What Are Hybrid Electric Water Heaters?

A man and woman look at their heat pump water heater while an installer explain its features

Hybrid electric water heaters, formerly referred to as heat pump water heaters, are revolutionizing the way we heat water. Compared to traditional electric water heaters, HEWHs can cut your water heating costs in half.

Why are they called hybrids?

The word hybrid appears in the name because it uses two electric methods to heat the water.

The primary method of heating the water is the heat pump, which uses the same vapor refrigeration cycle found in refrigerators and air conditioners, but in reverse.

The secondary method is the same electric heating element used in standard electric water heaters. This secondary method is used only during periods of high demand.

If an HEWH uses the warm air my furnace is working hard to generate, doesn’t that negate the efficiency and savings?

There will always be space heat interaction if the HEWH is located inside the home or is also ducted to an inside area of the home.

During winter, the HEWH will draw heat from the home, but the HEWH᾽s vapor compression cycle is roughly three times more efficient than the average furnace, so there is still an overall benefit.

In spring and fall, the effect on household temperature is neutral. In summer, HEWHs help cool and dehumidify the home.

To minimize effects on the heating and cooling load of the home, avoid using an exhaust-only strategy. This draws air from inside and exhausts it to the outside, increasing the amount of air leaking into the home and decreasing the energy savings from the HEWH.

If an HEWH is installed inside the living space, does it need to be vented or ducted?

If an HEWH is located in an area of the home that is less than 700 square feet, venting of the space or ducting of the HEWH is required for proper functionality.

Two rules are generally advised. Do not direct the exhaust air toward areas occupied on a regular basis such as a bedroom or TV room. And do not use the exhaust-only strategy referenced in the previous answer.

Are HEWHs reliable? Is this a new technology?

The technology used in HEWHs has been in use for more than 50 years. Manufacturers of these products are large companies with a long history of producing water heaters.

As proof of their confidence, most manufacturers offer a 10-year warranty, while standard water heaters typically carry a six-year warranty.

HEWHs are more expensive than traditional electric options. Will I save enough to cover the added cost?

Hot water heating accounts for about 11% of the average household᾽s annual energy use. Benton REA members may receive a $600 rebate after the purchase of a new tier 2 or tier 3 HEWH.

In addition, units installed Jan. 1, 2017 through December 31, 2021 may qualify for a $300-$500 federal tax credit.
The savings—plus the potential to cut your home᾽s energy use by 5% to 6%—helps justify the switch to the more efficient technology.

And, remember to turn down your water heater temperature to 120 F to save even more energy and money.
Visit www.BentonREA.org/Rebates for a list of qualifying hybrid electric water heaters and download a rebate application. 

Article and photo courtesy of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. To learn more, visit www.hotwatersolutionsnw.org.

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