What’s new at the home improvement store? Hybrid water heaters are electric heaters that use heat pump technology to warm water for use in homes or industrial applications. In nature, heat flows from a higher to a lower temperature. Heat pumps, however, force the heat flow in the other direction, extracting warmth from the air and transferring it to the water tank. The pumps do so using a relatively small amount of energy in the form of electricity or other energy source. Thus, heat pumps can transfer heat from natural heat sources (air, ground or water) or man-made heat sources and re-use it in heat pump technology. Hybrid units are also equipped with conventional heating elements, to boost temperature and hot water production in case of additional demand.
Currently, manufacturers of hybrids suggest homeowners will save between 25 and 50 percent per year on water heating costs by making the switch. General Electric rates their hybrid heater as saving consumers even more money, citing a 62 percent savings (or $320 per year) over conventional electric water heaters.
Hybrid heat pump water heaters produce sound during pump operation due to the operation of the evaporator fans. The sound has been compared to that of a microwave vent fan. If installed away from the main living areas, the sound is not typically an issue. However, if the heater were installed in a room on the main floor, the sound produced would need to be taken into account.
Other installation considerations include:
1. Access to filter. The filter protects internal components from dirt and needs to be serviced to keep the unit operating efficiently.
2. Access to a drain. The hybrid units pull humidity from the air. This humidity is drained out through a condensation drain.
3. Units require an installation space of 700 to 1,000 cubic feet, depending on the model. They cannot operate or be placed in a small, enclosed area.
4. Hybrids must be placed in an area where temperatures remain above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Hybrid heaters operate most efficiently when air temperature is above this level.
The most cost-effective way to install a hybrid water heater is to place the unit in the same space as the existing water heater, which takes advantage of the electric hookups and pipes already in place. They are slightly taller and larger around than standard electric water heaters.
Typical installation costs of a hybrid water heater range from $2,200-$3,000. Factors affecting cost include location, installation complexity, model selected and installer rates. Tanks come in different sizes, with the most common size featuring a 50-gallon tank.
Some machines come with a LCD panel allowing for adjustments to be made using an on-screen display located at eye-level. With many hybrids, there are a variety of modes for heater operation. GE’s model includes a hybrid mode, standard mode and high demand mode. Hybrid mode uses less energy while still providing fast hot water recovery times. While the unit uses the heat pump as its primary means to heat the water, the standard electric elements may activate if a faster water temperature recovery time is needed. When the system determines that demand has been met, it will automatically revert back to using the heat pump only. High demand mode can be used when the need for hot water temporarily increases. The hot water heater will be faster to react to temperature recovery by cycling on the heating elements sooner and for a longer duration of time. In standard mode, the heat pump is shut off and only uses the electric elements to heat the water, just like a standard electric water heater.
Source: John Watkins, Nashville Home Inspection; Blog distribution provided by Kenneth Bargers and Bargers Solutions, a proud member of Pilkerton Realtors, residential real estate services located in Nashville, Tennessee