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Heat Pump Water Heater – Everything You Need to Know

One of the reasons we feel good at home is comfort. Coming back to a warm cozy home is one of these aspects. As long as the water heater is properly running, we don’t pay attention. However, if you’re close to the water heater’s life (10-15 years), it’s time to look for a replacement. A corroded tank can alter the water heater’s efficiency, increase your energy bills and cause damage to walls, floors, and carpeting.

We know that buying a new water heater is an important decision to make, especially since you need to know a thing or two about the basics. Instead of installing the same water heater model, you should consider switching to one that uses a heat pump and the air inside the house to warm water. You will save money in the long run and protect the environment too. A local permit will be necessary, regardless of your final choice. Keep reading to find out what we are talking about.

All about heat pump water heater

There are a lot of changes in the water heater technology and they happen at high speed as well. Most of the new water heaters are energy-efficient, but that doesn’t mean they make the best option for your household. We recommend you do due diligence and learn about hybrid heat pump technology, energy efficiency, electric water heater, hybrid heat pump, gas water heater, radiant floor heating system, etc. You need to identify the model that gives the perfect balance between performance and efficiency for your property.

What is a heat pump water heater?

Slowly and surely, heat pump water waters (HPWHs) have become more and more present in households in America. Hybrid heat pumps (hybrid hot water heaters) represent an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly option, right after the solar models. The latter has the highest Energy Star, but still are very expensive.

The hybrid heat pump water heater is an energy-efficient method to sustain your domestic hot water needs and complete the hybrid heat pump for surrounding space heating. The hybrid heat pump water heater takes the surrounding air and circulates the heat around the pump to enhance the temperature. Therefore, it’s considered to be an air source heat pump. Since the electric heat pump pulls heat and isn’t generating heat directly, it’s two to three times more effective than the electric water heater.

What does the electric heat pump look like?

The hybrid heat pump water heater resembles a tall cylinder with a small chamber on top and a large one on the bottom. A fan, a cylindrical compressor, and an evaporator running along the inside of the chamber are in the top section. The temperature and pressure relief valve is placed on the bottom’s exterior. The valve features a hot water outlet connected to the top, and below the valve, there’s the upper thermostat. The small square is connected to a curved tube inside the heater. Resistance elements go from the upper thermostat to the lower thermostat.

what does heat pump water heater is like

The system’s quality, the size of the installation, the placement of the compressor unit, and the average temperatures of your climate impact the efficiency of the hybrid heat pump water heater. A drain valve with a cold water inlet connected to the top is found below the lower thermostat, whereas inside the cylinder, you find an anode and several thin tubes. They go through the bottom chamber to a coiled tube known as the condenser. The cylinder presents insulation.

There are two main kinds of hybrid heat pump water heaters:

  • Split systems: The compressor and the water tank are separate from these models. These systems are similar to a space conditioning system.
  • Integrated units: the heater tank and the compressors are placed together. Such systems are typically set up outside.

The water heater absorbs warmth from the surrounding air and takes it to the water heater with heat pump technology. These units do use electricity but surpass the traditional electric water heaters. How much electricity they need depends on their location and the climate they live in. If you’re looking for an affordable energy saver for heating, hybrid heat pumps are an excellent option. They can save energy, money and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Several factors impact the efficiency of the hybrid heat pump water heater. The dimension of the installation, the system’s quality, the compressor unit’s placement, and the average temperatures of the climate are crucial for the hybrid heat pump water heater’s performance.

Hybrid heat pumps are affordable to operate and produce lower carbon emissions than other heating systems. Replacing your standard electric water heater or your natural gas furnace can save you $200 to $600 per year.

How do heat pump water heaters work?

The heat pump heater isn’t generating heat directly, but it’s using electricity to push heat from one space to another. As a result, the hybrid heat pump water heater is excellent at energy saving, especially when compared to traditional water heaters. The heat pumps work similar to a refrigerator but in reverse.

