President Joe Biden’s proposed energy efficiency standards for water heaters, released July 21 by the Energy Department, not only would raise the cost of water heaters for consumers but take certain products off the market.

One popular tankless natural gas water heater, made by Rinnai in Griffin, Georgia, would have to be discontinued. The public has until Sept. 26 to file comments.

Beginning in 2029, the Energy Department’s proposed regulation would set government standards for all types of water heaters, including gas-fired, oil-fired, electric, and instantaneous tankless water heaters.

The proposed rule would raise standards disproportionately for tankless, gas-fired water heaters to over 91% efficiency. Trouble is, achieving this level of efficiency with noncondensing technology is impossible to do.

This change would deprive Americans of a valuable option when it comes to water heaters. Consumers could purchase electric tankless water heaters, but not the less expensive models heated with natural gas.

Rinnai, whose products are used all over the world, is headquartered in Nagoya, Japan. It set up production in Georgia in 2001 and directly employs around 350 in a factory there, benefiting local restaurants and small businesses.

Rinnai is the only company that produces tankless water heaters in the United States. Its noncondensing natural gas water heater sells for about $1,100 at Home Depot, compared to $1,800 for a 75-gallon tank.

The Energy Department’s proposed efficiency standard essentially would ban noncondensing, gas-fired, tankless water heaters because the technology of heating water with gas reaches its efficiency limit without using more expensive “condensing” technology.

Although noncondensing, gas-fired, tankless water heaters are more efficient than water heaters with tanks, the latter aren’t subject to the same standard.

The change would leave consumers with fewer, more expensive options to heat their water. It also would raise costs for consumers because government policies that artificially prioritize one attribute (such as efficiency) over others (such as cost, capability, or quality) virtually ensure that products will be less responsive to consumer needs as technology develops to meet a government mandate instead of the needs of consumers. 

This subject is especially important to low-income Americans, who depend on lower cost options to manage more limited budgets.

Tankless water heaters are about the size of a small suitcase, far smaller than regular water heaters. They heat the water as needed and used, rather than keeping 50 to 75 gallons of water hot at all times, adding flexibility.

Tankless technology is useful when space is at a premium, such as in apartment buildings and smaller homes. Tankless heaters are also practical in case of blackouts: When power returns, a user can bring a small amount of water to the desired temperature relatively quickly, instead of heating water in a larger tank.

And again, denying the tankless option to consumers would be an especially hard blow to low-income Americans, who tend to live in smaller spaces.  

The efficiency of tankless, natural gas water heaters generally peaks at about 85%, so an Energy Department requirement for 91% efficiency would put these water heaters out of business. Electric water heaters would remain on the market, but not those powered by natural gas.

Biden’s Energy Department wants to shift American consumers toward electric appliances because they’re supposed to emit less carbon. However, unless electricity is produced only with renewables or with nuclear power, it still would result in carbon dioxide emissions.

Furthermore, even if America’s economy were to operate without fossil fuels, global temperatures in the year 2100 would be only 0.2 degrees Celsius cooler than today, according to The Heritage Foundation’s chief statistician, Kevin Dayaratna.

The Energy Department regulates water heaters under authority granted by the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Gerald Ford after disruptions in oil supplies created by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. However, nearly 50 years later, America is a net exporter of oil and natural gas and is energy independent.

Biden’s Energy Department also regulates dishwashers and natural gas stoves under the same statute, removing freedom of choice and raising prices with no improvement in the climate or in America’s energy security.

The president likes to justify these actions by claiming that he is raising U.S. standards, as if he alone should arbitrate such guidelines. The truth is American families and businesses should set standards for appliance efficiency through their purchasing decisions.   

With a broad variety of water tanks available for purchase, both natural gas and electric, the Energy Department should allow Americans to purchase the models they see fit.

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