Save Money AND Energy on a New Hot Water Heater

If you are due for a water heater replacement and are looking for ways to save money on your utility bills, either a heat pump water heater or a gas tankless water heater may be a good option for you.

Whenever it is time to replace any appliance in your home, energy efficiency is usually high on your list of items to consider.  Heat pump water heaters get high marks for energy efficiency.  They use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly.  This makes them more efficient than conventional electric water heaters, and that efficiency translates into savings on your electric bill.

Most homeowners who have heat pumps use them to heat and cool their homes.  But a heat pump can also be used to heat water, either as a self-contained water heating system or as a combination water heating and space conditioning system.

How heat pump water heaters work

Heat pump water heaters get their efficiency by drawing existing heat from the air surrounding them.  They then transfer that heat—at a higher

temperature—to heat water in a storage tank.  You can purchase a stand-alone heat pump water heating system as an integrated unit with a built-

in water storage tank and backup resistance heating elements.  Or, you can also retrofit a heat pump to work with an existing conventional storage water heater.

The place in your home that houses this unit is an important consideration for this type of heater.  You will want to make sure that it is installed in an area that maintains a temperature in the 40-90 degree (F) range, and that there is adequate air space (at least 1,000 cubic feet) around the waterheater.  Heat pump water heaters do not operate efficiently in cold space since they tend to cool the space they are in.  A furnace room, or any other space with excess heat, is an ideal location for this water heater installation.

Pros and cons of heat pump water heaters

Like every appliance purchase, there are positives and negatives to be considered.  On the “pro” side:

  • The top advantage for most homeowners who choose a heat pump water heater is energy efficiency and savings. Heat pump water heaters have the lowest operating costs of any water heaters on the market.
  • A 50-gallon heat pump water heater costs about $3,800, depending on the installation location. You typically recoup your investment in three to four years.  (These water heaters are also available in 60 and 80-gallon sizes.)
  • Many suppliers offer good warranties on these heat pumps.  Graybill Plumbing offers a 10-year warranty on the heat pump water heater.
  • A heat pump water heater is considered to be environmentally friendly, especially if it carries the ENERGY STAR label. You may also qualify for a rebate from your electric company for purchasing an ENERGY STAR product.

On the “con” side:

  • Heat pump water heaters are generally more expensive, maybe even twice the cost of an electric resistance water heater, so your up-front cost is higher. However, you will save on operating costs over the life of the heater.
  • Slow recovery may be a problem when demand for water is high. These units take a relatively long time to heat a volume of water.  To avoid running out of hot water at peak times, you want to make sure the unit you purchase provides traditional electric-resistance water heating as a backup.  Most units do.

An excellent guide to all aspects of heat pump water heaters is available online from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Gas tankless water heaters

Tankless water heaters are considered instantaneous or on-demand water heaters, and they get a lot of attention from homeowners because they do not require space for a bulky tank. Some of them are so small they can even be installed in a closet or crawl space.

Gas tankless water heaters are more energy-efficient than traditional tank water heaters because they heat water only when you need it.  With a traditional tank water heater, the unit is constantly working to keep a large tank of water hot, even when you are not using any water.  This constant heating uses a lot of energy, which can add up over time.  Gas tankless water heaters only heat water when you turn on the faucet, so they use less energy overall.

The details of the water heater installation are an important consideration if choosing a gas tankless model.  The key is to properly match the size of the unit with the size of your home. This analysis should include the flow rate and BTU of the unit, where you live, and the amount of hot water you use.  Seek out the skills of a good HVAC contractor to handle this for you; the installation requires venting, and you don’t want to cut a hole that is the wrong size or in the wrong spot!

Pros and cons of gas tankless water heaters

Key “pro” factors of the gasless tank water heater:

  • An endless supply of hot water.
  • The compact size—ideal for houses with a small or no utility-type room.
  • Replaceable parts; easy maintenance.
  • Life span of 20 years or longer.
  • Check utility company for availability of rebates.

On the “con” side of gasless water heaters:

  • Higher initial costs and higher installation costs, which can range from $4,000 to $5,500.  The installation may require redesign of plumbing and expensive venting.
  • Gas tankless water heaters are more environmentally friendly than tank-style water heaters due to energy efficiency savings and reduced water waste, but they do run on natural gas or propane.
  • These units may not be adequate for large households.
  • Although gas hot water heaters tend to have higher flow rates than electric ones, they can waste energy if they have a pilot light. The cost of operating the pilot light varies from model to model.

The U.S. Department of Energy also has a helpful online guide to Tankless or Demand-Type Water Heaters which you will find useful in determining if this type is right for your home.

Whichever type of water heater you choose, you can always count on the water heater services provided by the professionals at J.G. Graybill Plumbing, Inc.   Contact us today to learn how we can help with all of  your plumbing needs.