Efficient water heaters will cut pollution, save money, save lives

Many households will save more than $170 each year in energy costs thanks to new water heater efficiency standards.

Athel Rogers | Used by permission

On April 30th, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) finalized a new water heater energy efficiency standard that will reduce pollution, lower utility bills and save lives. According to the agency, this rule saves more energy than any single previous DOE efficiency standard. 

Why are efficient water heaters a big deal? 

Rapid access to hot water is a hallmark of modern society and has made life a whole lot easier. With the turn of a knob, we can take a hot shower, wash our dishes, clean our clothes, and more.

Heating water requires energy. Tucked away in some corner of our homes is a machine whose job it is to do just that. In most households, water heating is the second-biggest use of energy.

The Department of Energy estimates that the efficiency standards for water heaters that they finalized today will save more than 17 quadrillion Btu (“quads”) of energy over 30 years. To give you a sense of perspective, the entire U.S. economy consumes about 100 quads of energy per year. 

The biggest energy saving impact of this new rule is that it requires the most common-sized electric water heaters sold in America to use efficient heat pump technology starting in 2029. 

The cleanest energy is the energy we never need to use. Johanna Neumann
Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center
Athel Rogers | Used by permission
Environment America and U.S. PIRG staff outside the U.S. Department of Energy to show support for strong water heater efficiency standards (Photo credit: Athel Rogers)

What are the impacts of making water heaters more energy efficient?

Requiring water heaters to be more energy efficient will save consumers money, reduce pollution and save lives.

How do consumers benefit from more efficient water heaters? 

The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that American families will save $124 billion on energy bills over 30 years thanks to the new water heater efficiency standards. Many households can expect to save more than $170 each year. These savings are largely attributable to the greater energy efficiency of heat pumps compared to the old outdated technology found in many water heaters today. 

What are the environmental benefits of more efficient water heaters?

The Department of Energy estimates that, over 30 years, their updated water heater efficiency standard will prevent:

  • 90,000 tons of sulfur dioxide from going into our air. Sulfur dioxide can contribute to the formation of soot, an especially harmful type of air pollution, since the small particles easily lodge in human lungs where they can trigger asthma attacks, heart disease, lung disease and cancer.
  • 665,000 tons of nitrogen oxides from being emitted. Nitrogen oxides cause smog, which blocks viewscapes and causes health problems such as asthma and reduced resistance to lung infections and colds.
  • Lots of the pollution warming our planet. Specifically, making water heaters more efficient is expected to prevent 332 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and more than 3,000 tons of methane pollution.

DOE estimates that the finalized water heater rule will lead to $33 billion in health benefits.

Wiser energy use means cleaner air and healthier kids. Abe Scarr
Energy and Utilities Program Director, U.S. PIRG Education Fund
Illinois PIRG director Abe Scarr discusses the Peoples Gas pipe replacement program on Fox Chicago
Yazan Aboushi | TPIN
Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Lisa Frank makes the case for the environmental benefits of energy efficiency standards in April 2024 (Photo Credit: Yazan Aboushi)

How did Environment America and PIRG contribute to winning a strong water heater standard?

Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund have long advocated for more efficient appliances. 

Prior to this rule, water heater efficiency standards hadn’t been updated since 2010. During that time, heat pump technology has steadily improved, so we knew there were significant energy savings that could come from requiring manufacturers to include the latest energy-saving technology in their products.

In partnership with allies at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, the Consumer Federation of America, Climate Action Campaign and others, we worked side-by-side throughout 2023 and 2024 to advocate for a strong water heater efficiency standard. 

Environment America Research & Policy Center and our 501c4 sister organization Environment America worked to educate the public and create opportunities to get involved. We met with staff from the Department of Energy and repeatedly urged the agency to finalize strong standards. And of course, grassroots engagement made an impact too. Supporters of Environment America and PIRG made up the lion’s share of more than 12,000 public comments submitted to the Department of Energy in support of a strong water heater efficiency standard.

The below video is an example of how we worked to raise awareness for the benefits of improved water heater efficiency.

Building on a legacy of progress

Social change happens incrementally. Over the years, Environment America Research & Policy Center, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, and our federation of state organizations have helped win energy efficiency and conservation measures that will help us stop using energy for unnecessary or harmful things, and increase the efficiency of our buildings, equipment and systems. 

To  realize a safer, cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future, America must waste less energy. Thanks to support from a lot of people from all walks of life, today we are one step closer to a greener, healthier future that offers us and our children the opportunity to live healthier, more enriching lives.


Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Johanna directs strategy and staff for Environment America's energy campaigns at the local, state and national level. In her prior positions, she led the campaign to ban smoking in all Maryland workplaces, helped stop the construction of a new nuclear reactor on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and helped build the support necessary to pass the EmPOWER Maryland Act, which set a goal of reducing the state’s per capita electricity use by 15 percent. She also currently serves on the board of Community Action Works. Johanna lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family, where she enjoys growing dahlias, biking and the occasional game of goaltimate. 

Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

Abe Scarr is the director of Illinois PIRG and is the PIRG Energy and Utilities Program Director. He is a lead advocate in the Illinois Capitol and in the media for stronger consumer protections, utility accountability, and good government. In 2017, Abe led a coalition to pass legislation to implement automatic voter registration in Illinois, winning unanimous support in the Illinois General Assembly for the bill. He has co-authored multiple in-depth reports on Illinois utility policy and leads coalition campaigns to reform the Peoples Gas pipe replacement program. As PIRG's Energy and Utilities Program Director, Abe supports PIRG energy and utility campaigns across the country and leads the national Gas Stoves coalition. He also serves as a board member for the Consumer Federation of America. Abe lives in Chicago, where he enjoys biking, cooking and tending his garden.