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The Pros and Cons of Heat Pump Water Heaters

Are you considering getting heat pump water heaters for your residence? If your water heater needs repair or even a replacement, then you may have seen heat pump water heaters as one of the many options available for you and your home. In this comprehensive guide to the pros and cons of heat pump water heaters, we will delve deeper into the world of heat pump water heaters, providing valuable insights to help you make an informed decision about your home’s water heating needs.

Heat pumps have been in use since they were invented in the 1940s. While they rose to popularity in the 1970s, many homes still rely on traditional electric or gas heaters to get hot water. That’s why we put together this complete guide on heat pump water heaters and all you need to know about them when making this decision. 

All About Heat Pump Water Heaters

How it Works

Many homeowners may overlook the importance of a good water heater and the surprisingly high price tag of having hot water. The average family spends $400 to $600 a year on the luxury of having hot showers and warm water. This price is partly because conventional water heaters are famously inefficient; they can account for up to 20 percent of your entire utility bill. That’s why many homeowners are switching to heat pump water heaters and other energy-efficient options.

But let’s take a closer look at how these innovative systems work. While most water heaters rely on gas or electricity to generate heat, heat pump water heaters are different – in fact, these pumps don’t generate any heat directly. Instead, they pull heat in from the air, which is then delivered to the unit’s storage tank. This process is how refrigerators work, but heat pump water heaters do the reverse while a fridge expels hot air. Because they’re pulling in hot air, this makes them ideal for primarily warm climates like Louisiana!

The Pros and Cons

Pro: Heat Pump Water Heaters Are More Efficient

Since they can draw from the heat in the air, these water heaters do not have to work to generate new heat. Instead, this heat comes from anywhere in the air, even the waste heat from a nearby furnace. Because of this, they are incredibly energy efficient compared to traditional models, which means they can save you several hundred dollars on energy bills each year, and they’re long-lasting –  a good, well-maintained heater can last between ten to fifteen years. 

Con: Greater Up Front Expenses

These water heaters can cost up to twice as much as other models, which can be a setback for those working on a tight budget. The cost can range from around $2,100 to $3,300 upfront, not including installation. While these heaters can still save you money over time with annual energy costs, the initial price is enough to push it out of some buyer’s budgets.

Pro: Environmentally and Family Friendly

Since they don’t generate heat, gas leaks, and toxic emissions are non-existent from heat pump water heaters. They produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional gas water heaters, contributing to a reduction in your carbon footprint. By opting for a heat pump water heater, you can play a role in reducing environmental impact and promoting cleaner energy consumption. Plus, the unit itself doesn’t get too hot outside, making it a safer option for families with pets or kids.

Research has shown that if all residential electric water heaters were replaced with heat pump water heaters, the energy cost savings would jump to $12 billion annually, and 140 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented annually. That’s the equivalent of emissions from 13 million vehicles, which is more than the entire population of Los Angeles.

Con: Can Be Difficult in Cold Climates

Heat pump water heaters draw from the air, so when there’s plenty of warm air (say, in the summer months), there’s no problem. However, this can take more time during colder winter months. Homeowners in colder areas should carefully assess whether a heat pump water heater is suitable for their specific climate conditions. Unless it’s a hybrid model that includes electric options, you have to give it time for your pump model to recover. However, this isn’t as much of a problem in subtropical climates like the American South, where plenty of warm air is nearly year-round.

Pro: Heat Pumps Can Last Longer than Traditional Units

Traditional water heaters typically last around 8-12 years. Heat pump water heaters, however, can last 10-15 years if they are well maintained. The extended lifespan of heat pump water heaters not only saves you money on replacement costs but also reduces the environmental impact associated with manufacturing and disposing of appliances more frequently. This longevity makes them a sustainable choice for homeowners looking to invest in a durable and reliable water heating solution. Additionally, the longer lifespan can provide you with peace of mind, knowing that your water heater will serve your household efficiently for an extended period, requiring fewer replacements over time.

