When it comes to energy and cost-efficient ways to supply your home with warmth, heat pump water heaters are one of the best alternatives to choose from, especially if you live in a warmer climate.
Water heater heat pumps are temperature control devices able to move heat from one space to another using electricity. They are highly efficient but can be costly and difficult to maintain; therefore, their usability comes down to personal preferences and circumstances.
To learn everything there is to know about these water heaters, how they work, and what would be the ideal choice for you, keep reading.
What Is a Heat Pump Water Heater?
While conventional heaters function by using energy to generate heat themselves, heat pump water heaters work by pulling heat from the surrounding air and transferring it onto your space.
A heat pump water heater is a piece of equipment used primarily to provide heat into an indoor space. They achieve this by utilizing a technology used often in refrigerators, which allows them to transfer heat from one area to another.
Due to the gradual nature of this process, they tend to require a longer time and water volume to reach your desired temperature. Heat pump water heaters can provide water heating and general temperature control, making them an excellent all-in-one option for homeowners looking to choose an efficient temperature control system for their homes.
The pumps are often referred to as hybrid models due to their ability to adapt and switch between high-efficiency and lower-efficiency modes. This switch is made depending on the specific conditions they’re working in at a given moment. Efficiency and adaptability are two of the most favorable qualities when it comes to these water heaters, which has allowed them to reach considerable mainstream success.
How Does a Heat Pump Water Heater Work?
Heat pump water heaters pull warmth from the surrounding air and transfer it onto your living space using electricity and a refrigerant line. This process allows it to simultaneously work as a heater, cooler, and water heater, depending on your needs and preferences.
These water heaters function using the same technology that you’ll find in refrigerators, just in reverse. They pull heat from the outside space, increase its temperature, and transfer it to a mass of water situated in the storage tank, which in turn can be used as energy for your temperature control needs.
This way of functioning makes these systems ideal to use in locations where the surrounding temperature stays within a range of 40º–90ºF (4.4º–32.2ºC). Heat pump water heaters cannot function properly when placed in a cold space because by pulling heat, they tend to lower the temperature of the area they’re in even further.
Instead, try installing them in a place or location where adequate heat is constantly emitted. When doing so, you won’t need to constantly worry about how your heating system is functioning or whether it will break down and leave you heatless any time soon.
Suppose you want a temperature control system that can function as a heater, cooler, and water heater. In that case, you may want to look into investing in a combination system that pulls heat from the outside air and transfers it indoors in the winter while pulling excess heat from the inside air in the summer. These combination systems also work ideally in warmer climates, as the full functionality of their system relies on pulling heat from surrounding air.
These systems are called geothermal heat pumps, and they go through this process constantly during the year to provide adequate temperature control. If you’re interested in water heating properties as well, you might want to look into adding a desuperheater to the system.
A desuperheater is a heat exchanger that can increase water’s temperature by using superheated gases and fumes produced by the heat pump’s compressor. These exchangers come in many types and forms; therefore, you’ll be able to find one that is adaptable to your heating system, regardless of whether it is tankless or not.
Desuperheaters can’t produce much heat in the colder months. For this reason, you may want to rely on some backup options for heating your water as well. On the other hand, they are more than sufficient to use by themselves during hotter summer months, as the excess heat they can extract from the surrounding air is able to handle all of your water heating needs.
Heat Pump Water Heater Efficiency
Heat pump water heaters are known for being highly efficient cost and energy-wise. The reason for this is the fact that their technology, which relies on transferring heat instead of generating it, requires less energy consumption to maintain the desired temperature within your space, which, in turn, will positively affect your electricity bills.
These systems are also highly efficient in adapting to your needs and fulfilling multiple purposes at once. That’s why they are often referred to as hybrid systems, as they can automatically switch between several operating models depending on your temperature control preferences.
Some of these highly customizable settings include:
- Economy. When using this setting, the device will maximize its efficiency and only use the pump to generate enough energy to heat your water supply and not your overall space. This setting is ideal to use in warmer summer months where higher energy consumption could be wasteful.
- Auto. This is the default setting that is most often used throughout the year. Its adaptability makes it ideal for day-to-day usage, allowing it to provide a substantial amount of heat within your space while still remaining cost-efficient.
- Timer. Some newer models allow you to temporarily stop the device from working in order to prevent heat production on those instances when you’ll not be home. This setting doesn’t allow for unnecessary and wasteful energy consumption, making water heater heat pumps an even more efficient heating system to use in your home.
A Step-by-Step Explanation of How a Heat Pump Water Heater Works
To better understand the process of how this heating system can provide heat to your indoor space without generating it, here is a step-by-step explanation.
- You will need to understand that heat energy can only be moved in a direction that transforms more power into less. A fan placed on top of your heat pump water heater will push the surrounding air into a grid filled with liquid refrigerant at a very low temperature. From there, the air will travel through a tubing system placed within the pump.
- The liquid placed within a device must have a low boiling point. This characteristic allows it to pull heat from surrounding air, raising its temperature enough to turn it into a gas. Next, this gas is further pressurized in order to increase its temperature.
- This is where the pump comes into play. This is the mechanism responsible for circulating the hot pressurized air around the cold water I mentioned before. This stabilizing liquid is placed in the heater’s tank. At this moment, an energy transfer occurs between the gas and the liquid transfering heat to the latter and raising its temperature while simultaneously cooling down the former and returning it into a liquid state.
- After the gas has cooled down and turned into liquid, it gets pumped back to the radiator, and the whole process repeats itself again, creating a cycle. This is how heat pump water heaters are able to provide warmth to your space or water supply by simply transferring heat from one area to another.
