Heat Pump Water Heaters (Hybrids) vs. Electric Water Heaters

So, it’s time to replace your water heater, and you’re wondering what sort is best for you? Between the electric heaters, gas water heaters, and heat pumps (the hybrids), there are so many options. And the type you choose depends on your needs. In this article, we will focus on the hybrid heat pumps vs. electric water heaters. This will include their features, advantages, and disadvantages.

Keep reading to discover the heaters that are the best option for you.

American heat pumpHeat pump

A brief introduction to heat pump water heaters (hybrids)

Generally, heat pumps are used to heat a space. Although often used to heat the air in the home, they’re used for heating water as well. As such, a heat pump water heater takes in heat from the air and uses it to heat water. This works almost the same way a refrigerator works or AC but in reverse.

So, while a fridge expels hot air, a heat pump expels cold air. Therefore, heat pumps can also combine water heating and air conditioning functions.

Heat pumps are also called hybrids

Why exactly are heat pumps called hybrid water heaters? Well, heat pump water heaters don't work like your standard water heaters that generate the heat. These pumps actually move heat from one place to another, making them very energy efficient.

However, they can switch to the typical electric heat automatically, mainly when there is a high demand for hot water or in colder areas. You can set the unit to hybrid mode so that if demand for hot water is higher, it doesn’t run out. Of course, with advanced electronics, there are other operating modes that give more flexibility to the users.

Again, another reason these pumps are called hybrids is that they use a combination of the heat pump technology as well as heating elements. This creates a unique system that performs efficiently all year round, even in cold climates. Depending on the level of demand, the system switches between electricity and the heat pump.

Interestingly, these hybrid pumps are becoming increasingly popular because of their long-term energy savings and deals offered either by the utility company, manufacturer, or government (due to Energy Star compliance).

Things to consider when buying a heat pump water heater

Before you buy a water heater heat pump, it is essential to consider a few things.

Your location

Again, another consideration is your location. Many heat pumps drain heat from the house, which could be a problem in colder regions. Although water heater makers like AO Smith have designed heaters without that problem – AO Smith Voltex can also perform well in colder areas.

Basically, it depends on your needs and how energy efficient you would like your heater to be.

Size and water rating

Basically, you need to consider the size of your household and the hot water needs of the family members before purchasing. If you get a water heater that's the right size for your family, it will be more energy-efficient without disturbing the comfort. It is also important to note that the size of your water heater will impact your water rating. This guide from Energy.gov should help you pick the right size.

How Energy Efficient is it?

No doubt, the energy efficiency of the model you're thinking of is significant. Some heat pumps are more energy-efficient than others and have higher Energy Star ratings. Get to know more about the options available. A water heater with a high energy factor results in better savings and lower bills.

A good example is the Voltex Hybrid Electric Heat Pump by AO Smith. This heat pump has a high energy efficiency level which varies based on the operating modes:

  • Energy
  • Hybrid
  • Electric
  • Vacation

Super efficient, you could have a single shower for 55 minutes at a stretch. The 80-gallon model allows you to use 4.5 showers at the same time and 7 showers back to back before you start noticing the change in performance. With an ultra-high energy efficiency of up to 3.45 Uniform Energy Factor (UEF) rating, this heater is must to have for any home.

The overall cost of the heater

Now, how do you determine the total costs of your heater? It isn’t just about the cost of the model. According to Energy.com, you need to also find out the energy factor (EF) of the model. Then, it’s important to find out about how much you’re likely to pay in electricity bills.

Again, the overall costs of the heater include the installation and maintenance costs. Some models cost more to install than others. While others might not cost so much to install, but tend to rack up the bills in maintenance.

Of course, if you’re getting a hybrid heater, then you should get a professional to handle the plumbing and installing. This will add to your costs, but it is best for higher efficiency.

The pros of heat pump heaters

That said, there are so many reasons why hybrid heat pumps are increasingly becoming the water heaters of choice.

High energy efficiency

Most of today’s heat pump heaters are very efficient. This is because these pumps use the heat from the air to pre-heat the water. So, they don’t create the heat as the standard electric water heaters. Naturally, the cost savings will be more in a warmer climate than in colder weather, because only heat pumps are needed to heat the water with less or no engagement of the heating elements.

Space cooling

Another advantage of a heat pump water heater, particularly in warmer climates is that it offers space cooling. A heat pump takes in hot air around and lets out cold air; it helps cut down on air conditioning costs.

Lower maintenance costs

Again, heat pumps save you money, not just on energy costs, but also on long term maintenance. First of all, quite several models are built to last longer than standard electric heaters. And secondly, they are easier to maintain, leading to lower maintenance costs.

One water heater which meets these specifications (and surpasses them to a large extent) is the Rheem Performance Platinum. It comes in three sizes; the smallest is 50 gallons and has a UEF of 3.55. It has an ambient operating range of 37-145 degrees and is designed for colder climate. There’s an LCD screen, which is handy for operating the heater or when dealing with the problem. There’s also a built-in water sensor alert with an alarm system, which is an excellent tool if your heater is leaking and preventing property damage.