How does a heat pump water heater work
Image credit Ahrinet.org

The refrigerator pulls heat inside the box and takes it to the surrounding space. However, the hybrid heat pump water heater will remove heat from the surrounding room and take it to heat water in the storage tank. Needless to say, the hybrid heat water pump will warm the air first. When running, the fan placed on the top of the water tank will push room air across the grid (it resembles a radiator) filled with cold liquid refrigerant in a tubing system. The refrigerant presents a low boiling point and the air’s temperature increases the liquid’s temperature, turning into a gas. The compressor will raise the gas’s pressure and the temperature. The pump will circulate the tubes with hot compressed gas down and around the cool water from the heater’s tank. The excess heat generated by the hot compressed gas will move toward the cool water, increase its temperature and cool the gas back to a liquid. It will be pushed back to the radiator and the process will start all over again. Unlike the conventional water heater that produces heat, the HPWH will simply move it, making it an excellent energy saver.

The byproducts

Dehumidified and cooled air represents the byproduct of the hybrid heat pump water systems. Some models make it possible to vent the conditioned air to another room in your house—it’s an excellent aspect in the summer! There’s also the category of models that simply blow the cooled air into the room where the unit is set up. Like the air conditioner, the HPWH generates a small amount of distilled water that has to be taken outside or into a drain—that’s why placement of the heat pump water is crucial. Even if the hybrid heat pump water heater uses electricity, it’s not as much as a traditional electric model. You need grid power to run the compressor and the fan. All hybrid heat pump water heaters, also known as hybrid water heaters, feature electric heating elements in the water tanks to ensure backup hot water during intense usage. More often than not, you won’t need t use the backup electric power since you will have enough hot water.

How do you operate a heat pump water heater?

The hybrid heat pump water heater has an LED control panel to choose the water temperature and set an operation mode. The heat-pump-only mode, the all-electric mode, and the hybrid mode (it combines the two modes) will kick in only if the demand for hot water is high. You can set the heat pump water heater to a vacation mode when you go on vacation. While you’re away, the water heater won’t run, but it will begin to operate right before you come back home. You want to come back to a warm house and be ready to wash loads of laundry as well. It’s a fantastic energy saver to have!

It’s possible to buy a stand-alone air source heat pump water heating system. Such a system includes the built-in water storage tank and the backup resistance heating elements. Otherwise, you can modify a heat pump to work with the current storage water heater.

What are the benefits of the electric heat pump water heaters?

At a glance, an electric heat pump water heater is a great energy saver. However, it brings several advantages:

They are energy-efficient

Solar models lead in terms of energy efficiency when it comes to water heaters. However, heat pump models come second. Most of these models present at least two energy factors—traditional water heaters have an energy efficiency of 0.6-0.98. The energy consumption is lower than conventional hot water heaters as the HPWH pulls heat and doesn’t generate it per se. Therefore, your energy bills will decrease every year, especially when compared to the conventional electric water heaters.

They are environmentally friendly

The heat pump water heaters are energy effective and, therefore, eco-friendly. Their carbon footprint can range anywhere from 2 to 4x lower than a conventional tank water heater. It’s one reason famous environmental groups stand behind heat pump water heaters.

You get rebates and incentives

You can get a $300 federal tax credit for purchasing a heat pump. In some states, the instant rebate can be as high as $750 (Maine, for instance), and many utilities will offer you a $500 refund. Simply check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to discover the incentives, the federal tax credit, and rebates you qualify for.

Are there any downsides?

As with anything else in life, heat pump water heaters aren’t perfect and present some downsides. Most customers don’t consider them to be deal breakers. However, it’s wise to have the complete picture before deciding.

The upfront cost

When you live in an area with no incentives for switching to heat pump water heaters, you will probably pay more upfront. It’s because the pump heaters are more expensive than tankless water heaters and electric water heaters. Additionally, the installation process is more complex than traditional models, increasing overall spending.

The noise level

Don’t imagine that the heat pump water heater will be very loud and make it impossible for you the sleep at night. Some homeowners, especially those more sensitive to noise, highlight the soft hum in the background when the hybrid heat pump is running. Once again, this is a minor aspect to consider. It’s easy to solve it by finding the perfect heat pump water heater placement.

What is the upfront cost of a heat pump water heater?

Several factors impact the final upfront cost of a heat pump. The unit you buy, the installation process and the incentives you qualify for are some of these factors. Let’s take a closer look.