Due to this process, these heating systems can produce small leaks of distilled water, just like an air conditioner. Therefore, take this characteristic into consideration before deciding on where to place your device.
Although upon hearing about it, the technology that heat pump water heaters use may sound strange or outright impossible, this is not the case. In fact, they employ processes and systems from many existing equipment and technologies. This way of functioning allows them to use way less energy when providing heat compared to more standard options.
On the other hand, there are some circumstances, as I previously mentioned, when opting for this heating system might not be ideal. As you can see, outside heat is the most crucial element that allows this equipment to function properly.
For this reason, when living in colder climates, heat pump water heaters will most likely not be able to provide enough energy and warmth. In this case, it’s best to use them along with a backup heating system or not use them at all.
How Much Does a Heat Pump Water Heater Cost?
Heat pump water heaters can cost upwards of thousands of dollars to install. With that said, they have significantly lower operational costs compared to more conventional alternatives, balancing out the system’s expenses in the long run.
Depending on the water heating system’s size, model, and your chosen company, installations can run you up to $4250. This is a considerably high price point that may not be in every homeowner’s budget. With this in mind, you should also consider that buying this type of heating system is an investment that can be beneficial in the long term.
Due to its low operational costs, a heat pump water heater is bound to pay for itself after 2-3 years of use. With a life expectancy that can go up to a decade, investing in this system can turn out to be beneficial after many years of use.
The savings you’ll be able to make will vary significantly depending on many circumstantial factors, so you’ll need to conduct your own extensive cost analysis before opting to install this pricey heating system in your home. Here is a thorough guide that can help you with the accuracy of your research.
Pros of Using a Heat Pump Water Heater
These water heaters offer a plethora of advantages which have made them one of the most popular choices throughout warmer countries. Here are some of the most important pros to consider:
As I mentioned in a previous section, transferring heat requires a lot less energy consumption compared to generating it. For this reason, heat pump water heaters are an energy-efficient and sustainable choice that can help you provide adequate warmth to your space with minimal energy usage. This level of efficiency can notably lower your electricity needs, which will allow you to save a lot on operational costs.
Heat pump water heaters are, in fact, the heating technology that offers the lowest operating costs in today’s market, saving the average family upwards of $3500 during its lifespan. This impressive advantage gives these systems a significant edge over other, less efficient alternatives, which has directly affected their rising popularity and demand.
Heat pump water heaters function using electricity, not by burning fuel (unlike many other heating system alternatives). Therefore, they are exponentially easier to operate and use for extended periods of time in your home, making them a reliable and accessible source of heat.
Eligibility for RHI Programs
Governments often provide incentive programs for the production of renewable energy. Therefore, depending on your local RHI schemes and laws, you may be able to receive compensation for using a renewable energy source with a heat pump water heater.
When using this type of heating system, you’re not only providing warmth to your house using renewable energy, but you’re also further reducing your carbon footprint by decreasing your energy needs. As I mentioned in a previous section, heat pump water heaters require a substantially lower amount of energy to heat your home and water supply.
Cons of Using a Heat Pump Water Heater
Along with these excellent advantages, choosing this alternative comes with some drawbacks that may impact its usability for you. These disadvantages include:
High Installation Costs
Although you can significantly save when it comes to operational costs, this may be a moot point for those homeowners who can’t afford to install a heat pump water heater system in the first place. As I previously mentioned, installation costs can, in some cases, go up to several thousand dollars, meaning it may not be the most accessible choice for everyone.
Doesn’t Work Efficiently in Colder Climates
Because of their technology, some water pumps can’t work efficiently in colder climates. This factor is usually the first drawback you should consider when thinking about purchasing a new heating system for your home. Therefore, if you live in a colder area, heat pump water heaters won’t be the best choice for you.
Noisy and Requires Significant Work and Maintenance
While working, pumps may produce some rather loud noises that can turn out to be problematic, especially for light sleepers.
Also, starting with the installation process, you will need to invest a substantial amount of time and effort to situate the system in place properly. In some cases, you will also need to apply, wait for, and attain a building permit before adding the equipment to your house.
Even after the installation process is completed, the pump will require frequent professional checks that need to be conducted at least once a year. So if you’re looking for a low-maintenance option, you would be better off looking at another alternative.
Is Buying a Heat Pump Water Heater Worth It?
Buying a heat pump water heater is worth it only if you live in a warmer climate and can afford the initial installation costs. In this case, they can be a smart, beneficial investment in the long run. Otherwise, there might be a better-suited alternative for you.
Choosing the best heating system for your home depends on your priorities and circumstances. After reading through the previous list of pros and cons, you can go ahead and compare every factor mentioned with your preset needs. This process will help you understand which of these elements is prone to affect you more, allowing you to make a well-informed decision.
Best Heat Pump Water Heaters
- Rheem Hybrid Smart Tank Water Heater. A quiet, highly-efficient alternative that doesn’t break your bank. The Rheem water heater makes an excellent choice for any homeowner, as it comes with a built-in hybrid pump design and high wi-fi connectivity.
- AO Smith Signature Premier. Another affordable alternative (also available on Amazon.com) that uses up to 73% less energy compared to standard water heaters.
- Electrolux Electric Hybrid Heater. The quietest option (available on Amazon.com) out of all the picks. This excellent heater made out of stainless steel provides a durable, highly-efficient, and cost-friendly way to warm up your indoor spaces and water supply.
Heat Pump Water heaters can be an excellent and efficient heating system choice for many homeowners who live in warmer climates. Although they require a costly installation, their high efficiency allows you to save significantly when it comes to operational costs, which can balance your overall expenses.
The main drawback of these water pumps is their overall inability to function in colder climates properly. Therefore, if this is your case, try searching for another alternative to provide warmth to your space.