Everything installers need to know about: Electric Water Heaters for smaller properties

With regulatory changes and a focus on reducing carbon footprints shaping the way we heat our hot water, Richard Harvey, Commercial Director of Plumbing and Heating at Wolseley Plumb & Parts, explores the potential of electric water heaters:

Roughly 12% of an average home’s energy consumption is spent heating water. While the amount of energy consumed depends partly on how much hot water you use, the type of water heater installed has a huge bearing on both cost and green credentials.

Regulatory changes and energy efficiency

Driven by both consumer demand and space constraints, the combi boiler has taken the market share in newbuild properties in recent years. This trend looks set to change, with the Government’s Future Homes Standard banning all fossil-fuel heating from newly built homes from 2025. In response, housebuilders are exploring a range of options, from ground and air source heat pumps to district heating. However, as the market evolves, electric water heaters are growing in popularity – offering a quiet, easy to operate solution that lowers emissions and offers a viable alternative to gas.

Space Saving Solution

Traditionally a functional piece of kit hidden away under a counter or in a cupboard, electric water heaters are evolving to become more aesthetically pleasing – with some even designed to complement and add to the interior design. For smaller homes, water heaters offer a space saving solution versus traditional cylinders or boilers. Slimline wall-hung solutions take up far less space than a cylinder sitting in an airing cupboard. Instantaneous water heaters offer the most compact solution, while larger capacity storage water heaters also come in compact packages, with slimline versions offering sufficient hot water for a small household to have a bath or multiple showers.

Extensions, annexes and home offices

While the regulatory environment might account for a shift towards electric water heaters as a more sustainable choice for new builds, the pandemic has also resulted in a change in the way we use our homes. With home offices on the rise, water heaters can provide an ideal solution for those looking to access hot water in their converted sheds, garages and annexes. The pandemic has also seen an increase in multigenerational households, as adult children and elderly relatives move into the family home. In these situations, water heaters are the ideal way to add extra capacity quickly, and at a relatively low cost, without having to worry about exceeding the capacity of the boiler or extending gas pipework.

Smart Technology for water heaters

In today’s connected world, most homeowners are familiar with the likes of the Nest thermostat, with smart heating becoming commonplace in the nation’s homes. However, while the popularity of combi-boilers has meant that this market has grown apace, electric water heaters are just starting to tap into this trend.

Today’s water heaters feature intelligent controls which give users a simple, fast and efficient way to control their heating and water supplies. Many also have the ability to link systems to a smart phone app, allowing users to start, stop, monitor and adjust the temperature of their water, tweaking settings to improve efficiency and save money. Ariston’s eco-evo function takes smart functionality one step further. This highly intelligent tech effectively memorises water consumption habits and manages the water temperature autonomously, ensuring that hot water supply meets demand when required.

For installers, being able to upsell smart-tech products is one way to meet growing consumer demand. However, some systems on the market also offer the added benefit of being able to use the app for fault finding – allowing installers and heating engineers to assess the scope of the job and ensure they have the right parts to hand, before they arrive on site.

Installation: What you need to know

Water heaters come in all shapes and sizes, with key differences making them suitable for different applications. Instantaneous water heaters deliver hot water immediately at the point of use. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit, where an electric element heats the water. With no standby energy losses and no need for flues or gas piping, these systems are a good choice for properties with minimal hot water requirements or remote areas of the home. Industry leading brands, including Ariston, Heatrae Sadia, Santon and Triton offer a range of wattages as well as multipoint specifications to fit the needs of the application.

For those with a higher demand for hot water, properties with up to 3 bedrooms or light commercial applications, storage water heaters offer increased hot water availability. Products such as Ariston’s Velis Evo range is available in 45 and 80 litre capacities, with titanium enamelled twin tank technology with separate heating elements that ensure more hot water is available when required.

Rules and Regs for Water Heaters

For installers, the most important thing to note is the difference in the way that these units are installed. Installation of units under 15L will require a knowledge of G3 regulations. However, those over 15L must be hard-wired to the fuse board and require the services of an electrician – an important distinction to make. Installers looking to tap into this growing marketplace should make sure that they carry a BPEC G3 Unvented Certificate/identification card, enabling them to prove that they possess the relevant skills required to comply with regulations.

For systems over 30L, it is important to consider the need for an expansion vessel, to help maintain pressure, handling the expansion and contraction of water inside as it heats and cools; a non-return valve to prevent backflow of any hot water into the cold mains; and a discharge tundish, which provides a visual indication of over pressurising and prevents any water from being sucked back due to high pressure. While some customers may be tempted to take on the installation themselves, it is hugely important that installers educate customers about the benefits and legalities of using a trained professional.

Tapping into trends

With change on the horizon for newbuilds and a shift in the way we are using our homes, water heaters look set to become increasingly popular. As a result, the market is focussed on designing and manufacturing models that fit well in smaller spaces, meet interior design trends and embrace smart home and in-app connectivity. Despite being beaten in the popularity stakes by combi-boilers over the last decade, electric water heaters are taking design and functionality to a new level – proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

For more information, please a range of water heaters from the likes of Ariston, Heatrae Sadia, and Zip, visit www.wolseley.co.uk/water-heating-and-storage

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