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Air Quality: New Water Heater Rule Will Help Reduce Wintertime Air Pollution

By Joel Karamzyn

Did you know that your home water heaters and furnaces are significant sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a precursor gas that plays a significant role in the formation of ozone and fine particulates (PM2.5)?

Last month, the Air Quality Board passed a new rule to reduce NOx emissions from water heaters. The new rule requires that all water heaters sold in Utah must reduce NOx emissions by 75 percent as of November 1, 2017.

I’d like to answer a few of the questions I’ve heard from members of the public about the switch to ultra-low NOx water heaters.

Are lower NOx-emitting water heaters commercially available now?

Ultra-low NOx water heaters are readily available in California. You can order an ultra-low NOx water heater online from the major big-box stores for shipment to your home or local store for pick-up. They are not currently available in Utah as a standard in-store item.

Will the ultra-low NOx water heaters cost more?

They may cost slightly more at first. We conducted a survey of 100 water heater models that are currently on the market. For the 34 ultra-low NOx units available today for order online, the average price increase over other models was $10.

Will distributors be able to meet the 2017 deadline?

Yes, we have worked with the national trade association that represents the major water-heater manufacturers since the beginning of the rulemaking process, so they are aware that they must realign their distribution channels.

If our home furnace also emits NOx, why hasn’t the Air Quality Board required ultra-low NOx furnaces?

The technology for ultra-low NOx furnaces is just emerging. Some California air districts have rules in place for future furnaces and boilers to be ultra-low NOx units. We are watching these developments for future consideration.

Homeowners are not required to remove and replace old water heaters. But the next time they need a new water heater, they will likely be purchasing a model that meets the new standards.

If you’d like to learn more about ultra-low NOx water heaters, you can find more information by searching the Internet for California-approved water heaters or visiting the websites of big-box appliance stores.

Joel Karmazyn is an environmental scientist in the Division of Air Quality, where he is responsible for policy and planning of minor emission sources.

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