Replacing Our Water Heater

We have a Lochinvar model ETN065-423 high efficiency , 65 gallon, 65,000 BTU water heater, made by Bradford White. It needs to be replaced.  American Home Shield (our home warranty company) offered me a ‘standard 50 gallon tank with mixing valve’ replacement since 65 gallon units are no longer available … when I ask them for details about the 50 gallon tank (brand, btu, recovery rating, anything) they say they don’t know; no one will know anything about the until the unit is delivered.  Whaaaaaaat?  Obvs I am not going to agree to that.   Time to figure out how to buy a water heater.

sizing recI spoke with Dan at Bradford White and he gave me a lot of good info.  He said no way will a 50 gallon hot water heater be enough to suit our needs since usable hot water is typically about 75% of the tank capacity.  He directed me to their Sizing Calculator and it showed the minimum for our household (3 people, 2.5 baths, appliances and a 55-60 gallon Jacuzzi tub) is a 75 gallon hot water heater with 76,000 BTU (Model RG275H6N) or two 40 gallon tanks.  Then I go to AO Smith’s website and it shows 50 gallon high efficiency tanks that claim to heat a tub up to 80 gallons.

Things I learned today:

First Hour Rating.  Higher is better.  An FHA of 122 (our current heater) can put out 122 gallons of hot water in the first hour. After that the tank will need to recover before it can put out more.  On average an 8 minute shower will use 17 gallons.  The average dishwasher uses 6 gallons.  The average washing machine cycle uses around 40 gallons.  So a 50 gallon tank with 40k BTU might have a FHR of about 77.  You could take one shower, do one load of laundry, and one load of dishes before the hot water ran out but that’d be it.  Forget about a second person taking a shower or godforbid, a bath.

Uniform Energy Factor.  Higher is better.  And a gas EF of > .82 (or thermal efficiency > 90%) qualifies you for a $300 federal tax rebate.  I can’t find an EF on our current heater’s label.  It could be that wasn’t a thing in  2000 or whenever they made this thing.

More Rebates!  NM Gas Co offers a $300 rebate on condensing water heaters with a UEF of .87 or a EF of .90

Unfortunately I don’t think any hot water heaters that have an atmospheric vent qualify.  All the super high efficiency models have power vents.  I’m kicking around a 75 gallon Bradford White (model RG275H6N) and it’s UEF is .59 so no rebate for me.  It appears that once you get over 50 gallons, efficiency is hard to achieve.

Recovery Rate.  My Lochinvar is considered high recovery.  Lochinvar rep said an equivalent unit is rated 67 gallon per hour recovery @ 90 degree rise (which doesn’t seem very high to me). The rise is the difference between the ground water and the temperature at which you set your water heater.  So if my ground water is 45 degrees and my hot water temp is set to 135 (90 degree rise) it will recover 67 gallons of hot water every hour. I was told to look for a high demand quick recovery heater by my favorite HVAC company in Albuquerque, Fix Right.

Can your gas line handle the BTUs?  I called NM Gas company and Jeffrey in customer service said the plumber will let you know when they do the install if your current setup can handle the increased btu or if you’ll need to replace your meter.  He assured me that if the meter needed replacing NM Gas would be able to come out the next day to do it.  Good thing because the hot water heater won’t not be able to run if the gas line can’t support it.  There is no cost for the meter itself but I will be charged $70 an hour for their time.  He said it should only take an hour.  He obviously doesn’t know me.

What size PVC venting?  2″ 3″?  Can that be swapped out easily enough?

Is altitude an issue?

Warranty.  I’m not sure what the different warranties are but it looks like 6 years might be the average.  I would prefer a 10 year warranty to cover the time I plan to be in this house.

When I spoke with Moreno Plumbing (the service hired by AHS) I was told that brand names don’t matter.  “All water heaters are made by the same one or two manufacturers then companies like Rheems and State stick a label on it” … Dan at Bradford White says that is absolutely not true.  But we already know that BW made the Lochinvar unit in 2000 so it’s definitely sorta true.  So I pulled up the the Energy Star certified hot water heaters and despite being different brands, these 75 gallon units are identical:  A.O. Smith, American, GSW, Reliance, State … so who actually makes them??

You’ll need to bring your new hot water heater up to code.  We have new code requirements that didn’t exist when they built our house in 2000.  Some of the non-covered items that I need to pay for to bring it up to code:  3″ leg drips ($65), Earthquake straps ($75), expansion tank ($195) and permit ($100).  The insurance company doesn’t cover any of these costs so my out of pocket should be $435 based on the contract.

We also have a hot water recirculating pump that is mixing the hot water into the cold somewhere.  We are hoping it’s at the valve so that needs to be replaced as well.

AHS contract items

E. 5. WATER HEATERS COVERED: All components and parts, including tankless water heaters and circulating pumps, except: NOT COVERED: Auxiliary holding or storage tanks – Noise – Fuel storage tank and energy conservation unit.

A. 4.  For covered malfunctions, unless otherwise specified in this contract, AHS will repair or replace the covered item. AHS has the sole right to determine, according to the terms of this contract, whether a covered item will be repaired or replaced. When making repairs, AHS reserves the right to rebuild existing parts or components and/or to install rebuilt parts or components. When making replacements, AHS is responsible for installing replacement equipment and parts of similar features, capacity, and efficiency, but not for matching dimensions, brand or color. AHS is not responsible for matching any feature of an existing item that does not contribute to the primary function of that item.

I called AHS and got transferred to the authorizations department.  Randy told me that since a 65 gallon tank is no longer available, AHS will only offer a 50 gallon replacement despite that fact that 50 gallons is utterly insufficient for our needs.  My other option is to pay to upgrade to the 75 gallon or take their cash out offer of $1130.  I already left a message for Ernie @ Moreno plumbing requesting an estimate for the 75 gallon upgrade so I guess we will see what they come back with.

Unfortunately a week went by with no return call from Moreno.  I called Moreno again on 4/24/18 and spoke with Laura.  She said she gave the message to Ernie and also discussed it with her office manager who was going to call me.  She said she would give them the messages again.  This is pretty standard in Albuquerque.  It’s amazing how much you have to pester people to work.

On 4/26 Moreno called and said they have never had to give an estimate on an upgrade before (that is typically the responsibility of the insurance company) but she will call AHS and figure out what they want her to do.

May 7, 2018 No call back.  No one from Moreno plumbing called back.  It’s really incredible to me how bad service companies are in this city.  I called at 10:30 am and the phone went straight to voice mail which said if we don’t call back within 24 hours to call them back.  Seriously.  I hopelessly left a message for her to return my call.  Will see what happens.

May 8, 2018.  Surprise!  No call back from Moreno Plumbing.  Called again at 9:41am.  Got voice mail.  Again.  Left a message that I will call AHS and ask for another plumber since Moreno is unable to schedule an appointment.  Crystal called me back immediately.  There were apparently no notes on my account so I had to explain the situation again.  She said she is short handed but will contact the owner and see what’s going on.

Fun Fact.  Per Consumer Reports, heating water constitutes about 20% of your gas bill!  I hope that when we replace this we will see our bill go down a bit.

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