Con: Heat Pump Water Heaters Take Longer to Heat Water

The water with heat pump water heaters does take longer to heat compared to conventional water heaters. The reason it takes longer is because of the lower operating temperature of the heat pump systems compared to gas furnaces and electric resistance systems. It’s also important to note that because of this, heat pumps do have difficulty providing hot water during hours that are high in demand, such as the morning when everyone wants to shower. 

Pro: Tax Incentives and Rebates 

Some heat pump water heaters may qualify for tax incentives and rebates starting in 2023. The Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit will now be worth 30% of the total cost of eligible products and up to $1,200 per year. Alternatively, it can also be used for up to $2,000 per year for heat pump water heaters and heat pump space heaters. Taking advantage of these financial incentives not only reduces the initial investment required for a heat pump water heater but also promotes the adoption of energy-efficient technologies. By choosing a qualifying heat pump water heater, you can benefit from these credits and rebates while contributing to a more sustainable and energy-efficient future for your home. This can make the decision to switch to a heat pump water heater even more appealing and environmentally responsible.

Con: Not Suitable for Smaller Homes

Smaller homes may not have enough space for a heat pump water heater due to a lack of space for a condensation drain or pump. The heat pumps absorb heat from the air, so space is needed for the appliance to function well. The minimum required amount of space for it to perform its best is around 750-1,000 cubic feet or 21.24-28.32 cubic meters, which is about the size or a bit bigger than a small bedroom. To have a heat pump water heater, you would also need a ceiling height of at least 7 feet. Unless you have a dedicated room, a basement, or additional space for this appliance, it’s best to opt for something else. 

Pro: Low Operating Costs

One significant advantage of heat pump water heaters is their low operating costs. While they might have higher upfront costs, they can save you a substantial amount of money on your monthly energy bills. With their high energy efficiency and the ability to extract heat from the surrounding air, these systems are often more cost-effective in the long run compared to traditional heaters.

Con: Installation Space Requirements

One potential drawback of heat pump water heaters is their need for ample installation space. These systems require enough space to operate efficiently and may not fit well in small utility rooms or closets. The space requirements can be a limitation for homeowners with limited available space, making it essential to plan for the installation carefully.

Pro: Quiet Operation

Heat pump water heaters operate quietly, which can be especially beneficial if your water heater is located near living spaces or bedrooms. Unlike some traditional water heaters that can produce noise when heating water, heat pump systems generally run smoothly and silently. This can contribute to a more peaceful and comfortable home environment.

Con: Initial Installation Complexity

Installing a heat pump water heater can be more complex than replacing a traditional water heater, which may require additional expertise during installation. Ensuring the system is correctly set up, including electrical connections and proper ventilation, is crucial for efficient operation. This complexity can lead to higher installation costs and require professional installation services.

Other Options

  • Tankless water heater: This is an increasingly popular choice for those who want energy efficiency without the high upfront cost. The tankless water heater doesn’t store heated water in a large tank like most options – instead, it heats water just as needed, so it’s available only on demand. The benefits of a tankless water heater are that the smaller units require less storage and improved energy efficiency, so you save money on your energy bills. This option is ideal for a smaller home or space or smaller families who don’t need hot water as often.
  • Solar water heater: Solar water heaters harness the Sun’s energy, utilizing roof-mounted solar panels that transfer energy directly to the water heater to heat the water. These have many advantages, including saving money on your electricity bill, offering tax credits in certain areas, and being environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, solar power is unreliable as it requires regular access to sunlight. You can still collect solar energy on cloudy days, but repeated days with low sunlight can negatively affect your heater’s effectiveness. Solar power is an excellent option for some households but is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
  • Conventional style water heater: Among the most popular water heater options, the traditional water heater is a design that has yet to go out of style. Usually, these heaters have a large insulated water tank heated by a heat source, typically a gas flame. These heaters are generally very cheap compared to alternatives, effective in all climates, and are easy to service because of their simple design. There are two downsides to this design that has allowed space for heater innovation; however: they take up a lot of space, and they waste a lot of energy. Additionally, this design typically requires access to natural gas, which may not be available for some areas or be expensive for others. 

