Heat pump water heaters are having a moment. While the technology has been around for years, recent technological advancements and federal incentives have set heat pump water heaters up for mainstream adoption.
As a refresher, heat pump water heaters (sometimes called “hybrid” water heaters) warm water by absorbing heat energy from the ambient air and transferring that energy into a water tank. By moving heat instead of creating it, they provide the same amount of hot water as a regular electric element model while using up to four times less electricity. They exhaust cool/dry air and drip condensation (water) as byproducts, thus, dehumidifying and cooling the spaces they are installed in. In addition to the heat pump compressor, they have backup electric resistance elements for the rare times they need to quickly recover heat in the tank at the expense of efficiency. While the technology is promising, it has high upfront costs, and not everyone has a dedicated 240-volt circuit run to their water heater location.
Recently announced tax incentives for heat pump water heaters in the Inflation Reduction Act will help with the upfront cost. Look for those and more energy-efficiency incentives on next year’s taxes. New 120-volt models coming to market will ensure anyone can install one of these remarkable appliances anywhere in their home.
To make this possible, manufacturers increased the effectiveness of the compressor technology even further and removed the power-hungry elements completely, meaning these new models can provide all of your home’s hot water needs while plugging into a regular wall outlet! Imagine your home’s water heating burden going from a quarter of total energy consumption to less than that of a single incandescent 100-watt light bulb.
While tankless water heaters are all the rage with their promise of endless hot water and claims of modest energy savings, the truth is they have some fundamental limitations that heat pump water heaters don’t suffer from. Whole-home electric tankless water heaters require tremendous amounts of power to run (80 amps or more), and gas tankless water heaters can only ever be about 98% efficient. These new 120-volt heat pump water heaters promise to provide adequate hot water for your whole home with less than 20 amps of power while operating at up to 400% efficiency.
If you have questions about energy efficiency, contact your energy experts at Craighead Electric Cooperative.