What Is a Hybrid Water Heater?

The word ‘hybrid’ might make you think that such water heaters can run on both gas and battery, for example, but that’s not the case.

In fact, a hybrid water heater is a combination of tankless and tank water heating technologies – the unit has a reservoir where the water can be stored but it doesn’t run constantly. Such heaters work by absorbing heat from the outside air and using it to warm up the water.

How Does a Hybrid Water Heater Work?

What is a hybrid water heater and how does this thing, also referred to as a ‘heat pump water heater’, work?

This unit uses the heat from the outside air, just like a regular heat pump. 

The device draws the air to the evaporator coil that contains refrigerant. The coil absorbs the heat from the air and then the heat exchanger heats the water in the tank.

You can also choose to go for an air-source heat pump system that combines space cooling and heating with water heating.

Read: What Is Heat Pump? Everything You Need To Know

What Is the Difference Between a Regular Water Heater and a Hybrid Water Heater?

Traditional water heaters heat from the bottom. In such units, the heat rises through the tank and warms the water (a lot of heat, however, is lost through the top of the device).

A tankless water heater also gets heated from the bottom, but the water doesn’t have a reservoir to be stored in, so it runs through copper pipes.

A hybrid water heater is similar to a tankless water heater as it doesn’t constantly run. But at the same time, the unit has a tank that can get filled with heated water whenever the household needs it.

The main difference between traditional water heaters and hybrid models is that the latter absorb heat from the air and then transfer it to the water.

Read: How Much Does It Cost To Move A Furnace And Water Heater?

Hybrid Water Heater Installation

Here are a few things that you should bear in mind when installing a hybrid water heater:

  1. Such units can be installed only in places where the temperature stays between 40 F and 90 F year-round
  2. There should be at least 1.000 cubic feet of air space around the heater. The location should also offer sufficient height.
  3. The location should be able to accommodate a condensate drain or pump.
  4. Find a plumber who has relevant experience. At the moment, hybrid water heaters account for only around 2% of the market, so not all contractors are familiar with the technology.
  5. Go for a unit with a water tank that is a bit larger than the typically recommended size for your household. This will help you avoid using the inefficient auxiliary heat mode.
  6. Pick a hybrid water heater with a smart thermostat. This device will initiate the heating process during off-peak hours; this will not only save energy but also help make sure that you don’t run out of hot water when you need it.
  7. You can increase the efficiency of the unit even more, if you install the heater in a room that has excess heat (like the furnace room, for example).

Read: How Many Amps Does Water Heater Use?

Hybrid Water Heater Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Are more energy-efficient

Around 20% of your home’s energy use goes on water heating. Installing a hybrid water heater is a great way to lower these costs, as, in general, such units are 4 times more efficient than a regular water heater.

  • Are more environmentally-friendly

Heat pump water heaters help reduce your house’s carbon footprint.

Such units have energy-efficient compressors that are much ‘greener’ than electric and gas-fired heaters.

  • You can take advantage of various incentives

Utility companies and governments offer mail-in rebates, discounted electricity rates, and tax credits to the homeowners that are willing to adopt the new technology. So, make sure to explore the options that are available to you.

Cons

  • Require more space than tankless water heaters

A hybrid water heater has a tank. That’s why it’s not the perfect option for houses with limited space.

  • Operate most efficiently in a mild climate

Such water heaters operate by pulling warm air from the outside. That’s why they are not going to be efficient in a cold climate.

  • Require electricity

If your house is plumbed for gas appliances, the installation of a hybrid water heater can become a complicated and time-consuming process. You might have to retrofit the fittings and add a high-voltage circuit and breaker.

  • Initial price

On average, hybrid water heaters cost more than traditional heaters. They can cost you up to $2.500 and more. 

You should also expect to pay more for installation. For example, you might need to run electrical to an additional space in your house.

Read: Rheem Water Heater Error Codes

Do Hybrid Water Heaters Run Out of Hot Water?

Unlike a tankless water heater, a hybrid model has a water reservoir where enough water can be stored, so under normal circumstances, you shouldn’t run out of water.

Moreover, heat pump water heaters have electric heating elements for the days when you need more hot water than usual. These units can go in auxiliary heat mode, but switch back to their normal operation as soon as the need for water decreases.

How Long Do Hybrid Water Heaters Last?

An ordinary electric water heater is going to last you between 8 and 12 years, while a hybrid unit has a lifespan between 13 and 15 years.

The energy savings and the relatively long life expectancy make hybrid water heaters a great investment. 

Does a Hybrid Water Heater Work in Winter?

Such a water heater can certainly work in winter and even operate when it’s cold outside, simply because the unit has electric heating elements.

If you want to avoid using auxiliary heat, then make sure to place the heater in an unconditioned or semi-conditioned space, where the temperatures remain above 50 F all year round.

Tip: the perfect place for your hybrid water heater is in the basement, right next to the furnace.

Also, consider getting a heat pump water heater that meets Northern Climate Efficiency Specification. In general, such units have larger compressors that are able to operate effectively even in colder climates. 

How Noisy Are Hybrid Water Heaters?

Heat pump water heaters do make noise which can be anywhere between 40 and 80 decibels.

To be honest, it’s not too loud – 40 decibels are as loud as regular home noise and 80 decibels ‘sound’ like a hairdryer. 

The majority of the hybrid water heaters have a noise level of around 50-55 decibels, so it shouldn’t cause any discomfort. If you are particularly sensitive to noise pollution, you can consider installing the heater in an acoustically isolated place.

Read: No Hot Water In The House? Here’s Why

Is It Worth Getting a Hybrid Water Heater?

Hybrid water heaters are a great option for all-electric homes that have enough space for the system and that are located in an area where the temperatures don’t drop below 40 F.

Fact: if you are replacing a gas heater, it will cost you around $130-270 to prepare the right electric set-up for a hybrid model.

The great news is that hybrid heating technology is developing incredibly fast. You can already be able to find special units that have been created for colder climates.

The initial cost of the water heater can become a problem.

But you should remember that the majority of governments and utility companies are ready to offer incentives to reduce the upfront cost.

Moreover, over the lifetime of your hybrid water heater, you’ll be able to save nearly $4.000 (that’s around $350 per year). Bear in mind that such heaters have a longer lifespan if compared to more traditional options.

The savings for larger households will be significant. You will also be able to reduce the carbon footprint of your heater (it will be up to 4 times lower than that of a conventional tank).