The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute is applauding the U.S. Department of Energy for starting an Energy Star program for residential water heaters.

“While water heater manufacturers provide a full range of energy-efficient products, Energy Star labeling will make it much easier for consumers to identify higher-efficiency products,” said AHRI President Stephen Yurek. “We hope the program will encourage homeowners to replace older, inefficient water heaters with the more efficient equipment being manufactured today. It is an excellent way for consumers to save money, reduce energy consumption and help the environment.”

The program, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will cover gas-fired storage, gas-fired tankless, heat pump and solar water heaters. The Energy Star program for gas-fired storage water heaters will take effect in two phases. For the first 19 months of the program, these water heaters must achieve an energy factor of 0.62 to qualify for the Energy Star label, but Sept. 1, 2010, the program criteria requirement changes to require a factor of 0.67 to qualify.

In order to carry the Energy Star label, equipment manufacturers must have third-party verification of the product’s energy-factor rating. The large majority of water heater manufacturers do this already through AHRI. Certified equipment and efficiency ratings are listed in AHRI’s certification directory

From this directory, consumers and water heater installers can print certificates of product performance that can be used to obtain rebates from some utility companies and municipalities, according to AHRI.