Heat Pump Water Heater Buyers Guide
WHAT IS A HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER?
Most homeowners are familiar with heat pump technology as it applies to heating and cooling your home. A heat pump water heater uses the same technology to heat water, resulting in efficiency 2-3 times than that of a standard electric water heater. Heat pump water heaters on the market today include a storage tank, a compressor and fan all in one unit, and while they are more expensive, many utility companies offer incentives that dramatically bring down the cost of the unit and installation.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
A heat pump water heater works like a refrigerator in reverse. Instead of using a compressor to pull heat from inside the refrigerator and transferring it to the surrounding room, a heat pump uses the compressor to take heat from the surrounding air and transfers it inside a storage tank, where your water is heated.
Most heat pump water heaters also have backup resistance elements – like a standard water heater – for situations when the ambient temperature in the room is not high enough. For most efficient operation, most heat pump water heaters are suited for a year-round temperature range of 40 – 90 degrees F.
For northern regions that have slightly colder temperatures, we recommend using the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance’s (NEEA) Northern Climate Qualified Heat Pump Water Heaters list as a guide to choosing a heat pump water heater that will suit your needs.
SELECTING A HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER
When selecting a heat pump water heater, you should consider the following:
- What size and first hour rating do I need?
Consider the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you have in your house, and ask your installing contractor to suggest a size that will fit your needs. Most heat pump water heaters will have a capacity of 50, 66, or 80 gallons, and the first hour rating – a measurement of how much hot water the heater will put out in an hour of operation – will only be slightly higher than the capacity, because the heat pump heating process is fairly slow.
- What space constraints do I have?
As heat pump water heaters are often taller and wider than the current model in your home, you need to consider the space available for a larger unit. Ask your installer to guide you through the process to determine if you have enough space to have the unit installed and to service the air filter.
- What should I look for in an Efficiency Factor (EF)?
The higher the EF, the lower the operating costs. The best heat pump water heaters have an EF of 2.0, which means that they are 200% efficient. While that might sound strange, the EF is comparing the amount of hot water produced per unit of electricity consumed in a typical day, so 200% efficiency means the heat energy produced is twice the amount of electricity consumed.
- What brand should I select?
Some important things to consider when choosing the brand of your heat pump water heater are warranty, availability of local service providers, and reliability. The best heat pump water heaters on the market have a lifetime warranty on the tanks, which are constructed with stainless steel.
Make sure there are installers in your area who are certified to work on this product, in case you need to have your water heater serviced. Also, read up on what others who have bought the brands you have in mind have to say about their water heaters’ reliability.
WHAT REBATES ARE AVAILABLE FOR HEAT PUMP WATER HEATERS?
Many utility companies offer significant incentives to help bring down the upfront cost of purchasing and installing a heat pump water heater. Call your utility company to find out about incentives available in your area.
WHY CHOOSE A HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER?
A heat pump water heater is a great solution for a homeowner who currently has a standard tank electric water heater, and is looking to replace it either because their current tank is old, inefficient, and/or leaking, or because they simply want to reduce their annual electric bill. While the average home using a standard electric tank water heater spends roughly $500 heating their water each year, a heat pump water heater will reduce annual costs by $250 to $300.
Whether you’re concerned about environmental impact or just bringing down the cost of heating your water, a heat pump water heater is a winner in both of these categories. Plus, with significant incentives offered from major utilities on the west coast, the cost of purchasing and installing a heat pump water heater is, in some cases, less than installing a new standard electric tank water heater.
WHAT ARE SOME ADVANTAGES OF A HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER?
It’s important to consider some of the positives and negatives of choosing a heat pump water heater. Here are some that stand out:
- Reduces electricity bills by $200-300 annually
- Purchase & installation w/ incentives can be less than cost of standard tank installation
- Some tanks are stainless steel, w/ a lifetime warranty
- Digital controls let you set operation of the heater according to your preference of efficiency vs. quick recovery
- Ideal for a garage or other un-conditioned space
- Most units are large, requiring possible plumbing and installation modifications
- If installed in a basement, the unit requires a condensate line pump
- Heat pump water heaters require the air filter to be changed every 1-2 years
- About as loud as a dishwasher and may not be ideal when installed next to a bedroom or other living space
INSTALLING AND MAINTAINING A HEAT PUMP WATER HEATER
The first three things you should consider when choosing to install a heat pump water heater are fuel type, location, and electrical capacity in your home.
Fuel Type – If you currently have a gas water heater, most installers and utility companies will recommend sticking with gas. Even though heat pump water heaters achieve impressive efficiency ratings, the cost of operating a heat pump water heater is still in most cases more than the cost of operating a gas water heater. And after considering generation and line losses with electricity, using gas to heat your water from an overall cost and environmental perspective.
Location – Most incentives are only provided when the heat pump water heater is located in a garage or other un-heated, un-conditioned space. HPWHs generally require installation in a room with 1,000 cubic feet of space so that enough ambient air is available for the water heater to operate efficiently. If you need to relocate your water heating system to accommodate this, ask your installer for to let you know what would be involved.
Electrical – Most heat pump water heaters require a 30 amp breaker and a 10 gage wire. If you have questions about your electrical, ask your installing contractor to walk you through how to check this. In some cases, you may need to have an electrician make some modifications before you can install the HPWH.
When estimating a total cost for the installation of a heat pump water heater, your installer should go over the current plumbing codes and permit costs with you before they begin work in your home. Make sure you understand the requirements so that your water heater is installed safely.
Also ask your installer to help you understand the periodic maintenance requirements of a heat pump water heater. While maintenance costs are low, it is important that you clean your air filter periodically to extend the life of your heat pump. Read your owner’s manual for further tips and recommendations.