Video from Matt Risinger

Unit cost

Expect to pay anywhere between $1,200 for a 50-gallon tank to $2,500 for an 80-gallon tank from a high-end manufacturer. You can check out the manufacturer you intend to buy from at the local Better Business Bureau. The quality of the unit and the tank’s size will count the most for the final price of the unit.

Labor to install

An experienced plumber will need around 6 hours to install a heat pump water heater. You will pay for the labor to install a heat pump water heater between $600 and $800.

Electrician work

On the off chance you have to replace a conventional electric tank, you already have the electric setup for an HPWH. However, if you switch from traditional gas water heaters, you must call an electrician. He has to run a 220-volt circuit for the new water heater model. Such work will cost you between $130 and $300.

Tools and supplies

The plumber will need to use several supplies to install the heat pump water heater. Remember to add to your spending anywhere between $170 and $220.

Disposal spending

If the plumber has to remove the current hot water heater, he will charge you for that work. It depends on how complicated the removal process is. The removal process can add $25 to $75 to the spending. However, some plumbers won’t charge you for it.

How much will you pay in a year for operating a heat pump water heater?

The heater’s energy efficiency (most models have two factors for the Energy Star), the energy costs where you live, and the amount of hot water you use will impact the operating spending. These factors also affect the expected annual cost to operate the heat pump water heater.

operating cost of heat pump water heater vs standard electric heaterThe factors that affect the operating spending the most are:

Energy factor

The energy factor measures the amount of electricity the heat pump water heater needs to heat the water. The energy star for most heat pump water heaters is 2, which is two and even three times as much as conventional tank models. You can save energy as heat pumps work without needing much electricity.

Energy usage/consumption

How much energy the heat pump uses every month year depends on many factors. The Department of Energy highlights that most heat pumps use 2,195kwh per year of electricity (kWH/yr). The bigger the tank, the more energy you will use. Don’t hesitate to request cost estimates from the manufacturers when you try to pick a model. Nine times out of ten, energy consumption is lower than traditional models.

Cost of energy

Where you live will affect the costs of energy. Cents per kilowatt-hour ($/kWh) measure electricity cost. For example, electricity in the South is cheaper than California and Hawaii. You can check out the data that the EIA provides for every state. Simply look at your utility bill to get the most accurate number.

All in all, you will pay around $225 per year to operate an average electric heat pump system. If you have a conventional tank water heater, you will pay $400 to $800 to run it. Let’s say you have a family of four. In this case, you will pay $300 per year to run a heat pump water heater. Should you have an electric heat pump system, you will pay $600 (the data comes from the Energy Star).

How do you find the perfect size for the heat pump water heater?

If it’s the first time you need to buy an electric heat pump system, be aware that size is crucial when selecting. You don’t want to pay the extra buck for an overkill model for your household. At the same time, you don’t want to end up with a water heater unable to generate the heat you need. Begin by examining the “first-hour rating” of the model as it tells how much hot water you will get to use at any moment before the tank has to refill and reheat the incoming water.

You also have to know the maximum hot water that you and your family need at any moment. You need to examine all the end uses (faucets, showers, dishwashers, etc.) to get the estimate. Continue by adding the ones that you will use at the same time. An average shower will use 2 gallons per minute—low flow shower heads use even less than that. If two family members shower for 10 minutes simultaneously, they will need 40 gallons of hot water.

However, the requirements change if you also need to shave after showering. A regular sink has a flow range of 0.5 gallons per minute. If you need 2 minutes to shave, you need to add another gallon of hot water. Let’s say that you plan on using the dishwasher after showering. An average dishwasher will use 6 gallons of water and energy-efficient models only use 4 gallons. If we add up all the hot water, we get a total of 46 gallons, which means that you will need a 50-gallon tank.

Some of you will think, “go big or go home,” but a bigger size for the tank always means higher prices. If you want to lower your utility bills, you can simply shower in the morning and run the dishwasher at night. There are several ways to keep an eye on your needs; shortening the showers to 3 minutes instead of 10 is another method to do it. If so, you can consider buying a 40-gallon tank.

