What are heat pump or hybrid water heaters?
You can think of a heat pump water heater as a big heat funnel. Let’s explain that. Heat pump water heaters take in heat from the surrounding air and use it to heat water. For this reason, storing them in a relatively open space is important. Tiny, cramped utility closets just won’t work as well as you might like. They’re better suited to be stored in an open room in your basement or another area that has the space available for your heat pump heater to absorb enough residual heat from the surrounding air to heat your water properly.
You can think about the heat funnel like this: Instead of creating heat from nothing, heat pump water heaters are just absorbing existing heat from the surrounding air and then concentrating it into one place. It acts as a heat funnel for the room that it’s in. It uses an air intake to absorb the air and refrigerant liquids to concentrate all the heat from that air. Then, it transfers that concentrated heat into your water.
That said, depending on the environment, many heat pump water heaters can simply switch to their electric heating element if they cannot adequately get enough heat from the room. This can help them be effective no matter where you live and what the climate is like at any given time during the year. If, for example, you live in a cold climate like Minnesota, chances are your basement is going to be quite cold during the winter months. (Which can end up being half the year.) During this time, your water heater might switch to using electric heating elements instead of the heat pump technology because it would take too long to absorb enough heat from the air. Then, during the warm summer months, your heat pump will switch back on so it can absorb the excess heat from the water heater’s storage room.
Image credit: energystar.gov
If you’ve been using an electric water heater, you may have to make a switch.
Heat pump water heaters may be more relevant than ever for you. There’s an incoming regulation on electric water heaters that may impact you if you need to replace yours.
The short version is that you won’t be able to get any electric water heaters that are 55 gallons or bigger starting on January 1, 2022
Now you don’t necessarily have to switch to a heat pump water heater; there are plenty of other options not affected by the incoming regulation. That said, the beauty of heat pump water heaters is that you should be able to replace any electric water heater you’ve been using seamlessly, even if you don’t have a gas line going to where your water heater is.
What makes heat pump water heaters different from electric water heaters?
Both heat pump and electric water heaters run entirely on electricity. The key difference between the two is that heat pump water heaters have the option to absorb heat from the surrounding air. That’s the heat pump working. Like electric water heaters, they also have an electric heating element to directly heat the water when there isn’t much heat available to absorb. Using the heat pump is far more energy-efficient than using the electric heating element.
Having both the heat pump and the direct heating element available is why heat pump water heaters are sometimes called hybrid water heaters. Depending on what will heat your water the most efficiently, heat pump water heaters will automatically switch to the best option. When it can do so effectively, they’ll use the heat pump to heat your water. If there isn’t enough heat in the room to use the heat pump effectively, most heat pump water heaters will automatically switch to its electric heating element to guarantee that you’ll have access to hot water at the temperature you want.
Because heat pump water heaters have the more energy-efficient option of using the heat pump, they’ll be more energy-efficient than electric water heaters. For you, that means that there will be more potential rebates to choose from. Rebates are generally given out based on the energy efficiency of your water heater. You can go to the government’s Energy Star website to find available rebates for heat pump water heaters and hopefully save some money.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a heat pump water heater?
One major advantage of a heat pump heater is its energy efficiency. If you do get a heat pump water heater, you can look forward to reduced bills and reduced energy usage. The hotter it is where you store your heat pump water heater, the more you’ll be able to save.
Let’s put that into hard numbers. For a 50 gallon tank, the average standard electric water heater costs about $436 a year to run. The average 50-gallon heat pump water heater costs $122 to run. That’s a difference of $314 every year. For more information about your potential savings with a heat pump, here’s a fact sheet from energystar.gov to see more detailed savings and rebate options.
One key disadvantage with heat pump water heaters is that, as mentioned earlier, they’ll need to be kept in a space that gives them enough room to work properly. A heat pump heater in a room too small won’t be able to absorb enough heat from the air. That means it will never be able to get your water to the temperature that you want it at using the heat pump alone. If your house doesn’t have a large basement area that you can effectively store your water heater in, you might be out of luck if you’re looking to go with a heat pump heater. Along the same lines, if your basement (or wherever you keep your water heater) frequently gets cold, then you might not be able to get much use out of the heat pump during some parts of the year.
Here’s an example of a Rheem Proterra Heat Pump Water Heater
Is a heat pump water heater right for you?
If you’re currently using an electric heater and need to switch, we recommend going with a heat pump water heater. Having a more energy-efficient option certainly isn’t a bad thing as it won’t get in the way of the regular function of the heater and will only save you money in the long run. That, on top of the fact that you won’t be able to get electric heaters 55 gallons or bigger soon, make heat pump water heaters an excellent choice for you if you need a water heater powered by electricity.
As always, we recommend talking to your local water heater installer to see if a heat pump water heater will work for your situation. Take a look and see if you’re in our service area, and we’d be happy to help you.