With this heat pump heater, you can set your heater to the heat pump, electric, energy saver, high demand and vacation modes. It’s easy installation and dry-fire protection make it a heater that’s in high demand.

Cons of heat pump water heaters

That said, there are a few disadvantages to these hybrid pumps. The fact is the users understanding of the way these pumps work help. Without understanding the technology, this pump is going to feel like a waste of good money. Which brings us to the first con.

Initial upfront cost

Generally, heat pump water heaters cost a lot more than regular water heaters. And, while you might be able to install a normal electric eater heater yourself, it isn’t advisable with a hybrid. Mostly because you get higher energy efficiency when it is professionally installed. So, with a heat pump, you have to contend with the cost of the water heater as well as installation.

Might be noisier than regular electric water heaters

Again, most heat pump water heaters are loud because they use an electric fan. Much more than electric heaters. This could be a big disadvantage particularly for those who are sensitive to noise when the unit is installed close to the bedroom or living room, for example.

Might not make a lot of sense in colder climates

Then, these pumps run on a technology that sucks out the heat from home. This could be a problem if you live in a cold place where you need to heat the house. It would mean that you would be spending more on heating, which will defeat cost efficiency.

Unless, of course, it’s one of the new hybrid heaters like the Rheem Prestige Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater. This is designed to meet the specs of northern climate, which means that even in colder climes, it still makes a great purchase. With an Energy Star rating of 3.55, it is several times more efficient than a typical electric water heater.

A little about electric water heaters

Electric water heaterElectric water heater

While we've talked a lot about heat pump water heaters, electric water heaters are not left out either. They have their uses, and there are situations where they are the preferred option. Actually, electric water heaters are widely used in the United States. 

However, these water heaters are powered by electricity. And, because lots of hot water is used in the home, they make up the bulk of energy consumption.

Pros of electric water heaters

To be honest, there are reasons why these are the most popular water heating option around. Here are a few of those reasons below.

Low initial costs

On the whole, electric water heaters usually come in models that are cheaper than other types of heaters. You will probably find it hard to locate a more affordable home water heating option.

Also, the installation costs are not very high. You could even install the heater yourself if you're into DIY.

Reasonable energy efficiency

Yes, electricity costs indeed tend to run on the high side, mainly when used to power a water heater. But, when compared to a gas-powered heater, for instance, electric heaters are much more efficient, especially when compared to conventional types.

Of course, how efficient a water heater is will depend on several factors. Like the model, size of the heater, insulation, power, venting, and even the climate.

Easily available

And, this is probably the number one reason why electric water heaters are so popular. The heaters are available, and so is the means of powering them. It’s as simple as plugging your heater and turning it on because most homes are connected to the grid.

Cons of electric water heaters

Let’s face it; there are heating solutions for your home that are better than electric water heaters. And here’s why.

Slow heating time and recovery

Now, you’ve probably had to wait a long time for your hot water to heat up. If you have, then you are already familiar with one of the cons of electric water heaters. They take ages to heat up and once the hot water has been used up, you’ll have another long wait. This might not be much of a problem for a small household, but it is for a large home.

Lack of hot water during power outages

Again, if there’s a storm or a power outage for whatever reason, then there will be no hot water. This can be quite inconvenient.

Expensive in the long term

Basically, these heaters are not expensive to install, but they require regular maintenance. Also, they tend to need replacement more often than a hybrid or gas heater, for instance. Then, it runs up costs on electricity bills.

Heat pump water heaters vs. electric type

So, what’s the difference between heat pump water heaters and electric type?

  • The heating technology: The way they both heat water is different. While an electric water heater uses electricity to heat the water, a heat pump water heater uses the hot air that’s already around the unit and heating elements as the backup. This reduces the amount of electricity that is used in heating.
  • The way they’re powered: An electric water heater uses electricity. Generally, heat pump water heaters are hybrid heaters that utilize dual sources to power the heater.
  • The energy efficiency: It isn’t that electric heaters are not energy efficient, but the hybrid heaters are several times more efficient. Warmer the air is; less power is used in heating the water. That is why it is good to install them close to the furnace.
  • The way they function: Electric power heaters are made to heat water. Although heat pumps do the same but much more efficient, they also have an air conditioning effect.
  • The safety factor: Electric water heaters are relatively safe, but there are usually cases of people being shocked. Heat pumps are constructed with safety in mind and are generally safer than electric heaters.

So, what’s the best water heater option for you?

Well, that depends on several factors. For instance, the size of your household and the region in which you live might be factors to consider.

If you have a large household or live in a cold climate, then an electric water pump might be best. But, if you have a small house or you’re in a warm climate, you might want to consider a heat pump. 

In conclusion, when choosing a water heater, you might want to focus on the energy-saving of that heater. And, that's not a bad thing. However, while the particular model you're considering might be highly efficient, other factors might contribute to making it more expensive.

Carefully consider all the factors and choose the water heater that best suits your needs.

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