Installation is essential for the heat pump water heater’s efficiency!

The first thing to note about the heat pump water heaters is that they require installation in locations that remain in the 40 to 90-degree F range year-round. They need at least 1,000 cubic feet (28.3 cubic meters) of air space around the heaters. The air passing over the evaporators can be taken outdoors or to the room. Since the heat pump water heaters are prone to cool the space in the room, they don’t operate properly in cold rooms. If you set the heat pump water heater in a room with excess heat, such as the furnace room, the unit will perform even better than expected.

You can opt for air-source heat pumps that combine heating, cooling, and water heating if you’re interested. These combination water heating systems extract the heat indoors from the outside in the winter and from the inside in the summer. Since they can eliminate heat from the air, the air-source heat pump models are highly effective in a warm climate.

Some water heaters allow installation in small spaces, but that’s not the case for heat pump models. When installed in small rooms, the heat pump water heaters don’t have enough warm air to push to the heating pump. Most manufacturers recommend a space heating of no less than 100 square feet. We care to remind you that the heat pump water heater is made to remove heat and reduce the room’s temperature where it’s set up. Therefore, you shouldn’t install one in a room where you already have a heating system. Your heat water system isn’t the only one providing you heat inside your home; the cooking equipment, solar heat from the windows, and even the family members are all heat sources. A person can generate 98.6 degrees of heat. The perfect room to set up the heat pump water heater is a utility room with the furnace of a clothes dryer. Ask for installation costs and operating costs when shopping.

Keep in mind that how much money your heat pump water heater will save you depends on many things. When installed in a cold space like an unheated garage, the heat pump water heater will turn more on the electric-heat mode than when set up in a utility room, especially during the colder months. Also, cooler intake water will need more BTUs to become hot.

Because the heat pump is placed on the tank’s top, a heat pump water heater is typically taller than a conventional model. Always check out the manufacturer’s specifications before buying a heat pump water heater because you don’t want to get one that doesn’t fit in a low-ceiling crawlspace.

The sound level

One of the downsides of heat pump water heaters is the noise level. Some models can be as loud as window air conditioners, so you need to consider the sound level before installing the unit. You don’t want to set it up next to your bedroom.

We encourage you to read the manufacturers’ websites to get all the information you need before buying. Reputed manufacturers provide you with energy-savings calculators and even recommendations about the sizing. Specifications and details about various models are also available. Don’t forget to look for information about the water tank’s insulation. Insulation is

important because it slows the movement of heat.

Crucial questions about the installation location

Here are some essential questions to be answered before selecting the location for the heat pump water heater:

  • Does the location provide more than 1,000 cubic feet of surrounding air? A 12ft by 12ft room is around 1,00 cubic feet. Ensure that the heat pump water heater has appropriate clearance around discharge and the air entry. A closet is seldom a good location, even if it has louvered doors.
  • Is the location an unoccupied space where noise and cooling don’t represent a problem?
  • Is the room tall enough to accommodate the heat pump water heater?
  • Can you set up a pump or a condensate drain in the surrounding room? Does the room have any already?
  • Will the air temperature remains between 40F and 90F degrees year-round? Ideally, you want to set up the heat pump water heater near a furnace in the basement where it’s warm during winter.
  • Is the air temperature above the freezing range (32F degrees)?

Will a heat pump water heater run in cold climates?

Let’s remind you once again that the pump heating water systems take in the surrounding air and heat it inside the system. When the surrounding air is cold, the heat pump will have to work harder to heat water, increasing operating costs. You will soon discover that saving money isn’t possible anymore. Such water heaters need year-round temperatures ranging between 39 to 89F degrees.

Additionally, heat pump water heaters cool the air space around them because they collect the hot air and expel the cold air. During the winter, the heated water heating system will cool the room where it is located. On the other hand, if you have a wood-fired boiler stove or an oil-fired boiler inside the furnace room, you can set the heat water system there. TheHPWH pulls heat that the boiler typically loses.

