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Heat pump water heater technology is evolving for 21st century households. Here is how to understand and shop for electric hot water heaters to suit your needs.

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The electric hot water heater is the largest energy-eating appliance in your home. If your energy bill is crippling you every month, it might be worth considering some new technology. It costs a pretty penny up front, but if energy costs keep increasing, you’re laughing down the line.

If you’re hip to appliance news, you may have heard of “hybrid water heaters” and how they’re quickly changing the game in water heating. These are also known as “heat pump water heaters.”

Heat pump water heater advantages

In North America, the big strike against the “point-of-use” or “tankless water heater” is that they can require a major retrofitting with the electrical system. It can mean revamping the way the grid is handled for the whole house, making the reasonable cost of the units themselves outweighed by a potentially high cost of installation.

A hybrid water heater, though, takes all the best parts of the tankless variety and combines them with the best attributes of the traditional electrical water heater with a storage-style tank. This means you’ll still be fine for a bit if there’s a power outage in storms.

Tankless hot water heaters

How do they work?

Hybrid hot water heaters can reduce energy bills from 17 to 30% year-round, especially in the summer, depending on the design. Instead of using air forced up from the bottom of the tank to heat the water, most “heat pump water heaters” pull warm air out of whatever room they’re in, and heated coils in the tank warm up the water. Cold air is forced out of the heater, as opposed to the traditional electric hot water heaters that often radiate heat.

This system of pulling hot air out of the room means that hybrid hot water heaters are an excellent choice for hot climates. Conversely, it makes this unit a no-go in parts of the country that don’t enjoy temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees most of the year.

What makes it a “hybrid”?

In times of high water-usage, it defaults to traditional electric water-heating methods to speed up the processes.

This is a relatively recent technology and has been growing in just the last half-decade. More models are increasingly available, varying drastically in efficiency. Some models promise a savings of just $250 per year while some German makes swear you’ll save over $2000 a year.

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Reading reviews

I’ve read user reviews online and it’s impressive to hear some say they replaced their 5000-watt water heater with a 500-watt hybrid and found an improvement in performance!

Reading reviews yourself is highly advisable, since some factors might not occur to you otherwise. A lot of hybrid hot water heaters require top access for working parts, so if you have low-height ceilings in your basement or furnace room, maintenance may be a real challenge. Also, with the coil-type construction inside the tank, these units can be extremely heavy, making self-installation something you’ll need to use your “phone a friend card” on.

Another drawback to note is that they tend to be louder than typical water heaters, but only to, say, the level of “refrigerator loud.” But, as one consumer review noted, buying a high-end high-performance heat pump water heater ended up being the same energy boon as installing six solar panels to his roof.

Combating energy bills

If you’re in a hot-water-guzzling home and you also deal with air conditioning in the summer, maybe this is a way you can combat both energy bills with one smart purchase. Take the time to investigate what models are currently available and how much they can save you in annual energy costs. If it’s over $2,000, that’ll pay as much as 60% of most units anyhow.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.