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How Do Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heaters Work?

Water heaters, although often overlooked, are essential appliances in homes. Homeowners may not frequently see them, but they rely on them countless times throughout the day. Traditional water heaters use gas, oil, or electricity to heat water and store it for later use. However, with the rise of renewable energy and the pursuit of achieving Net Zero, this conventional technology is undergoing a carbon-neutral transformation.

A hybrid heat pump water heater operates similarly to a conventional unit when it comes to heating and storing water. What sets them apart is the method of heating employed, which makes them efficient and distinctive. Instead of utilizing a heating element to warm the water, heat pump water heaters extract heat from the surrounding air and transfer it to the water tank.

How Does a Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater Work?

A hybrid heat pump water heater works in reverse as compared to an air conditioner. You may have heard of a heat pump for heating and cooling; it's the same technology, just with water heaters. Heat pumps move heat from the air into the water tank by utilizing compressed gas in sealed tubes. While electricity is required to circulate the gas, the amount needed is significantly less than what would be necessary to heat the water. In fact, for every unit of energy consumed by a heat pump water heater, it generates three units of energy in return, making it energy-efficient. Compared to some inefficient gas-powered water heaters, a heat pump water heater is five times more efficient.

Gas-powered water heaters are reliant on burning fossil fuels and venting excess gas. This leads to harmful emissions for the planet and your household. In contrast, a heat pump unit produces only cold air and a small amount of clean water through condensation.

How does a hybrid heat pump water heater perform in winter?

Hybrid water heaters function perfectly in cold weather thanks to their "hybrid" functionality. They earn the name "hybrid" because they incorporate conventional electric heating elements that activate in case of high demand or when additional heat is needed beyond what the surrounding air provides.

Advantages of Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heaters

By installing a hybrid heat pump water heater, you can take advantage of the following benefits:

  • Efficiency: Hybrid heat pump water heaters are highly efficient. In terms of "uniform energy factor" (UEF) rating, the amount of energy needed to heat water, heat pumps are routinely 3-5 times more efficient than gas heaters and 3 times more efficient than regular electric heaters. This saves households money on energy bills. Not only do these heaters cost less to run than other technologies, but they also have a longer lifespan. Conventional electric water heaters typically last 8 to 12 years, whereas hybrid heat pump water heaters have a projected service life of 13 to 15 years.
  • Environmentally friendly: Hybrid heat pump water heaters do not burn fossil fuels or emit harmful gases, eliminating the need for outdoor gas venting. They are also much more efficient than conventional electric models. All of these benefits combine to reduce carbon emissions that are warming the planet.
  • Rebates and tax credits: Any ENERGY STAR heat pump water heater is eligible for a 30% off tax credit up to $2,000 for purchase and installation. Manufacturers and localities also offer various rebates and incentives to install a hybrid heat pump water heater.
  • Cooling in summer: Gas and electric water heaters generate excess heat. During the summer, this can work against the home's air conditioning system. Hybrid heat pump water heaters not only avoid excess heat generation but cool the surrounding air, functioning as both a water heater and an air conditioner.

Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heaters vs. Competitors

How do hybrid heat pump water heaters stack up against their competition? The short answer is: they're the best solution available at this time.

Hybrid heat pump water heaters vs electric

The primary advantage of hybrid heat pump water heaters over electric ones is their efficiency. Heat pump models utilize less energy. According to Energy Star, switching to a heat pump model could save an average family of four $550 per year in electric costs. Besides the financial benefit, using less power is also environmentally friendly. 

Heat pump water heaters vs. gas 

Gas-powered water heaters produce heat by burning fossil fuels, while hybrid heat pump water heaters extract heat from the air and transfer it to the water tank. Since moving heat requires less energy than generating it, hybrid heat pump water heaters are more cost-efficient. However, there is one drawback: gas heaters typically heat a full tank of water faster than heat pump models.

Hybrid water heaters vs. tankless water heaters

Tankless water heaters lack the large storage tanks found in other types of water heaters. The idea is to heat water only when needed, eliminating the inefficiency of constantly keeping an entire tank warm and ensuring a continuous supply of hot water. These are often convenient for smaller households that don't need as much water at a given time. However, when compared to hybrid heat pump water heaters, tankless heaters have downsides. While they save energy by switching off more often, they also consume a significant amount of energy, usually equivalent to running three to four air conditioners at once. Their hot water flow rate is also limited, and users may find themselves wishing for greater water pressure. 

Hybrid heat pump water heaters vs. solar water heaters

Solar panels are not limited to generating electricity; some systems directly utilize solar energy to heat water without converting it to electricity first. This is a solid idea, as solar energy is free and emission-free, but solar thermal systems involve complex assemblies of valves, pumps, and antifreeze, all of which are exposed to the elements. Regular maintenance is crucial, and system failures can render the entire setup non-functional. Installation costs can be high, and solar systems can only heat water when direct sunlight is available, at least until better storage technology is available. Hybrid heat pump systems are safely installed indoors, less expensive to set up, and relatively easy to operate.

If you're planning on installing a hybrid heat pump water heater, you should get in touch with a professional contractor. Get started with QuitCarbon and our free "Electrification Plan" that will guide you through the process of electrifying your entire home. We can connect you with our network of local contractors to make sure the work is done right.