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Heat pump water heaters

House with a heat pump water heater.

Heat Pump Water Heaters: Everything You Need to Know 

What is a heat pump water heater?

Most homeowners with heat pumps use them to heat and cool their homes. However, a heat pump also can be used to heat water. Heat pumps use compressors, refrigerants, heat exchangers, and the difference in outside air temperature versus indoor temperatures to produce heating and cooling for homes and businesses.

A heat pump water heater (HPWH) works like a refrigerator in reverse. It absorbs heat from the surrounding air to heat water within the tank. Because the HPWH uses heat pump technology, heat pump water heater efficiency can be 2 to 3 times more efficient than a traditional resistance electric water heater. This means it will cost you less to produce hot water for your home.

How much does a heat pump water heater cost?

Heat pump water heater systems typically have higher initial costs than conventional storage water heaters. However, they have lower operating costs, which can offset their higher purchase and installation prices.

Most heat pump water heaters will pay for themselves in 2 to 3 years. However, they may not be the right choice for every situation. If your water heater is over 10 years old, you should be looking at a replacement anyway to avoid the risk of water damage should the tank fail. Take the time to weigh the pros and cons of a HPWH as a replacement by viewing the advantages and disadvantages below.

Go to the Department of Energy’s website to learn how to calculate potential savings on a traditional electric water heater to a HPWH.

Heat pump water heater installation requirements

Heat pump water heaters require installation in locations that remain 40 to 90 degrees year-round and provide at least 1,000 cubic feet of air space around the water heater. Cool air can be exhausted in the room or outdoors. Install them in a space with excess heat, such as a furnace room. Heat pump water heaters will not operate efficiently in a cold space and tend to cool the spaces they occupy.

Sizing your water heater

Before you can choose and compare the costs of various models, you need to determine the correct size water heater for your home. A properly sized water heater will meet your household’s hot water needs while operating more efficiently. Therefore, before purchasing a water heater, ensure it is the correct size. To learn how to properly size your water heater, go to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) website.

The importance of professional installation & maintenance

Proper installation and maintenance can optimize your heat pump water heater efficiency. Climate, local building codes and safety issues need to be considered. Therefore, it’s best to have a licensed plumbing and heating contractor install it.

Do the following when selecting a qualified professional:

• Request cost estimates in writing
• Ask for references
•Check the company with your local Better Business Bureau
• Verify the company understands local building codes and will obtain any necessary permits.

Periodic maintenance can significantly extend your water heater’s life and minimize loss of efficiency. Read your owner’s manual for specifics.

Is it worth it to buy a heat pump water heater?

As with anything, there are certain benefits and problems that are commonly associated with heat pump water heaters. That begs the question, “Is it really worth it for you to buy a heat pump water heater?” Here, we discuss a few things you should consider when answering that question.

Advantages of heat pump water heaters

• Heat pump water heater efficiency can be as much as 2.5 times higher than an electric resistance water heater
• Cools surrounding space in the summer, making the area more comfortable
• Uses waste heat from the central furnace during winter months
• May qualify for a $500 rebate from your electric cooperative
• Can save $330 annually for a family of four, depending on water use and electric rates

Disadvantages of heat pump water heaters

• Costs more than traditional electric resistance water heaters
• The compressor will make a noticeable noise. Insulating the room can reduce the sound, but doing so reduces the amount of warm air for the unit’s use
• Physical size of a HPWH can be greater than an electric resistance water heater
• Requires additional space for air flow (1,000 cubic feet)
• Requires a condensation drain or pump to remove excess water that has condensed from the warm air that is drawn into the unit to heat the water

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