease operational expenses.

Referenced in article:
  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Consider these factors when it’s time to upgrade your business’s commercial water heater:
  • SMB Blog Author
    Peter Biermayer
    Senior Product Manager at PG&E for commercial HVAC and refrigeration. Peter has a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering and has over thirty years of experience in the energy efficiency field, including work at a research development and testing laboratory, a national laboratory performing analysis for energy regulations, a resource efficiency manager at a military base and now at PG&E.

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