The geothermal heat pumps

Many homeowners opt to install geothermal heat pumps that collect heat from the ground in the cold months and from the indoor air in the warm months. Such systems are excellent at heating and cooling a house. As for water heating, you can add a desuperheater to the geothermal heat pump system. The

desuperheater is a tiny and additional heat exchanger that heats water with the superheated gases from the pump’s compressor. The hot water will go through a pipe to the storage water heater tank in the house.

You can find desuperheaters for tankless and demand water heaters. The desuperheater uses excess heat that would otherwise go to the ground in the summer. The geothermal heat pump can generate the majority of your hot water needs.

How to get the most out of the hybrid electric water heater?

Even if an electric heat pump system is more effective than a traditional tank model, you can continually improve its efficiency. We recommend you follow the guidelines to make your water heater reach its optimum performance:

  • Heat pump water heaters come with a control panel to pick the water temperature and switch between the operation modes. Think about the amount of water you expect to use and set the unit to Auto, Economy/Hybrid or Vacation to reduce wasted energy.
  • Hybrid heat pump water units feature air filters that you need to clean regularly for best performance. You only need to wipe the filter with a damp cloth. Rinse it under running water and allow it to dry.
  • New hybrid-electric models are made to connect to smart home systems such s Google Nest. You can easily set the water heater to Economy mode with such models when you’re not home.

Heat pump vs. conventional gas and electric water systems

You only need to check out the market to see that heat pump water heaters are $800 pricier than standard gas and electric water heater. It only makes sense that you would wonder: should you pay the extra buck for the pump water heating system?

Lower operating costs

Even if the upfront cost is higher with a heat pump water heater, you need to see the annual operating cost with such a model. This is where the pump water heating system surpasses both the gas and the electric models. Water heaters typically use 20% of your house’s total energy.

Most homeowners spend between $1,500 to $2,500 per year for that energy. However, heat pump models are 4x more effective than standard gas and electric water units. Therefore, you can spend as low as $300 to $400 to run an electric heat pump system. In the end, your electric heat pump unit will pay itself off in two or three years. Using it for ten years can save you even $4,000, which is excellent news.

More attractive rebates and incentives

There are many rebate possibilities when you purchase a hybrid water heater. We remind you that the federal tax credit is $300 when you get a hybrid water heater. Always check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to see the incentives in your city, state, or utility.

Longer warranty

Hybrid water heaters from reputed manufacturers have a more extended warranty than standard electric water systems. The warranties are more extended than the best tankless water heaters as well. For instance, gas and conventional electric water heater come with a 6-year warranty. You can expand it to 9 years if you pay another $100. However, an electric heat pump system will come with a 10-year warranty right from the start. The long water heater’s life is one of the main benefits to consider.

Lower carbon footprint

Heat pump water heaters stand out with many advantages and lower carbon footprint than gas and electric models is another to name. Apart from the solar water heaters, electric heat pump water heaters make for the most environmentally friendly options right now. They’re energy-efficient and generate 4x fewer burning fossil fuels than regular gas and electric heaters.

Heat pump water heaters vs. tankless models

When you look for alternative water heaters, you might also check out the tankless (on-demand water heaters) models. The heat pump and tankless water heaters are more energy-efficient than regular gas and electric water models. As a result, both types of water heaters will save money after some time. But why choose a heat pump water heater and not a tankless model?

You get the needed capacity right away

A reliable pump water heating system will give you more hot water than a tankless water heater. Let’s say that you and your family come back home from a lovely and messy outdoor experience—you all need to take a shower when you get home. It’s not going to be a problem when you have a water heating system and a 50-gallon water heater is an excellent model to cover a family of four. However, if you have a low GPM tankless water heater, you and your family will have a problem trying to shower simultaneously. Sure, you can buy a tankless model that gives 10GPMS, but your wallet should be big enough for it. If you know that you need a lot of hot water at once, the heat pump makes for your best choice.

Lower carbon footprint

We can stress enough about the lower carbon footprint of the heat pump water heater. Even if tankless water heaters are eco-friendlier than electric and gas water heaters, they cannot surpass the heat pump water heaters.

An average heat pump water heating system will emit half as much CO2 (200kg per year) compared to tankless models, generating 400 kilograms per year. It’s because the water heating system simply moves heat, whereas the tankless model produces heat.

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