How to Extend Your Heater’s Life Span

 When you’re spending large sums of money on a water heater, it’s in your best interest to take the steps necessary to extend that heater’s life cycle for as long as possible to avoid purchasing a new one.

  • Invest in a quality heater. The best way to ensure you get your money’s worth out of your water heater is to invest in a quality one. If you seek out the cheapest water heater on the market, the chances are that you will get what you pay for and end up needing to purchase a new one before you would normally. 
  • Get your heater serviced regularly. As with any home appliance, you should aim to get your heater serviced regularly. These heaters should be serviced by a plumbing professional at least once a year. This is to ensure the longevity of your heater and the quality of your hot water. Goodbee Plumbing offers many different services for all of your plumbing needs.
  • Use cold water when possible. It may seem obvious, but a great way to extend the life of your water heater is simply to use it less frequently. You never have to go without hot showers, hot sink water, or otherwise- instead, wash your clothes with cold water when you can, and consider using your stove to heat water for cooking-related purposes. 
  • Install a timer. Water heaters typically stay on for the entire day, which may be a waste of electricity. Instead, consider hiring a professional plumber to install a timer on your water heater, allowing it to heat water only during the hours it will be used. Timers when used effectively, can add years to any heater’s lifespan. 
  • Add an Expansion Tank: Water expands when it’s heated, and if there is nowhere for the water to go, the internal pressure will rise. The expansion tank will attract the high-volume water and reduce the pressure, which in turn, eliminates the chance of the heater bursting or failing. 
  • Inspect the Gas Lines: If your water heater is connected to a gas line, inspect it regularly to ensure there aren’t any cracks, rust, or leaks. If there are any signs of damage, contact your plumber as soon as possible. 
  • Install a Water Softener: If your water supply has high levels of calcium and magnesium, you could have hard water, and the water in your home impacts the heater. Hard water can cause sediment deposits and reduce the lifespan of your appliance. You can install a water softener to folder our minerals and prolong the life of your heater. If you have bad tasting tap water and aren’t sure what to do, check out our blog on the topic. 
  • Utilize Vacation Mode: When you are out of town, use the vacation mode feature to lower your water temperature to not consume energy to heat the water you aren’t using. Your heater and your wallet will thank you! If your heater doesn’t have a vacation mode, you can still set it to a lower temperature. If you are unsure how to do this, contact Goodbee Plumbing, and we are more than happy to help!

When To Get A New Heater

Water heaters are an essential part of your home’s comfort system. If your heater is acting up, you should work quickly. Goodbee Plumbing will always give honest advice on whether you need a new water heater or can repair yours. There are many signs that you may need a new heater, including if:

  1. Your heater is more than ten years old and is not properly maintained
  2. You are missing hot water
  3. Hot water runs out quickly
  4. Water has a metallic smell or taste
  5. The temperatures are drastically different – too hot or too cold
  6. The water is rust-colored
  7. Strange noises, including popping, cracks, or banging sounds
  8. Water is leaking from the tank

Make sure to pay attention to your water heater because if there is an issue, you have to act fast to prevent a crisis.

Get a Water Heater That’s Right For You

If you’re experiencing issues with your water heater and think you may need a repair or replacement, you can trust the highly-trained team at Goodbee Plumbing. We offer many water heater services and are happy to consult with you about the right option for you and your family. 

Goodbee Plumbing is a family-owned and locally-operated company with more than 25 years of experience – an experience that we wouldn’t be able to have if we didn’t offer complete customer satisfaction. 

For more information, reach out to Goodbee Plumbing today!

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