This blog follows the latest trends in high performance housing from an insider's perspective. I am the General Manager of one of Ottawa's leading homebuilders - Urbandale Construction, and it gives me a firsthand view of how the industry is changing. I've seen the barriers that builders face when trying to market new technologies and I've been working directly to overcome these barriers to bring new energy efficient designs into Urbandale homes.

January 7, 2013 6 Comments

Water Heaters – What you need to know to heat your H2O

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As part of our upgrade to the 2012 ENERGY STAR® standard, we changed our standard water heaters from regular tank water heaters to condensing tank water heaters. In this post I’d like to discuss the main types of residential water heaters, so purchasers will have a better understanding of what system is best for them.

Standard Tank Water Heaters
Typical water heaters operate by using either electricity or natural gas to heat water inside an insulated tank. The water rests in the tank at the desired set-point temperature until it is needed. These systems are well proven and inexpensive, though unfortunately not very efficient. System efficiencies vary from 60% to 67% depending on the amount of insulation surrounding the tank.

Condensing Tank Water Heaters
Condensing tank water heaters operate similarly to a standard tank, however they are designed so that the flue carrying the hot combustion gases is coiled inside the tank instead of a direct vertical vent. This extra surface area allows the escaping combustion gases to further heat the water inside the tank. Condensing tank water heaters are around 90% efficient. Their high efficiency has a secondary benefit, which is that the water will heat up almost as quickly as it is being used, so it is much less likely to run out of hot water, even with a smaller tank. According to the ENERGY STAR® website, a condensing tank water heater can save a family of four around $170 per year, compared to a standard tank.

Tankless Water Heaters
Tankless water heaters, sometimes referred to as instantaneous water heaters, have been popular in Europe for many years and have recently gained popularity in North America. These systems heat the water as it is needed so there is no need for a tank. These systems are quite efficient because there are no standby losses from water sitting in a tank. System efficiencies are typically around 90%, similar to condensing tanks and sometimes a bit higher depending on the manufacturer. These systems have some other benefits as well; they are smaller and need less space, they offer a continuous supply of hot water (for those of you that love long showers), and they typically have a longer life than tank systems (20 years instead of 12). These systems do have some drawbacks however. They take longer to reach the desired temperature, since the water is only heated as needed, and these systems have to be installed on an exterior wall for venting, making them unsuitable for some home designs.

Solar Water Heating
Solar water heaters are by far the most energy efficient system available; however they do require a backup system for cloudy days, so they would have to be used in addition to a regular system. A solar water heater in Ottawa will reduce heating costs by 50%. Today’s systems are extremely reliable and have a life of around 20 years. These systems consist of copper pipes filled with a non-freezing liquid (glycol) that is heated by the sun in flat solar collectors on the roof. The heated glycol is pumped down to the mechanical area where a heat exchanger is used to pre-heat your household water before it goes into your regular tank heater. Because the water is hotter when it enters the tank, it requires less energy to bring the water up to the desired temperature. Solar water heaters are not suitable for all homes as they require ample south facing rooftop for the solar collectors.

Urbandale’s Approach
Urbandale offers ENERGY STAR® condensing hot water heaters as standard, however we do allow purchasers to upgrade to tankless or solar systems if their housing design allows for it. We’ve selected tank systems as our standard because they are proven, efficient, cost effective and suitable for all of our home layouts. All of our single family homes also include a conduit from the attic down to the basement mechanical area, making it easy for homeowners to add a solar system anytime in the future.

Posted by Matthew

6 Responses to "Water Heaters – What you need to know to heat your H2O"

  1. Chuck Mills says:

    Matthew,
    Very informative…well done.

  2. Allan Mullaly says:

    Very informative I really appreciate your work.

  3. Nataliya says:

    Matthew, I have recently found out about Urbandale construction and fell in love with your Harmony model condo. It is exactly what my family has been looking for for a while.

    I understand that right now this model is offered only at your Riverside location. If I may put in my 2 cents, Kanata Lakes would love to have this model too. If that were to happen, we will be the frist ones in line to purchase.

    Thanks for the great work.
    Nataliya

  4. Matthew Sachs says:

    Hi Nataliya,
    Thanks so much for the kind words! I wish we could sell you one in Kanata, but for now they’re only available in Riverside South. I’ll keep your comments in mind though as we plan for the future.
    Matthew

  5. Ted says:

    Matthew, love the progressive tech and glad to hear that this will be available in the new development across from Tandalee Crescent. When will prices be made available for the aforementioned development?…I need to know if I can afford to instal solar and geo thermal. We already own two (2) Urbandale homes so if price is right, and we have been waiting for that site ‘s release, would love to get into a nice bungalow with all this tech.

  6. Matthew Sachs says:

    Hi Ted,
    Everyone that has pre-registered will get a VIP opportunity to review prices and select lots prior to our public release. We don’t have a date set yet for this because we are still waiting for our final approvals, however we’re optimistic that it will be launched before the summer. If you want to discuss it further, feel free to email me directly (matthew@urbandale.com).

    Incidentally, if you add a geothermal to our current spec, your house would meet the 2012 R2000 standard. This is the most stringent housing standard in Canada and indicates energy savings of at least 50% better than a house built to Code.

    Thanks!
    Matthew

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matthew Sachs

B. Eng. LEED AP

  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction since May 2008
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)

ABOUT URBANDALE CONSTRUCTION:

Ottawa's Quality Homebuilder for 30 Years. Building R-2000 and Energy Star Homes in Kanata Lakes, Riverside South, & Bridlewood in Ottawa, and in eQuinelle in Kemptville. For more information on Urbandale Construction, please visit www.urbandale.com.